NCAA Women’s Final Four brings new opportunity: Demographics will decide who benefits from event

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The $20 million economic impact forecasted for this year’s NCAA women’s basketball Final Four is about $10 million below the men’s event. That doesn’t mean it isn’t an important opportunity for Indianapolis, which will host the event for the first time in April.

“This is an important audience for Indianapolis to be in front of,” said Susan Williams, Indiana Sports Corp. board member and co-chairwoman of the local organizing committee for the women’s Final Four. “It’s a different audience than the men’s event. It’s an older audience, there are more women, and there will be more families.”

Attendance for each of the three games is projected at just under 29,000, slightly more than half of what the men’s tournament draws. Tickets cost $130 for all three games, a fraction of the $400 to nearly $4,000 fans will pay to see the three men’s Final Four games.

But Indianapolis officials are expecting to sell more than 7,000 hotel room nights for the women’s event, and the crowd brings intangible benefits, organizers say.

“This is something that we’re looking forward to and have planned carefully for,” said Bob Schultz, Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association communications director. “This presents a remarkable opportunity for this city to make a first impression on a whole new audience.”

Schultz is quick to point out that 80 percent of family travel plans are made by women.

“If we get them here once to sample our city, we think we can bring them back,” he said.

In addition to participating teams, coaches, officials and fans, the National Women’s Basketball Coaches Association will bring in more than 3,500 high school and college coaches.

“We think this tournament gives us the opportunity to highlight our cultural amenities more than the men’s tournament would,” Williams said. “We think this audience will pay more attention to those things.”

Accordingly, the Indiana State Museum and Indiana Historical Society are preparing presentations geared toward women and families.

Though the city has hosted the women’s Big Ten tournament, the Final Four draws a significantly larger crowd and a brighter spotlight. The Big Ten tournament is held in Conseco Fieldhouse; the Final Four will be played in the RCA Dome.

“From an organization and volunteer standpoint, this is really no different than a men’s Final Four,” Williams said. “It’s been in the planning stages for more than three years and takes thousands of people to pull off.”

With the entire women’s NCAA basketball tournament now telecast on ESPN, the crowd is beginning to spread beyond women.

“I can remember a time when you couldn’t give these tickets away,” said Alfreda Goff, senior associate commissioner and chief of staff for the Horizon League, which is hosting this year’s women’s Final Four. “The tickets aren’t as hard to come by as the men’s event, but rest assured, these games will all be sold out. The tournament is growing significantly to the point where really it’s one of the top two or three major collegiate sporting events.”

Differing demographics will determine where the economic impact is felt.

“Hotels, restaurants and retail outlets will be the biggest winners,” said Mark Rosentraub, former dean at IUPUI and author of “Major League Losers,” a book about big-time sports operations. “Some women and familyoriented businesses might do a bit better.”

Milton Thompson, president of Grand Slam Cos., a local sports marketing agency, calls the women’s Final Four “a plum.” “There’s a different dynamic at work here and perhaps a greater opportunity than some realize,” Thompson said. “Women that support women’s athletics tend to be more upwardly mobile, so this crowd will be skewed toward an upperend demographic.

“This is a growth market, and from a marketer’s perspective, you always want to be where the growth is. People want to know, what’s the next frontier-in business and in society? Well, here it is-upwardly mobile women. This city is in an excellent position to make itself attractive to that strengthening demographic.”

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