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Valley cities: millions of reasons to welcome Final Four

North Carolina coach Roy Williams and players celebrate after the Tar Heels beat Gonzaga in the NCAA college basketball title game April 3, 2017, at State Farm Stadium in Glendale. Valley cities are hoping the 2024 Final Four has at least as much positive economic impact as it did when it was last in the Valley in 2017.
North Carolina coach Roy Williams and players celebrate after the Tar Heels beat Gonzaga in the NCAA college basketball title game April 3, 2017, at State Farm Stadium in Glendale. Valley cities are hoping the 2024 Final Four has at least as much positive economic impact as it did when it was last in the Valley in 2017.
The Associated Press file/David J. Phillip
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Hosting the 2024 NCAA Men’s Final Four will be a boon for Valley cities, at least based on the last time March Madness’s big showcase landed in the region.

A report from the W.P Carey School of Business at Arizona State University estimated total economic impact for the 2017 Final Four in Arizona was $324.5 million.

Since local governments are working off that figure, and since Houston officials reported an estimated $270 million windfall from last year’s Final Four, Valley communities can expect to see an impact of that magnitude again this year.

Spectators and other fans who come to the Valley to see the games that determine the men’s Division I college basketball champs will spend money of food, drinks, lodging and either fuel or airline tickets. Some rent vehicles. Some attend special ticketed Final Four events.

North Carolina’s Theo Pinson and the rest of the Tar Heels celebrate after beating Gonzaga in the NCAA college basketball title game April 3, 2017, in Glendale.  The Final Four and its boost in local tax revenue return to the Valley early next month.
North Carolina’s Theo Pinson and the rest of the Tar Heels celebrate after beating Gonzaga in the NCAA college basketball title game April 3, 2017, …

These add up, according to the 2017 report, and it’s exactly why cities or large metros put together bids and bid committees hoping to lure such sporting events to town.

The Final Four was held in Arizona for the first time in April 2017 at what was then called University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale. Now known as State Farm Stadium, that same building will have room for more than 72,000 fans inside when the semifinals are held Saturday, April 6, and the championship game takes place Monday evening, April 8.

First study figures

The W. P. Carey Institute won’t release all the details of the Seidman Research Institute study since it doesn’t belong to them. However, the Carey Institute published a 2017 story about key findings, such as direct spending totaling about $122 million. The rest is indirect “ripple effect” spending.

The 2017 study was conducted by the W. P. Carey School of Business and involved several faculty members and about 25 students.

The study also concluded almost 60,000 people traveled from out-of-state for the Valley’s first Final Four. It helped that the North Carolina Tar Heels — a team with an international following — came in as the favorites and eventually won the title, playing in their 20th Final Four in school history.

Gonzaga, of Washington State, has developed a fair nationwide following as well. The Bulldogs, along with South Carolina and Oregon, were the other teams competing with North Carolina in Glendale in 2017.

On average, the study states, visitors stayed in Arizona for more than four nights and spent nearly $500 per day during the 2017 Final Four.

“That’s a bigger jolt than any other such huge event for the Phoenix area outside of a Super Bowl,” the Carey Institute article states.

The Valley has hosted four Super Bowls: Super Bowl XXX was played in 1996 in Tempe, with Super Bowls XLII (2008), XLIX (2015) and LVII (2023) all played in Glendale.

The April 2017 Final Four capped an impressive three-year run for the Valley and State Farm Stadium. Super Bowl — known for Katy Perry’s “Left Shark” and the New England Patriots’ Malcolm Butler intercepting a goal-line Seattle Seahawks pass — was followed by the 2016 NCAA championship football game and then the 2017 Final Four.

The study says the positive economic impact of Super Bowl XLIX was $752.7 million and the 2016 NCAA championship football game’s impact was $282.4 million.

Around the Valley

Annual sporting events in the Valley that have a significant amount of fan support or visibility are Major League Baseball spring training, the WM Phoenix Open golf tournament in Scottsdale, the Fiesta Bowl college football game or the two large annual auto-racing events held at the Phoenix Raceway in Avondale, though those events are largely centered in single locations.

Special one- or two-day events like college basketball regionals, international soccer matches, monster-truck or motocross events, concerts and national championship college football games are also held mostly in one venue.

So are unpredictable achievements by local teams, such as the Arizona Diamondbacks hosting three games of the 2023 World Series at Chase Field.

However, the Final Four and Super Bowl tend to have a full weekend or week of fan events, sometimes located in cities around the Valley. That gives places from Peoria to Tempe to Downtown Phoenix the opportunity for more commerce.

Peoria Economic Development Director Jennifer Stein said it’s simple math why cities and towns like to have big, planned sporting events in the Valley.

“When a marquee event is held in the Valley like the NCAA men’s Final Four and the Super Bowl, our city benefits,” Stein said. “With our close proximity to State Farm Stadium, sports fans fill hotels in Peoria and eat meals at local restaurants. We welcome fans to Peoria and encourage visitors to experience our key amenities like Lake Pleasant, spring training, Arizona Broadway Theatre and premier restaurants.”

Peoria’s Finance Department reported it can’t attribute any tax revenue specifically to the 2017 Final Four. But based on prior-year averages, the 2017 sales tax collections for March and April were between $750,000 to $1 million higher than projected.

The W.P. Carey study says Arizona and its local governments received a total of $11.7 million in tax revenue from the 2017 Final Four.

Phoenix, Glendale and Scottsdale finance officials were contacted with questions for this story, but didn’t respond.

The 2017 Final Four included a Downtown Phoenix fan fest with games. That’s also where a music festival featured Macklemore and Aerosmith on a Sunday — the day in between the semifinals and the championship game.

The Sunday off-day between games has been an NCAA tradition since 1973. The W. P. Carey survey showed visitors often went to other Arizona places such as Sedona or the Grand Canyon on that day.

More than 3,100 visitors played golf during their Arizona trip, according to survey data.
The 2017 Final Four also offered an open-practice Friday before the semifinals in which fans could watch their favorite team.

Not only could that bring fans into the Valley a day or two earlier, but for many, it might be an extra trip across town.

We’d like to invite our readers to submit their civil comments on this topic.  Email AZOpinions@iniusa.org.  Jason W. Brooks can be reached at jbrooks@iniusa.org.

Fans stand to observe the national anthem before an NCAA Final Four game in Glendale in April 2017. Many Valley cities will see at least a slight boost in local tax revenue from late this month and early next month when the Final Four returns.
Fans stand to observe the national anthem before an NCAA Final Four game in Glendale in April 2017. Many Valley cities will see at least a slight …