By Sara Agnew
The first-round games of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship open Sunday at the University of Iowa, but for Mike Peterson, the heavy lifting started Monday.
That’s when Peterson, facilities services coordinator for UI’s athletic department, and his crew began outfitting Hawkeye-Carver Arena for the Big Show. First, there were black drapes and pipes to assemble, the kind used to divide rooms, conceal the base of stages and tables and in generally, fancy the place up.
Then came the special NCAA chairs that line the court — 48 on the east side are reserved for press, something special for the tournament. During the regular season, reporters are contained in press rows in the stands. It’s up close and personal for this event.
There’s even a special media work room, where reporters can work on stories, not to mention another room equipped with lights and sound for news conferences. There were hospitality tables to ready in each of the team locker rooms, special basket pads to install and NCAA decals to place just so on the court floor. And don’t forget the advertisements up on the concourse that had to be hidden. If the company isn’t a sponsor of the NCAA, Patterson had strict orders to cover the ad with construction paper.
“This is special,” he said. “We have to pay attention to every little detail.”
Patterson is just one of a team of people who began months ago planning for the two-day event, which begins today with two first-round games and ends with one game Tuesday.
This is the second consecutive year UI has hosted the first- and second-round games and the second year in a row the Iowa women’s basketball team has been invited to the tournament. Iowa (26-8) earned a No. 6 seed and faces 11th seed Marist (27-6) at 7 p.m. today.
“Hosting is something we love to do and believe it’s important for our teams and our community to pursue these type of opportunities,” said Paula Jantz, tournament director and UI’s associate director of athletics for operations/events management. “I think our biggest gains occur in public relations, national TV exposure and the opportunity for our women’s basketball team to play at home in front of their fans.”
Even though this is UI’s second consecutive year hosting the tournament, they aren’t taking anything for granted.
“We are very, very meticulous in our planning process,” Jantz said. “We review everything we are going to do from this point until Wednesday morning. There is not one thing that happens that isn’t planned for. We spend a lot of time making sure that anyone who is working the tournament knows everything.”
The responsibilities are immense. Just figuring out the logistics for teams, cheerleaders, bands and officials is daunting. Plus, there’s marketing and ticket sales and those are just the obvious challenges.
“We pride ourselves in putting on great events,” Jantz said.
Iowa City Manager Tom Markus said university events such as the women’s NCAA tournament are welcomed opportunities to showcase the community and boost the local economy.
“We are especially fortunate this year to have the opportunity to cheer on a very talented and energetic University of Iowa women’s team,” he said.
As of Friday afternoon, 4,403 tickets had been sold for the first-round games; 2,297 for Tuesday’s game. The first round of the Iowa City Regional last year drew 6,836 fans, which was the third-best attended site among the 16 host sites in 2013. Iowa City also had the sixth-best figure for the second-round games (4,942) and the fifth highest total attendance (11,778).
“We tend to have a good walk-up crowd,” said Lisa Pearson, marketing director of the UI athletic department. “I would say this is about where we were at with ticket sales a few days out from the tournament last year as well.”
Rick Klatt, UI’s associate director of athletics for external relations, said the economic impact of the women’s NCAA tournament might pale in comparison to the money generated by one UI football game — an estimated $14.5 million — but there are benefits beyond revenue to hosting such an event, such as:
An extension of the university’s commitment to outreach.
A competitive benefit to the Iowa women’s team.
National television exposure for the university, Iowa City and the UI athletics program.
The prestige of being one of only 16 locations in the country to host first- and second-round games.
“And when we do this successfully — and we will — I’ll go ahead and boast, we do an excellent job of staging events like these,” Klatt said. “We will, again, leave a positive impression on the NCAA, which will be to our benefit when we submit another proposal to host future NCAA events.”
Karen Kubby, owner of Beadology at 220 E. Washington St., said no matter whether a university event involves athletics, academics or the arts, it always results in more foot traffic in the downtown area.
“There is a great value from any spillover,” she said. “Certainly the downtown district area is where people are funneled for entertainment, eating or just lingering.”
Jantz said the great thing about Iowa City is everyone — restaurants, hotels and businesses — buys into the benefits of hosting events such as the women’s NCAA tournament.
“That is something people who come here remember,” she said. “It’s the little things that can make all the difference in the world.”
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes women's basketball