KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The NCAA Sweet Sixteen came to Kansas City on Friday and local Midwest Regional tournament organizers expected around 60,000 fans to boost the area ecomony with more than $10 million in spending this weekend.
Despite overcast skies and a bit of rain in the afternoon, large crowds gathered inside bars and restaurants surrounding the Sprint Center, including some packed crowds at the Power & Light District.
Outside the Crowne Plaza Hotel, Auburn fans cheered and waved signs during the “Tiger Walk” as the team departed for the game.
“We drove almost 12 hours from Birmingham, Alabama,” said Auburn fan Will Choat, who came to Kansas City with his wife and son. “For an Auburn fan, these are few and far between for us. We’ve got to celebrate.”
Groups of fans for all four teams that made it to town — including North Carolina, Kentucky and Houston — were easy to spot mixing together near the arena.
University of Kentucky alumni gathered inside No Other Pub before the team’s game against Houston.
“This is great,” said Fritz Skeen, who traveled in from Jacksonville, Florida, for the game. “Our fans turn out everywhere. We’ve had a great day walking around seeing the place. It’s been a lot of fun.”
Many fans told 41 Action News that this weekend's Sweet Sixteen trip marked their first visit to Kansas City.
Snapping up hotel rooms and buying meals or shopping, those visiting fans mean big business downtown.
A short walk from Sprint Center at Homeslice Pizza and Pints, staff expected to see plenty of fans before and after the games.
“We’ve definitely bulked up on our staff,” Homeslice manager Josie Hunter said. “We expect it to be busy. We got the basketball games here. There’s also Planet Comicon. There’s a bunch of things going on down here.”
March Madness concludes a busy month for college basketball in Kansas City, which also hosted the NAIA and Big 12 men's basketball tournaments as well as the MIAA men's and women's postseason tourneys.
Overall, more than 60 college games have been played in Kansas City this month, generating an estimated economic impact of more than $30 million.