Hosting NCAA tournament hoops ‘a smashing success’
Earlier this month, The Wall Street Journal declared our community “the college basketball capital of the world,” stating that Louisville has “entered a rarified group of cities with…[an] unhinged devotion to a single sport.”
Last week, everyone who found themselves in downtown Louisville would have agreed as we watched a sea of blue engulf our streets during the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship Second and Third Round, bringing an estimated $6 million in new green to our community.
By nearly every account, the event was a smashing success. It started on Wednesday when 10,000 Wildcat faithful filled the lower bowl at the KFC Yum! Center to watch their team practice. The energy continued the next day, with three dramatic games decided by one point and UK cruising to victory in front of a packed house.
With the river receding and UK advancing on to the Sweet 16 on Saturday, the first full day of spring was magical in downtown. It started early with the Rodes City Run, and included JAMfest Nationals, the Ford Motor Company Kentucky Derby Festival Spelling Bee, the Lion King, three performances of the Humana Festival of New American Plays and, of course, two games at the KFC Yum! Center.
Just how did this extraordinary hoops fest come together in the face of flood waters, bridge construction, the patching of potholes and an abundance of other activities?
Behind the scenes, a partnership of dedicated men and women worked tirelessly to ensure great experiences for the teams, coaches and fans from the eight universities that participated in the start of March Madness.
The University of Louisville’s Athletic Department led the way by attracting a championship-level event. No university has hosted more post-season sports competition during the past 10 years and no athletic department works harder to execute the stringent guidelines that come with hosting NCAA tournaments. UofL and its partner inside the arena, the outstanding management team from AEG, delivered at such a high level that an NCAA representative said, “There’s just not a lot of room for improvement in tournament operations in Louisville.”
Sports reporters from The Washington Post, USA Today, The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times were effusive in their praise of the arena and for our eclectic hospitality industry. CBS Sports and its partners carried approximately 16 hours of live programming, and veteran broadcaster Verne Lundquist lauded the Louisville experience while on air. ESPN provided live inserts that enhanced the tournament’s energy and excitement.
Local restaurants, bars, hotels and attractions ramped up their game and earned rave reviews from visitors. And the eight hotels that served as team hosts were spectacular in showing our penchant for Southern hospitality.
Louisville Metro Police Special Events unit was masterful in organizing and overseeing the safety and comfort of tens of thousands of visitors who came to downtown – many for the first time – when road closures and recommended routes were changing hourly due to high water. With MSD in the lead, Louisville Metro Public Works, Solid Waste Management, Metro Parks and Waterfront Development pulled together to help with road cleanup, street sweeping in advance of events, as well as logistics and operations to ensure road closures were handled efficiently and in quick order.
Downtown parking became complicated as flooding eliminated more than 1,500 spots. Again, through creative partnerships, local service support teams stayed one step ahead of mayhem. PARC quickly reopened garages and identified alternative parking options, and Jefferson County Technical College allowed the use of its parking lots.
The mayor’s office helped roll out a communications plan that urged fans in Lexington and other parts of the Commonwealth to arrive early. City officials used social media – #LouParks – to provide real-time information for those coming into downtown, especially important during peak business hours when available parking was at a premium.
Many of our downtown establishments created entertainment options for all visitors, even those without game tickets. Patrick O’shea’s and Troll Pub closed Washington Street for a family-friendly fan party and Fourth Street Live! provided interactive games for the young and young of heart.
The Louisville Convention and Visitors Bureau (LCVB) support services team created a tournament-specific website – gotolouisville.com/ncaabasketball – with extensive information about dining and entertainment options, transportation and parking, and much more. And it was hard to miss the LCVB’s welcome messages hanging from street signs and prominently placed in restaurant windows throughout downtown and the increased number of Ambassadors provided by Louisville Downtown Development as a fan information resource.
Thanks to all who shared their expertise, hard work and passion in hosting this tournament, including hundreds of additional volunteers who gave so graciously of their time. Working together, we will continue to see major sporting events come back to our community on a regular basis.