THE SHOT CLOCK is almost down to zero. On March 28 and 30, the NCAA Men’s Final Four will roll into San Antonio and onto the hardwood floor of the Alamodome. For basketball fans, the competition will be awesome, baby—but for the Alamo City, hosting the nation’s top amateur sporting event means high-profile publicity and a tourism windfall. You can almost hear the cash registers ringing.
The Final Four has been to Texas only twice in its 59-year history: Houston played host in 1971, and Dallas did so in 1986. But neither city seemed as well suited—or as psyched up—as San Antonio. “We hosted the Junior Olympics in 1989, the Olympic Festival in ’93, and the National Senior Olympics in ’95,” says Sandra Lopez, the director of the Local Organizing Committee (LOC), which is responsible for coordinating the event. “Now we have the crown jewel.” And what a jewel it is: The Final Four will attract more than 36,000 visitors who’ll spend an estimated $14 million. The city will incur some costs of course—for facilities, staffing, and the like—but “they will be much less than what we expect to bring in,” says San Antonio mayor Howard Peak. And the LOC has worked to keep those costs down: Its $1 million—plus budget, for instance, was raised from private donations. Meanwhile, PR is practically gratis. “Most of the promoting is being done by others: the NCAA, the sports organizations, and of course, the media,” Peak says.
The importance of exposure shouldn’t be understated, the mayor stresses. “I appreciate an event like this a lot more for its overall value to the city,” he says. “Not just from the people who are here for the games and take the message back, but also from the television shots of San Antonio.” (Last year the national championship was watched by more than 50 million people.) Bobby Thompson, the athletic director at the University of Texas at San Antonio, agrees. As the host institution, UTSA is responsible for running the practices, managing the training rooms, and operating the scoreboards—in short, handling everything that is necessary. “This is like the Super Bowl,” he says. “Because we’re a young university, most people don’t know that the University of Texas has a branch in San Antonio. This publicity is a major boon for the school.”
About the only downside city officials foresee is overcrowding, though Peak says he’s got even that covered. “Large events aren’t new to us. We know how to deal with traffic and scalping, and we will have police officers on the streets looking for illegal activity. It’s certainly something above and beyond a normal weekend, but it’s not something we haven’t experienced before.” The mayor’s confidence is borne out by San Antonio’s future plans: the NCAA’s Midwest Regionals are scheduled for 2001, and the Women’s Final Four will follow in 2002. And even before the first jump ball, the city is already looking ahead to another Men’s Final Four. San Antonio is one of five finalists bidding for 2003 or 2004. Peak will know in June if he should prepare for a repeat performance.