Columbus Scores a First Hosting Men’s and Women’s March Madness

Columbus, Ohio became the first destination to welcome the men's and women's NCAA Tournament opening rounds.

Columbus Scores a First Hosting Men’s and Women’s March Madness

Columbus, Ohio, became the first destination to host the men’s and women’s NCAA Tournament opening rounds last month. And just to prove a point, it registered the highest attendance for early-round action, according to ESPN. And to top it off, the big crowds witnessed the second time a No. 16 seed upset a top team when Fairleigh Dickinson stunned Purdue.

In other words, it was all in a weekend’s work for the Greater Columbus Sports Commission.

“There's not that many markets that probably have two arenas now that would qualify,” notes Linda Logan, the sports commission’s executive director. “We're really blessed in that regard to have two amazing 20,000-seat arenas.”

Nationwide Arena grabbed a seat to the men’s Big Dance during the NCAA’s 2020 bid cycle. Ohio State’s women’s team played its way into hosting the first and second rounds by virtue of its strong regular season and Big 10 Tournament. The Buckeyes hadn’t played at home during the women’s tournament since 2018.

While Columbus is renowned for its love of sports and ability to host major events, Logan credits the draw for helping achieve nearly 20,000 fans per night for the men’s action. Midwestern favorites Marquette and Michigan State stayed relatively close to home, joining top-ranked Purdue.

The estimated combined visitor spend for the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments in Columbus was an impressive $9.4 million. Perhaps even more valuable, this was another chance to showcase the destination that has hosted more than 100 NCAA events in the past 20 years.

During early-round action, the onus falls mainly on the individual school’s athletic departments to handle most of the logistics. “We worried about all the visitor touch points and what we could do to roll up the red carpet for the teams and their fans,” says Logan.

That included some maneuvering to ensure enough hotel rooms were available—mission accomplished. A landing page offered parking and arena information, as well as team capsules.

Columbus is hardly a stranger to NCAA Tournament basketball. One of the region’s major accomplishments was hosting the 2018 Women’s Final Four, the treatment of which helped take the event to a higher level. In 2027, the women’s championship returns. If this year’s tournament is to be an indication, the anticipation will be higher than ever.

“We hosted five years ago, and just in that time, the tournament has grown so much,” notes Logan.

For other destinations looking to recreate Columbus’ success, Logan says the key is to give it the old college try.

“You’ve really got to do your homework well in advance of the bidding cycle itself so that you’re ready to hit the ground running and cultivate those key relationships,” says Logan. “And don’t be afraid if you don’t get it the first time. The old saying of ‘Try, try again’ is so true. There’s been many a time that we did not get something on our first try, but we were persistent.”


Photo Credit: Claire Komarek, Greater Columbus Sports Commission