A year ago, Tulsa was in the midst of a successful NCAA Tournament weekend, having hosted six first- and second-round basketball games at the BOK Center.
With a twist of fate, the city easily could have been designated to host in 2020 instead of 2019. Less than a week before it was scheduled to begin, this year’s NCAA Tournament was canceled because of the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
Instead of Tulsa missing out on a significant event, the cities affected were Dayton, Ohio; Albany, New York; Spokane, Washington; St. Louis; Tampa, Florida; Greensboro, North Carolina; Omaha, Nebraska; Sacramento; Cleveland, Ohio; Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Houston, New York City and Atlanta.
“We know firsthand the effort and resources invested into hosting an event with the magnitude of the NCAA Tournament,” said Ray Hoyt, president of Tulsa Regional Tourism. “This event provides an opportunity to welcome a new wave of visitors to your city who may not have otherwise chosen to visit and to build a connection with them.
“Because of this, the positive, long-term economic impact is difficult to quantify. Our hearts go out to the American cities who have lost this hosting opportunity due to COVID-19. We know brighter days are ahead. We know these cities, along with us in Tulsa, are looking forward to seeing rescheduled events come back to town with a resurgence of visitors to our cities.”
The economic impact from the tournament in Tulsa last year was more than $9.2 million, according to Tulsa Regional Tourism. This week, cities are losing money because of the closures of restaurants and other businesses, creating a substantial negative impact.
Countless hours also are spent on preparation, with host universities or conferences teaming up with city leaders. For the games at the BOK Center, the University of Tulsa met frequently with the Tulsa Sports Commission in the nine months leading up to the event, then moved to weekly meetings in the late planning stage.
“For those individuals who have put in work, time, effort and planning (for this year’s tournament), it started early last summer for them,” said Don Tomkalski, Tulsa’s tournament director in 2019. “You’re coming to the point where you’re looking forward to it and excited to get going and it’s taken from under your feet.”
The BOK Center was a host site in the next-to-last year (2017) of the previous cycle and the first year (2019) of the current one, which runs through 2022. Bids for the next cycle, 2023-26, have been submitted, and those sites announced in the coming months could include ones scheduled to host this year.
Kevin Sarver, an associate athletic director at Creighton, told the Omaha World-Herald: “The NCAA was asked if the sites that were part of this year’s tournament will get preferential treatment in the next bid cycle. They didn’t answer that.”
With fewer than 100,000 residents, Albany was the smallest city hosting this year’s tournament, landing a site for the first time since 2003. The city’s bid was boosted by a $20 million renovation to Times Union Center.
“It’s disappointing, not just for the building, but for the fans,” Times Union Center general manager Bob Belber told the Albany Times Union. “ … I hope we get a shot to be considered for the future. We would love to have the opportunity to host it again.”