March Madness in Columbia: Games expected to deliver boost to city’s economy

Published: Mar. 16, 2023 at 8:21 PM EDT

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Columbia’s basketball chops will be in the spotlight this weekend, as Colonial Life Arena will host the first two rounds of the NCAA women’s tournament.

The unbeaten, number-one ranked Gamecocks will look to repeat as champions on its home court, with the team set to begin its title defense on Friday afternoon against Norfolk State.

Tom Regan, an associate professor at the University of South Carolina’s Department of Sport and Entertainment Management, said this will also provide a boost to the local economy.

Regan conducted a study to measure the 2019 men’s tournament’s economic impact on the capital city region. That year, Columbia played host to the first and second rounds as well and welcomed two visiting number-one seeds to the city.

If the 2019 tournament is any indication, this weekend’s games could deliver up to $3 million in direct economic impact from fans and out-of-town visitors.

This includes everything from hotels to parking, to restaurants, to people stopping by local businesses, and even Five Points for its St. Patrick’s Day festivities.

“If these people stay over a period of time, and they’re going to go to the zoo, they’re going to go to the museum, they’re going to go to different aspects that Columbia has easy access to,” Regan said. “You’ll see an upgrade in that because those people if they’re visiting here and they’re in here for the second day, they’re going to go find something to do. They’re not just going to be sitting in their hotel rooms or whatever. They’re going to be out and about. It appears the weather’s going to be pretty good so I think that’s a real benefit.”

WIS spoke with several superfans who made the trip to Columbia to cheer on Dawn Staley’s group this weekend and take in all that March Madness has to offer.

One family drove from Tennessee with their young daughter.

Michelle de Araujo, a Gamecock alum, and her husband are visiting from Columbus, Ohio.

“Living in Ohio, it’s very much different being in Buckeye country so I’m just super excited to be here in Gamecock country, surrounded by garnet and black and people who love the team as much as I do,” she said. “It’s unbelievable to see your team at the top, and I can’t wait to see what they do in this tournament this year.”

Dianna Jones has been a Gamecock fan for several years and said she anticipates they will win a second straight championship.

“They’re going all the way, all the way for sure,” she said.

de Araujo is confident in the team’s abilities as well.

“I think we can do it again, yeah, I want to us do it again,” she said.

Regan said hosting these big events will pay off for Columbia in more ways than one, possibly even delivering NCAA regional events later in the tournament.

“There’s no question that it is very important for Columbia to stay involved in this,” he said. “They have to go after these first and second rounds in order to host a regional event. Columbia can host a regional event, and now we have the hotels that have been built up, we have the infrastructure that has occurred in order to attract that.”

Notice a spelling or grammar error in this article? Click or tap here to report it. Please include the article's headline.

Stay up to date with WIS News 10. Get the app from the Apple App Store or Google Play Store and Stream us on Roku, YouTube, Amazon Fire, or Apple TV.