FORT WORTH, Texas — The road to the Final Four begins this week -- and it runs right through Cowtown.
The City of Fort Worth is hosting first and second round games of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament on Thursday and Saturday.
"This is a big deal for the city of Fort Worth," Fort Worth Sports Commission Executive Director Jason Sands said. "And it's really a testament to the vision the city had in building Dickies Arena -- because we wouldn’t be able to host this event and all the other high profile events we’ve had without Dickies Arena."
COVID-19 concerns forced the tournament's cancellation in 2020, only a limited number of fans were allowed to attend games in 2021.
"This is the first year that [the tournament] is back to pre-COVID [and] the full madness of March that is this tournament," Sands said. "So we’re really excited about the teams that we got."
Fans can attend open practice for free on Wednesday at Dickies Arena. (For Wednesday’s full practice schedule, click here.)
"We're going to have the national spotlight on us for this event, and [we're] really kind of getting the Fort Worth brand out for people to know that this is a world-class sports destination," Sands said. "It's a great place to host an event. This is a real opportunity for us to showcase what Fort Worth can do."
From March to May, Dickies Arena has a full slate of sporting events on its calendar -- from last week’s AAC basketball championships to the NCAA women’s gymnastics title in April to the PBR world finals in May.
"With each event that we host, we just kind of build that presence for Fort Worth, and we're really getting the word out," Sands said.
The larger Fort Worth community is ready for the attention, too. This is especially true for restaurants like Taco Heads that sit directly across the street from Dickies Arena.
"This is game time," said Taco Heads’ general manager Quintin Kellogg. "Just like they're going to go play [basketball], this is game time for us."
Kellogg said they’re expecting business to increase between 30 to 35 percent over the course of the opening round basketball games being hosted at Dickies Arena, so it’ll be all hands on deck for the taqueria to get hungry fans fed.
"I didn't sleep well last night," Kellogg said. "I was excited. But there's a lot of moving parts when you have such big names like [Baylor, Kansas and North Carolina] -- and those teams travel really well."
Other businesses like Ye Olde Bull & Bush Pub are excited to be part of that cash flow.
"After surviving the pandemic, the basketball crowds will be a big score," said inventory manager Bruce Alford.
"I'm expecting some people during happy hour, and then a majority of the business will be after the games are over," Alford added.