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The Final Four's Financial Boost
By Mark Zdechlik, Minnesota Public Radio
March 29, 2001
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Thousands of NCAA basketball fans are arriving in the Twin Cities for the Final Four men's basketball tournament this weekend. It's the second time the event has come to Minneapolis. All the official Final Four events are in downtown Minneapolis, but restaurants and hotels throughout the Twin Cities are seeing a big spike in business. The influx of money couldn't come at a better time of the year.

Some 50,000 Final Four visitors to the Twin Cities are expected to spend an average of $1,000 each, for a total of $50 million. (Source: Minneapolis Convention and Visitors Association)
MINNEAPOLIS BOOSTERS WHO HAVE LURED MEGA-EVENTS, from the Super Bowl to the worldwide Alcoholics Anonymous convention, say little rivals the economic shot in the arm the NCAA Final Four provides.

"It's a huge deal. Actually, we feel it's a superior event to the Super Bowl," says Peter Hedlund, vice president of sales for the Minneapolis Convention and Visitors Association.

"Unlike the Super Bowl, which is very corporate-controlled, the Final Four is really 50,000 basketball fans. They're here for four days and they spend about nine hours watching basketball. The rest of the time they're spending money throughout the Twin Cities," says Hedlund.

Hedlund estimates each fan will spend about $1,000 while in town, which adds up to a total of $50 million. Rainbow Taxi cab driver Tom Riley is counting on some of that money.

"I was here for the last one. They're all over the street. For four or five days, the income is just how many hours you want to work," Riley says. And he remembers the fans gave big tips. "There's a lot of partying going on with it. So, if it's a $5 fare, a lot of them will just throw you a $20 bill."

Convention officials say about half of the money Final Four attendees will spend - roughly $25 million - will pay for hotel rooms. Dan Little, the president of the Minneapolis Hotel Association, runs the Regal Hotel on Nicollet Mall. He says the business comes at a traditionally slow time of the year.

"Frankly, in 1992 (when the Final Four was in town), it made the difference between a good first quarter and a not so good first quarter. It's going to be the same in 2001," says Little.

Tickets to the games themselves are hard to come by, and organizers say several thousand people will come to town simply to watch them on TV. They're not likely to sit in their hotel rooms to watch, so that's good news for Twin Cities area bars. Hoping to capture a piece of that business, the Regal Hotel has transformed its restaurant and bar into a beer garden to accommodate sports fans, instead of the usual business crowd.

The Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome is the site of the NCAA Final Four men's basketball tournament. Although it'll be hard to find a ticket to the games, other events, many of which are free, are open to the public.
Twin Cities restaurants are expected to see about a $12 million boost in sales over the next several days. Because so many people are coming from out of town for the Final Four, fans will be eating, drinking, shopping and sleeping well beyond the city limits of Minneapolis.

At a combined Ramada Inn and Travel Lodge on the eastern edge of St. Paul, miles from the Metrodome, manager Pete Bauchle says he's expecting as many as 600 Final Four fans.

"We're 15 minutes from the dome, and it's reaching out this far. It's really exciting to see. The phone's been constantly ringing, the staff's pumped up, and we're going to be selling merchandise in our lobby from teams that are in the tournament," says Bauchle.

Final Four play begins Saturday with a late afternoon match-up between Michigan State and Arizona, followed by Duke and Maryland in the evening. The winners will meet in the championship game Monday night.

Related Audio:
The Final Four isn't all fun and games, according MPR sports commentator and Star Tribune reporter Jay Weiner. Listen to his commentary on MPR's Morning Edition.