The NCAA announced Wednesday it won’t allow basketball fans to attend upcoming March Madness games because of ongoing concerns about the spread of the new coronavirus.
Health and government officials in St. Louis County announced the first positive case in Missouri on Saturday.
Under the new NCAA policy, only essential staff members and family will be able to attend the games, including four in St. Louis. First- and second-round games of the college basketball tournament are scheduled for next Thursday and Saturday at the Enterprise Center in St. Louis.
In a statement, NCAA President Mark Emmert said he understands how disappointing this will be for fans. “This decision is in the best interest of public health, including that of coaches, administrators, fans and, most importantly, our student-athletes,” he said.
Patrick Rishe, director of Washington University's Sports Business program, said the decision will likely have the biggest financial impact on the economies of the areas where the games will take place.
In St. Louis, he estimates the regional economy could miss out on between $10 million and $30 million. The Enterprise Center holds nearly 20,000 people, and Rishe said about 80% of the fans were expected to come from out of town.
“Most of the attendees of these events are coming from outside of the host markets, so that’s why this is such a significant blow to in particular hotels and restaurants that are located close to the venues in these different markets,” he said.
St. Louis Budget Director Paul Payne said Wednesday it’s too early to know how the NCAA decision will impact the city’s budget, as far as lost tax money from hotels, restaurants and merchandise sales.
“It’s not something we rely on for an annual basis,” he said, adding that it’s hotels and restaurants that will feel the biggest hit.
Payne said longer sports seasons in the region — like hockey and baseball — are major drivers of economic activity.
“If it starts growing into things like the Blues' season, a potential playoffs season there, or if it goes into the Cardinals' upcoming season, then you can start talking about some significant impact on revenues for the city,” he said.
While the local economy will lose out, Rishe said he expects TV ratings to get a boost because fans have no choice but to tune in if they want to see a game.
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