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NC ponders cost of losing March Madness among other NCAA tournament playoffs

HB2: A timeline for North Carolina’s controversial law

North Carolina’s legislature passed a law that prevents transgender people from using bathrooms corresponding to the gender with which they identify. The law — House Bill 2 (HB2) — has incited a state-wide civil liberties battle. Here is the timel
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North Carolina’s legislature passed a law that prevents transgender people from using bathrooms corresponding to the gender with which they identify. The law — House Bill 2 (HB2) — has incited a state-wide civil liberties battle. Here is the timel

The NCAA’s decision to pull championship games out of North Carolina this academic year will cost the state an estimated $19 million in lost economic activity, primarily in Greensboro and Cary. The NCAA cited the state’s House Bill 2 in its decision Monday to cancel collegiate tournament playoffs in basketball, soccer, lacrosse, tennis, baseball and golf, which had been scheduled from December through June.

But the impact of the NCAA’s boycott could be far deeper if the state legislature digs in on the law, HB2, and the NCAA refuses to budge.

Local officials in the state fear the NCAA could next yank championship games scheduled throughout the state for the 2017-18 academic year. Additionally, they fear the NCAA could prohibit North Carolina from hosting tournaments for the next four years.

That would mean no live March Madness events in the state long associated with the term.

The men’s basketball showdowns were held in Raleigh last March; Greensboro had been selected as the host of the first and second rounds of the NCAA men’s tournament this coming March; and Charlotte at this point is scheduled to host men’s basketball in 2018. All three cities are bidding for hosting privileges for the next four years.

“We’re looking at a potential six-year drought of NCAA men’s basketball tournaments in North Carolina,” said Scott Dupree, executive director of the Greater Raleigh Sports Alliance, a division of the Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“It hits at the heart of North Carolina,” Dupree said. “It’s part of the culture, part of the fabric of the state. For a lot of folks, basketball is part of their identity.”

The NCAA’s move is the latest high-profile cancellation over HB2, the state law that requires people to use bathrooms on state government property that correspond with the gender of their birth certificate. The law was enacted in March in response to a Charlotte ordinance eliminating restrictions on public bathroom access to transgender individuals. HB2 also bans local governments from passing their own anti-discrimination ordinances.

If the NCAA ban is extended into future years, the hardest-hit cities would be Raleigh, Cary, Charlotte and Greensboro. They are collectively bidding to host scores of sporting events through 2022 that would generate tens of millions of dollars of spending from visiting fans.

This season alone, Greensboro expects the loss of the basketball games to cost them $14.5 million in spending on hotel rooms, restaurants and shopping. The loss of the soccer playoffs will cost them another $2.5 million.

“It gives us a black eye,” said Henri Fourrier, president and CEO of the Greensboro Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It sends a message to other groups and gets them questioning if they should be following next.”

Cary has been hosting NCAA tournaments since 2003, and in the current academic year will forgo an estimated $2 million from losing out on 5,300 hotel nights booked by fans who splurge on restaurants and shopping. The Wake County town has invested millions of dollars in three sporting venues as part of its economic development strategy and has merited the NCAA’s “championship city” designation to host tournament play.

“We’re caught in the middle,” Cary Mayor Harold Weinbrecht said. “The state legislature and Charlotte are playing politics and the NCAA is trying to protect their mission.”

John Murawski: 919-829-8932, @johnmurawski

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