As a controversial “bathroom law” puts future North Carolina sporting events in doubt, the Raleigh visitors bureau this week reported that the NCAA men’s basketball tournament games held in Raleigh this year generated $4.6 million for the local economy.
The 10 tournament games hosted by N.C. State University at PNC Arena between March 17 and 19 drew more than 19,600 visitors to the area, according to the Greater Raleigh Sports Alliance, a division of the Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau. The $4.6 million generated this year, when it hosted UNC and Virginia among other teams, is up from $4.2 million the tournament generated for Raleigh in 2014, said Scott Dupree, executive director of the sports alliance.
“The 2016 NCAA tournament in Raleigh was a tremendous success by any measure,” Dupree said. “College sports is a primary market for us. The Triangle is widely-regarded as the number one market in the nation for college sports, and we are fortunate to have superb local host partners.”
The tournament, for which Raleigh has played four times since 2004, has boosted the economy a total of $16.2 million, the sports alliance reported.
But the news comes as many wait to see how the NCAA – among other sports leagues – responds to HB2, which puts transgender people in the awkward position of having to use a bathroom meant for a gender with which they don’t identify and prevents local governments from enacting anti-discrimination ordinances.
In late March, NCAA president Mark Emmert said HB2 puts the state at risk of hosting future NCAA events because many view it as discriminatory.
“For the universities and colleges that are members of the NCAA, diversity and inclusion is one of the benchmark values that every one of those institutions adheres to,” Emmert said. “So this is an issue of great importance for us. ... The experience that our student-athletes, teams, universities, the fan base has, in any one community, is a consideration in where we determine to play these games.
“In that context, as I’ve made clear in many cases, here in Texas, and I’ve chatted with (Gov. Pat McCrory) about this, it will most certainly be one of the variables considered when the committee makes these decisions where to play these games. It simply has to be. It’s far too important to all of our member schools.”
The NCAA has since mandated that host cities “demonstrate how they will provide an environment that is safe, healthy, and free of discrimination, plus safeguards the dignity of everyone involved in the event.”
But it remains unclear whether local institutions that boast of gender identity protections – such as the Wake County government, the City of Raleigh and N.C. State University, which acts as the official tournament host – will be enough please the NCAA so long as HB2 is in place.
N.C. State Chancellor Randy Woodson recently wrote a public memo about HB2, saying it doesn’t affect the university’s nondiscrimination policy.
“N.C. State’s policies ensure that all students, faculty and staff are protected from discrimination, regardless of age, color, disability, gender identity, genetic information, national origin, race, religion, sex, sexual orientation or veteran status,” Woodson wrote.
“The law does contain specifics on the use of multiple-occupancy bathrooms and changing facilities, leaving many wondering how the university intends to enforce these provisions. First, N.C. State already uses appropriate signage on all restroom facilities — that will not change. Second, neither the law nor the executive order contains any provisions concerning enforcement.”
The NCAA media office didn’t respond to requests for comment.
How the NCAA wants cities to demonstrate a non-discriminatory environment may not become clear until June, when it opens the bidding process for the March 2019 tournament and the following three years, Dupree said.
“Until we see this new (bid application), which will go to host cities and will be incorporated into the RFPs, it’s too early to comment,” Dupree said. “Once we see the new document, I think we’ll have a better understanding of our situation in regard to NCAA championships moving forward.”
N&O sports columnist Luke DeCock contributed