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Economy & Business

College Basketball Bringing Big Bucks to Pittsburgh

Michael Lynch
90.5 WESA

Despite not having a professional team, basketball is expected to bring big bucks to the city of Pittsburgh this weekend.

Tourism agency VisitPittsburgh projects as much as $7 million will be pumped into the local economy thanks to the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championships at the Consol Energy Center on March 19 and 21.

Jesse Herrle, general manager of Blue Line Grill, wants to capitalize on the basketball crowd and said his sports bar will try to be “tournament headquarters.”

“We’re basically going to roll out the red carpet for all incoming universities — be it Butler, Notre Dame, Villanova, who all travel very well—and we expect a great crowd both Thursday and Saturday,” Herrle said.

At least 5,100 hotel rooms have been booked by the NCAA, and more than 18,000 fans from states such as Indiana, Massachusetts and Texas are expected to pack the stands for each game.

Carol Lippl, a merchandise manager at Consol Energy Center, is looking forward to the tournament despite her longer than average workday. She said fans seem to flock to get their hands on everything “March Madness.”

“The people love to have these as mementos of something that doesn’t happen all the time and especially for their individual colleges and universities,” Lippl said. “They’re not always in these tournaments.”

Jack Bettel is one such fan, buying 19 T-shirts, a hat and a miniature basketball after driving more than five hours from Toronto for the weekend.

This will be Bettel’s 14th March Madness tournament, but first time in Pittsburgh.

“On our day off we’re going to do a little bit of shopping in the morning,” he said. “We’re going to pick one thing in downtown and go look at that and then watch basketball the rest of the day.”

VisitPittsburgh CEO Craig Davis said the tournament is coming to Pittsburgh at just the right time.

“This is not the typical busy month for the north east in the United States and to have something like this taking place in Pittsburgh on a weekend in March is really a gift because it’s very difficult to find other big events that are willing to come to the northeast in the winter time,” Davis said.

He also said the games will give Pittsburgh national media attention the city couldn’t afford otherwise.

“We have a beautiful landscape here, and it translates very well on television,” Davis said. “So, not only do we get that kind of exposure directly for Pittsburgh, but also, this helps us to give credit for future tournaments that we have.”

The city hosted the second and third rounds of the tournament in 2012 and the championships will return to the Consol Energy Center in 2018.