Stockton hopes to score with NCAA event


we rheaSTOCKTON — March Madness is coming to Stockton. The city’s downtown arena will host the 2017 regionals of the NCAA’s Division I women’s basketball tournament.

Both the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight will be played in Stockton, March 25-27, with the winner punching a ticket to the Final Four in Lexington, Kentucky. It’s the first time Stockton has hosted the event, and it figures to be a good opportunity for the city.

“For us this is huge,” said Visit Stockton CEO Wes Rhea. “This is really the pinnacle of the kind of activity we work toward bringing to Stockton. This is the largest event we’ve had in memory that anyone can really recall.”

Visit Stockton and the University of the Pacific, the host university, partnered to bring the event to town. Rhea said the NCAA provides a budget to get everything done, so it won’t cost the city a lot of money, but it’s going to take a lot of work to get things up to NCAA standards. That starts with 100 staff positions, many of which will be filled by volunteers.

The University of the Pacific will play a big part. It’s already begun preparing to make sure everything is up to speed by the time the tournament rolls around.

“We’ve already had a couple of our staff people visit a regional last year to see how a women’s basketball regional went,” said Pacific Director of Athletics Ted Leland. “We’ve had two visits from the NCAA staff already to Stockton, numerous phone calls and one of the requirements is that your host university must play a game in the arena that you’re going to host the event in. We’re going downtown on Dec. 10 to host a doubleheader men’s game and women’s game at the arena.”

The event is expected to provide a positive economic impact for the city. It figures to bring in revenue from hotel stays, visits to local stores and restaurants, and arena rental fees.

And then, there’s the media exposure.

“You get an event like this fully televised on ESPN, 75 media from all over the country will convene on Stockton for this weekend in March,” Rhea said. “So, it’s just the exposure level for the city but also the level of the event and how much effort and work it takes.”

The event is in March, which will boost tourism at a time that is typically slow for Stockton. Visit Stockton has set aside nearly 1,800 hotel room nights.

“If you look at the cities who have done it in the past, they’re usually anywhere from $1.8 to $2.2 million in economic impact,” said Rhea. “Just the teams and NCAA staff and media, we’re looking at $175,000 just in hotel rooms, and that’s not including anyone else who’s coming.”

As the host university, Pacific will also benefit from the tournament. It’s an opportunity for exposure that will help the university, and it solidifies its relationship with Visit Stockton that could help bring more NCAA events to the city.

“Always the optimist, I’m hoping our team gets in it, and we can have a hometown advantage,” said Leland. “You get visibility. It helps you in recruiting and raises the stature of your women’s basketball program nationally, and I think it also cements our partnership with Visit Stockton. We must do 10 or 11 events a year that they help us co-sponsor.”

As for the NCAA, it’s pleased to add Stockton as a host city for the women’s basketball tournament and sees the potential for future events as well.

“It continues to be a goal of those involved in the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Championship to identify new and growing markets that will provide a championship-worthy experience for our teams and fans,” NCAA Vice President for Women’s Basketball Championships Anucha Browne said in a statement. “We are excited to welcome Stockton to our host family for the first time and have great hopes not only for the 2017 regional but for possible future hosting opportunities there as well.”

Tickets are on sale through the NCAA’s website. The Sweet 16 will be on Saturday, March 25 with the Elite Eight on Monday, March 27. Visit Stockton is hoping for good attendance to bolster the city’s chances of getting the NCAA to return to Stockton.

“We want to show the NCAA that our community can support an event of this caliber and that people will come out,” said Rhea. “It’s easy to rent a facility and host an event, but we want the audience there because it’s going to be on TV. We want the excitement in the crowd, and we know that Stockton will step up and support this event so we can get events like this in the future.”



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