MINNEAPOLIS — With the road to the NCAA Women's Final Four nearly complete for the teams involved, Minneapolis businesses are preparing to welcome fans, while organizers are preparing to welcome even more big events.
"I think because of what the world has been through, but also what our city has been through, there's this extra sense of pride and excitement and really wanting this to be the beginning of bringing people back here," said Wendy Blackshaw, president and CEO of Minnesota Sports and Events.
Though Minneapolis has already started hosting conventions again, and the NHL Winter Classic in January provided media attention and an economic boost, Blackshaw says the Final Four is big and provides a unique opportunity. The multi-day, multi-team event is expected to attract 25,000 to 30,000 fans, and generate $18-25 million for the local economy at a critical time.
"It's more significant this year than it's ever been," said Steve Cramer, president and CEO of the Minneapolis Downtown Council.
Similar to the Men's Final Four, Cramer says the mix of marquee games and free events provide businesses a chance to court both out of state visitors, and locals who may have stayed away from downtown through the pandemic.
"That invitation to come back downtown is really important because of the last couple of years," Cramer said. "And it's just a great opportunity for Minneapolis to be back in a positive national spotlight."
Blackshaw says Minnesota Sports and Events is now working to capitalize on that spotlight, and they're having early success.
"We've bid on probably over 30 events in the last 18 months, because we want people to come back here," she said. "We'll be making a couple of announcements in the next few months about some other events that will be coming here — national events. It is important that we bid on, and then do these events really well, so that we continue to be a city that's really recognized as one of the great host cities."
And she says the sport coming to town is providing a bigger stage than ever.
"It's so interesting because, over the pandemic, the viewership of women's sports has actually increased," Blackshaw said. "ESPN sold out our women's Final Four a couple months ago and there is so much attention and so much excitement around that, which we love. We want as many people as possible to tune in and watch the games on Friday and on Sunday, unless they're coming down and buying a ticket — then we want them to go to the game."
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