March 21, 2008

Raleigh Hopes to Score Big With NCAA Tournament

By Sloane Heffernan, WRAL

Raleigh, N.C. - Raleigh will be in the national spotlight this weekend as it hosts the first round of the NCAA men's basketball tournament.

Eight teams will compete. Only two will make it to the end.

"You can make the case that it's the second-largest, most popular sporting event in America behind the Super Bowl," said Scott Dupree, sports marketing director for the Greater Raleigh Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Hotels will be packed with players and fans. Visitors are expected to spend an estimated $4 million in Raleigh. In anticipation, city officials are pulling out all the stops in hopes of getting a second-round bid for the tournament farther down one of the "Road to the Final Four" routes.

"The better we do the job hosting in 2008, the better the chances are to put in a successful bid and bring this tournament back in 2011 or 12," Dupree said.

The city has hosted the first-round NCAA twice before, the last time in 2004 at the RBC Center. But the lack of entertainment and hotels around the RBC Center may hurt the city's chances for another replay. In the meantime, though, other areas are hoping to cash in.

"The fact that it isn't there right now benefits properties in the downtown area, in the Crabtree area and other parts of Wake County for this particular tournament," said Jim Hobbs, the director of the Hospitality Alliance of North Carolina.

Raleigh lost the CIAA tournament to Charlotte two years ago because the Queen City appeared to have more to offer.

Raleigh also lost the MEAC season-ender. A contract dispute has the tournament going elsewhere next year.

In an effort to help visiting basketball fans get the most out of Raleigh, the 2008 Raleigh Local Organizing Committee came up with the Raleigh Roundball Road Show. It takes fans to 10 sports bars to watch tournament games live when they're not at the RBC Center. It also lists attractions and provides a calendar of events for tournament-goers.

WRAL and Time Warner Cable will broadcast every NCAA game.

North Carolina, the top seed in the East, faces Mount St. Mary's Friday at 7:10 p.m. in the RBC Center.