Major sporting events at Baylor University usually mean big business for Cricket’s Grill & Draft House in downtown Waco, where guests can sip cold beers while watching one of 27 flat-screen TVs.
This weekend brings two college basketball tournaments, including the first and second rounds of the NCAA Division I women’s championship, and Harold Manning is looking forward to the crowds.
The Cricket’s general manager has booked teams for meals Saturday and Sunday, and he expects fans and media to stop by throughout the weekend.
“It comes right after spring break, so everybody’s looking for something to do, and the weather is nicer so people are getting out and doing things,” Manning said. “It’s a time of year where everybody needs a shot in the arm, so it’s a perfect time.”
The top-seeded Baylor Lady Bears, seeking to repeat as national champions, will host Prairie View A&M University at 6:30 p.m. Sunday at Baylor’s Ferrell Center in the first round of the NCAA tournament. The game will follow a 4 p.m. matchup between Florida State and Princeton.
The first-round winners will face off at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Ferrell Center before the tournament moves to Norfolk, Va., Oklahoma City and, ultimately, New Orleans.
“It’s a significant event to showcase our community to people not only in Waco that are here, but also to a national TV audience,” said Blake Harris, vice president of sports and special events for the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce. “Also, the restaurants and hotels and different businesses in and around Waco definitely feel an impact from this event.”
Baylor, which last welcomed the NCAA tournament in 2011, submitted its bid to host the 2013 games nearly a year in advance, long before the participating teams were known.
But games with the Lady Bears are a dream scenario, because tournaments featuring a host team tend to generate more interest and ticket sales, Baylor Director of Athletics Ian McCaw said.
He expected more than 8,000 people to attend the games. The Ferrell Center holds about 10,000.
“Bringing these games and teams to Waco is beneficial in terms of economic stimulus and providing wonderful entertainment for our community,” McCaw said. “So those are the main reasons we bid.”
$1 million expected
The Waco Convention and Visitors Bureau expects the tournament to generate more than $1 million in spending at local hotels, restaurants, shops and other destinations. The bureau estimated the 2011 games had a similar economic impact, a spokeswoman said.
Despite those projections, NCAA tournaments aren’t always a clear economic boon. A 2003 study by two economists, published by the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., found the impact for cities that hosted the NCAA Final Four basketball tournament was small for both the men’s and women’s events.
For the men’s Final Four, host cities actually saw a slight negative economic impact, while women’s host cities barely tilted to the positive side of the economic scale.
For Dennis Havranek, though, the positive effects are clear. Havranek, who manages the 195-room Waco Hilton, said his hotel is booked Friday and filling up Saturday through Tuesday.
“Then it drops off substantially,” said Havranek, who also serves as president of the Greater Waco Hotel and Lodging Association. “You can tell when the tournament ends.”
The Florida State and Prairie View teams will stay at the hotel, while Princeton will stay at the Courtyard by Marriott, which shares a corporate owner with Hilton, Havranek said.
“If we can get a traveling team in our hotels, we love it, because fans love to be where their team is,” he said.
Doyle Shirley was standing on a crate inside Baylor’s Whetsel Basketball Practice Facility on Thursday afternoon, stretching to hang an NCAA banner that will serve as a backdrop for post-game press conferences.
Around him, about a dozen workers from a local labor contracting company were setting up tables and room dividers throughout the facility, which will serve as a media and hospitality center for the tournament.
The university was preparing for an NCAA facility check Friday afternoon, but some preparations for the main court — like applying NCAA floor decals — won’t be done by then, said Shirley, assistant director of events and facilities for Baylor athletics.
The Baylor men will host Arizona State at 7 p.m. Friday in the second round of the National Invitation Tournament, so work to convert the court for the NCAA will wait until after that game.
“Most of the operational side is similar to a regular-season competition,” including staffing and security needs, said McCaw, the athletics director. “But there are facility requirements we need to make to meet NCAA guidelines.”
McCaw does not expect any problems. The athletics department has worked closely with campus staff, the city and the NCAA to coordinate the event, he said.