BY JOSH HECK
Wichita businesses will have a prime opportunity to capitalize on one of the city’s most anticipated events.
Intrust Bank Arena is a host site for first and second round games of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament on March 15 and 17, 2018.
The anticipation is building with the tournament a little more than a year away and planning going full-tilt for businesses, vendors, hotels and the host school, Wichita State University, as the city puts its best foot forward in hopes of making a little money in the process.
“We know what Wichita has to offer but this tournament gives our city a chance to be introduced to a national audience,” says Susie Santo, president and CEO of Visit Wichita. “We have the facilities to host sporting events and conventions in Wichita, so we hope it positions us to host future events as well.”
All told, hosting six first and second round games next year is expected to bring with it an economic impact of $10 million.
Basketball fans will take in area attractions, eat and drink at local restaurants, shop at Wichita’s merchants and stay in the city’s hotels. Some may rent cars while they are in Wichita. Those driving into town will utilize local convenience stores for fuel and other travel needs. Air travel will spike as well.
Brad Pittman, associate athletic director for facilities and operations at Wichita State, is the tournament director. He says vendors will be chosen on past relationships and pricing.
In some cases, he says, the university and/or Intrust Bank Arena have relationships they like with vendors.
“We will give them an opportunity to provide pricing on whatever services we need fulfilled,” Pittman says. “That won’t preclude those that have not worked with us, but we do want to make sure our partners have an opportunity.”
Making the tournament a success will require the help of a lot of local businesses, Pittman says.
For example, teams will require ground transportation, at least two buses each. The NCAA also has a courtesy car contract with a rental car company, with cars for teams and officials.
Lonnie Vaughan, president of Yingling Aviation, says it’s likely his business will be at or near capacity with people flying in on private planes for the tournament.
“It all comes down to ramp space,” he says, noting Yingling has enough ramp space to accommodate 25 to 35 turbo props and small to mid-sized aircraft. “We’re capable of handling large numbers of aircrafts on a moment’s notice.”
He anticipates Yingling providing fueling services for return flights and plane servicing in some cases. A line staff of about 20 people will be on hand to assist with those and other services, Vaughan says. Additional administrative and support staff also may be necessary.
Vaughan doesn’t anticipate needing to hire additional personnel. Overtime opportunities for existing personnel will be offered instead, he says.
The company’s on-site Subway restaurant also is expected to be busy with people coming to Wichita for the tournament, a microcosm of what local restaurants can expect.
Additionally, commercial airlines are likely to be busy with fans flying in for the games, so Wichita Dwight D. Eisenhower National Airport will be busy.
Many say the opening of the $160 million terminal factored into the NCAA’s decision to select Wichita as a host site.
Tournament organizers also anticipate a spike in demand for rental cars.
Seven local hotels were selected as lodging partners for the tournament and are expected to be at or near capacity.
Serving as official team hotels will be The Ambassador, Hyatt Regency Wichita, Doubletree by Hilton Wichita Airport, Wichita Marriott and the Holiday Inn Wichita East.
The Drury Plaza Hotel Broadview will serve as a hotel headquarters for members of the media covering the NCAA Tournament. The Courtyard by Marriott in Old Town will be the official hotel for tournament officials.
Another downtown hotel, the Hilton Garden Inn, is under construction on the southeast corner of Douglas and Topeka and is expected to be completed ahead of the 2018 tournament. The $14 million project is converting the former Commerce Plaza building into a 120-room hotel and adding about 6,000 square feet of ground-floor commercial space.
That facility would add another hotel option for fans, one in the shadow of Intrust Bank Arena. Other area hotels are sure to benefit from the influx of people in town for the tournament as well, between 15,000 to 20,000 people converging on downtown Wichita.
Tad Stricker, general manager of the Ambassador, says the hotel will bring in additional workers — perhaps a dozen or more — to accommodate increased activity associated with the tournament. He expects the 117-room hotel to be sold out.
Additionally, he says, the hotel’s top-floor “rockstar suite” will be available for booking. The team assigned to the hotel will use 75 rooms.
Creating a fan experience
A Fan Fest will be part of the tournament festivities.
Designed to create a tailgate-like atmosphere, Fan Fest will be in an area near the arena, though a specific location hasn’t been finalized. The event is expected to include about six food and drink vendors, including alcohol, which cannot be sold in the arena.
Organizers say it’s possible for parts of streets near the arena with lower traffic volumes to be blocked off to accommodate Fan Fest.
Otherwise, food and concession services will be offered inside the arena.
Bob Hanson, president and CEO of the Wichita Sports Commission, says organizers are working with the city to ensure vendors have the necessary permits for Fan Fest.
An outdoor basketball court, games and live music also are expected to be part of Fan Fest, organizers say.
Hanson is confident steps being taken to improve the fan experience in and around the arena, coupled with a collective passion for basketball in this region, will put Wichita’s best foot forward.
“We are a strong basketball community and expect our arena to sell out,” Hanson says. “This is going to be good for the community overall.”
The tournament will need everything from programs to signage to in-game promotional materials utilizing graphic designers.
“I see (hosting NCAA tournament games) as an opportunity,” says Randy Vautravers, president of Rand Graphics Inc. “It’s an opportunity for the whole city to spruce up and show ourselves off a little bit.”
Rand Graphics isn’t involved with any tournament-related printing, but Vautravers anticipates opportunities will arise as the event draws closer.
Ensuring Wichita is successful as a host site also will require the use of public dollars.
Scot Rigby, Wichita’s assistant city manager for development, says public investments will center on improvements to streets, lighting and transportation along Douglas. The free Q-Line trolley, for example, will be fully operational during the tournament to provide shuttle services to and from the arena to other parts of downtown.
City leaders recently approved allocating $3.5 million for safety and aesthetic improvements to Old Town.
The plan calls for widening the sidewalks and installing speed bumps at some intersections on First and Second streets west of Washington. Other improvements include landscaping, benches and painting Van Gogh murals under the railroad overpass.
Jason Van Sickle, president of the Old Town Association, says his organization will be working with the arena to co-market local restaurants and shops. The association also plans to launch an Old Town ambassadors initiative and use volunteers to help promote the area to people in from out of town.
The tournament promises to be a financial windfall for downtown restaurants as fans descend on Wichita.
Don Wright, general manager of Old Mill Tasty Shop, says the restaurant will be fully staffed with 10 to 12 people during the tournament to accommodate larger customer volumes. It’s a similar approach Old Mill utilizes during other arena events.
Wright says hosting NCAA Tournament games creates new opportunities for exposure.
“Anything that draws people from out of town to our city is great,” he says.
Law enforcement officers from the Wichita Police Department and the Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office will provide police escorts for the teams during their time in Wichita, including an escort to and from the airport, practices, games and other tournament-related events. That includes roughly 90 police escorts in the days leading up to, during and after the games are played.
So who pays the bills?
Pittman says each university is responsible for paying its own expenses up front, but steps can be taken to receive reimbursement from the NCAA.
“In our case we will be responsible for paying the bills relative to hosting (the tournament games), and then will work with the NCAA to get reimbursed,” Pittman says.
The budget organizers submitted included $858,673 in expenses, a total that includes sales tax, facility fees and ticket fees.
Pittman says some categories, such as media/team meals at the arena, are fixed costs, but budget adjustments can be made over the next nine or 10 months for other expenses.
“Once the final budget is determined, we have to live within that,” Pittman says. “So we will be looking for competitive pricing from vendors to pull this off.”