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Why NCAA Championships Are Now Flocking To Columbus

The University of South Carolina celebrates winning the 2017 NCAA Womens' Basketball Tournament.
NCAA Women's Basketball/Facebook
Dallas, Texas, hosted the NCAA Women's Final Four in 2017. Columbus will host the Final Four in 2018.

Columbus will host 12 college championship events over the next five years, NCAA announced last week, including basketball, bowling, golf, lacrosse, rifle and volleyball. While the city has shown increasing interest as a sports location in the past few years, including for the women's basketball Final Four, it may be a harder sell for the industry's biggest events.

Linda Logan, executive director of the Greater Columbus Sports Commission, says the city is enjoying a bit of a snowball effect when it comes to hosting sports events.

"Getting visitors here in the past was a little bit difficult, we had that lack of image," Logan says. "But the community continues to grow, and word of mouth is certainly our best friend."

Now, GCSC is seeing quite a few repeat customers. The commission reports that over its 15 years, the city has hosted more than 380 sporting events that generated over $400 million in visitor spending.

Logan says that the NCAA decided a few years ago to bundle bids at the same time, meaning host cities had the ability to think strategically about the events it wanted to host. 

"Happy to say that the first time around, three and a half years ago, we bid on 30 events, were awarded nine," Logan says. "This time we bid on 47 events and landed 12. So the whole community should be celebrating."

Credit Greater Columbus Sports Commission
Columbus will host early rounds of the NCAA men's basketball tournament, as it has in the past, but to get a Final Four is more difficult.

A big part of Columbus' strategy was to collaborate with all of its sports divisions for bids: Ohio State University and Ohio University for Division 1, Ohio Dominican for Division 2 and Capital University for Division 3. All four schools will host games as part of the championship events.

Part of what makes Columbus attractive for sporting events, Logan says, is its infrastructure. 

"When you think about the fact that we were able to host the NHL All-Star game just two years ago, the fact that the women's Final Four is coming here next year, both of those events would not have been coming here had we not added more hotels, more daily flights," Logan says. 

There's a reason why Columbus still can't clinch bids for top tier events in basketball, though.

"The men's NCAA Final Four has only been going to domes in the last two decades, so you know, that would really prevent us from doing something like that," Logan says.

What Columbus can get is early rounds of that tournament, which Logan predicts might bring 18-19,000 people to Nationwide Arena in March 2019.