Stockton ups its game for NCAA women’s tournament


ncaa womenSTOCKTON — Stockton got in on March Madness for the first time, as the city hosted Sweet 16 and Elite Eight rounds for the women’s NCAA basketball tournament at Stockton Arena.

There were two games on March 25, with South Carolina topping Quinnipiac and Florida State eliminating Oregon State. South Carolina and Florida State faced off on March 27, with the winner advancing to the Final Four in Dallas.

All three games were televised on ESPN and drew thousands of spectators to the arena. But it took a lot of work from University of the Pacific, Visit Stockton and Stockton Arena’s SMG management team to get everything ready.

The most eventful day from a community perspective was March 11, when the Stockton Ports, SMG and Visit Stockton organized an event to clean up Fremont Street and the surrounding areas.

“We had 80 volunteers that showed up that day, and we just tackled a six-block area from Center Street all the way to the west, focusing on trash, landscaping and graffiti abatement and whatever we could do to pretty up the area,” said Visit Stockton CEO Wes Rhea. “That was really successful, and we got to keep people engaged in feeling like they’re part of the process.”

SMG had to get the Stockton Arena prepared for the event as well. Preparations started on March 18, following the Stockton Heat hockey game against the San Jose Barracuda.

First, SMG covered the ice with a special cover so it would stay frozen during the tournament. The hardwood floor went in next.

“The actual floor is provided by the NCAA,” said SMG’s Stockton Arena manager Kendra Clark. “For all of their regional events and the Final Four, they provide an official NCAA floor, so that was shipped to Stockton last week. The SMG Stockton operations team did the install of it. So, the NCAA did send a representative from the flooring company to oversee the project, but it was our local SMG Stockton operations team that did the actual conversion and install of the floor.”

Next, SMG had to go around and get everything else up to NCAA standards. It purchased 22,000 square feet of black carpet to cover the areas of the floor level not covered in hardwood. All advertisements in the bowl of the arena, on the scoreboard and on the club were covered. With more than 140 press credentials handed out for the event, SMG also had to convert its conference center into a media room.

“The entire SMG Stockton team has been incredible in what we’ve been able to accomplish over the past three days,” said Clark just before the tournament. “The arena is ready for an event of this type, and the city is ready for an event of this caliber.”

It took a lot of work to get everything up to speed, and the hope is that it will pay off. More than 1,200 hotel rooms were booked just from the teams and NCAA officials. After fans, family and media were factored in, all hotel rooms in town were full, and many visitors had to stay in hotels in Lathrop and Lodi.

Based on how other women’s basketball regionals have performed, Rhea predicted the event would bring in between $1 million and $1.5 million in economic impact. He said the exact impact would become clear about a month after the tournament’s conclusion.

“Some of the cities that have hosted it in the past have been closer to $2 million,” said Rhea. “But a lot of that is airport-driven traffic. We’re not counting on that because Stockton doesn’t have an airport (with many passenger flights), so we’re not going to see the inbound airline numbers here.”

This was the first time Stockton hosted a sporting event of this caliber, but Rhea hopes it’s not the last. Visit Stockton has put in bids to host women’s basketball regionals in 2019, 2020 and 2021, as well as NCAA tournaments for golf, field hockey, regular hockey water polo and men’s basketball.

A final announcement is expected on April 18. Rhea doesn’t think a positive outcome in this year’s tournament could sway things in the city’s favor, but a negative one might pull the events in a different direction.

“The assumption is there’s only about three weeks until April 18, and they still have the Final Four to do,” said Rhea. “So, I imagine they’ve done a lot of that discussion already. If they’ve made the decision to pick Stockton, we just hope to affirm that decision when they’re here.

“Regardless of what we get in the future, I think this will definitely be one of those legacy events for us that we look to as a standard for excellence, because this is really a level of logistics and operations that we typically don’t do. The NCAA has elevated our team’s ability to host events of this caliber, and I think that’s just a positive for us and a positive for Stockton.”


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