Should South Carolina men's basketball team reach the first two rounds of the 2019 NCAA Tournament, it won't be eligible to play at Colonial Life Arena. Still, those involved in the bid process believe both the men's and women's Final Four runs played a pivotal role in bringing the marquee event back to Columbia.
Columbia's proposal was approved to host round-of-64 and round-of-32 games in 2019, marking the return of March Madness to city for the first time since 1970.
"To be supported by two fantastic men and women's basketball teams that I believe help push this effort that we've all been working on for the last several years, they've given this city what we believe to be the credibility that we deserve," Mayor Steve Benjamin said.
South Carolina had previously been barred from hosting championship events following restrictions placed on the state back in 2002 by the NCAA. It regained its eligibility after the removal of the Confederate flag from the Statehouse in 2015.
"I want to thank South Carolina Government Ambassador Nikki Haley and the General Assembly for working the way they did to take the Confederate flag off the place of contemporary respect that it had on Statehouse grounds," University of South Carolina President Harris Pastides said. "We would not be here but for that."
"We have aspired for several years to be the most talented, educated, and entrepreneurial city in America," Benjamin said. "In order to be that you have to create an environment where people love visiting you — where people want to live, work, play and prosper – and collectively we've been able to make that happen."
Greenville functioned as the host city for round-of-64 and round-of-32 games this past March, the first time for South Carolina since the ban was implemented. The Gamecocks won their first NCAA Tournament game since 1973 by defeating Marquette on March 17. They knocked off No. 2 seed Duke on March 19 to help propel their Final Four run.
"I think it's worth noting that when those eight teams come in here to play, that they'll be playing under two banners that say 'Final Four,' and they'll be playing under one banner that says 'National Champions,'" South Carolina Athletics Director Ray Tanner said. "We're excited to be able to host this event."
"The success of the men's and women's basketball teams only furthers the success and what we do in marketing in the Columbia region," said Scott Powers, the executive director of Experience Columbia SC Sports. "People see us as that destination where champions are made."
Columbia also stands to benefit from the economic boost presented by the opportunity to host tournament games.
"We plugged in our numbers into our economic impact calculator and we've come up with about $10.5, $10.6 million of overall economic impact," Powers said. "You're talking the possibility of over 10,000 hotel room nights being generated."
Greenville's hosting opportunity last month accounted for an estimated cash flow of $3.6 million into the city. Estimates suggest that 9,000 hotel rooms were booked as a direct result of the tournament.
Powers said that Greenville's overall revenue was likely hurt by having the Gamecocks' fan base so close to the location site, consequently driving down the total number of visitors requiring hotel accommodations.
In addition to Columbia's approved bid, Greenville will host first and second round men's tournament games in 2022 and a women's basketball regional in 2020 at the Bon Secours Wellness Center. Myrtle Beach and Salem, South Carolina, will hold men's golf regionals in 2019 and 2020, respectively. Winthrop and Rock Hill, South Carolina, will operate as a home for 2018 cross-country regional.