Wednesday, March 28, 2007 at 8:44 AM
Cleveland will be Ground Zero for women's basketball over the next week. The Division I NCAA Final Four playoff series hits the hardwood of Quicken Loans Arena on Sunday. Those games are part of a series of events that will put a national spotlight on Cleveland. Local officials predict that the thousands of visitors will leave millions of dollars in the local economy. ideastream's David C. Barnett has more on the potential impact of the Women's Final Four.
Dennis Roche says something very unusual is happening in Cleveland this weekend.
Dennis Roche: All of the downtown hotels are booked solid. And, as far away as the airport, and Strongsville, and so forth - they're all filled up.
The reason is basketball. Not a match-up pitting LeBron James against Allen Iverson, but rather Kia Vaughn vs. Sylvia Fowles.
Quicken Loans Arena is sold out for both the Women's college semi-finals on Sunday and the championship game on Tuesday. As head of the Cleveland Convention and Visitor's Bureau, Dennis Roche has seen any number of men's sporting events fill arena and stadium seats, but it's relatively rare in women's sports.
Dennis Roche: Characteristically, the men's events attract wider attention, and therefore wider audiences. But the women's events are growing. In the case of the Women's Final Four, the women's coaches will simultaneously be holding a convention here during that period of time, and frankly that convention is as large as most of the conventions that we have here in town.
Between 2 & 3,000 attendees are expected for the annual Women's Basketball Coaches Association convention. The city will also be playing host to the Women's National Basketball Association draft. And all of these visitors will be spending their money in area stores, restaurants and hotels. Renaissance Hotel Marketing director John Zangas expects a busy weekend.
John Zangas: In groups related to the Final Four, we're at a total of 2,600 room nights, over a period of about four or five days, so an economic impact to the hotel of over $600,000.
Popular downtown watering hole Fat Fish Blue is an easy walk from "The Q" and is also expecting a lot of extra business this coming week. Operations Director Scott St. Clair says they've been getting bookings for group events. For instance, a contingent of visiting coaches.
Scott St. Clair: I just talked to them about a half hour ago, they booked a party on Friday. They're having their strategy meetings for the games coming up this weekend.
St. Clair says he's been asked to stay open late on the play-off nights, because the games won't start until 9:30. He doesn't have any problem with that because this extra, post-game business will come on a Sunday and a Tuesday night - both traditionally slow evenings in the restaurant business.
As the home of the NCAA, Indianapolis regularly hosts either the men's or women's Final Four championships. Kimberly Harms of that city's Convention and Visitor's Association says the Women's Finals back in 2005, brought about 25,000 people to town who spent between 17 and 20 million dollars. But, she says there's another benefit that you can't measure in money.
Kimberly Harms: Because, you have all of these role models and, especially at the college level, they're still playing for the love of the sport. They're not playing for a dollar amount or a contract.
The last time that Cleveland was the focus of a national hoops hoopla was ten years ago, when the NBA All-Stars were "in the house" at the former Gund Arena.
And while, the players in the 2007 NCAA Women's Final Four may not have the star power of 1997's Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippin, Cleveland Convention and Visitor's Bureau chief Dennis Roche says this weekend's events will bring plenty of paying fans to town.
Dennis Roche: We would expect roughly 20,000 fans and supporters from the teams that are coming, and maybe 3,000 local attendees. This is as big an event as we've seen in Cleveland in some time. We would estimate an overall impact of about 25 million.
But, money aside, if providing role models and heart-felt play is one intangible bonus of the games coming here, there's another benefit that's also hard to put a price tag on. It's that blimp shot of the city skyline being broadcast across the country, inviting other national events to give Cleveland a try. David C. Barnett, 90.3.