NCAA, downtown Indy businesses reflect on 2021 March Madness tournament, hopes moving forward

The Daily Reformer

INDIANAPOLIS – Officials with the NCAA are praising Indiana’s state and local leaders, businesses, and the community that came together to make the 2021 tournament, unlike any other before, a success.

“This year came with incredible challenges as we know during this pandemic,” said Dan Gavitt, NCAA’s senior vice president of basketball.

With the entire tournament held in Central Indiana, all eyes in the sports world focused on the Hoosier State for several weeks.

During a virtual recap on Tuesday, Gavitt said a total of 173,592 fans attended March Madness this year throughout the 66 games that were played. For perspective, that’s about 26% of the 2019 attendance, however, it’s important to keep in mind there are capacity restrictions in place.

Gavitt sang high praises for the overall effort by the student-athletes, coaches, and staff of all teams that made it to March Madness, crediting them with overcoming challenges of testing, risk mitigation and discipline that took a lot to be successful both on and off the court.

The NCAA also said in its recap that it did daily testing for COVID-19 of all teams, plus 34 people included in the official travel party of those teams. Testing also applied to officials, staff and men’s basketball committee members, and other support and broadcast staff.

Of the 28,311 COVID-19 tests conducted in coordination with IU Health, Gavitt said there were 15 total positive tests over the course of three weeks.

In addition to protocols followed by tournament participants, Gavitt also credited the “broad community effort” and teamwork in the Indianapolis area that helped make this massive undertaking a success.

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“We are deeply appreciative for the entire community and how we were able to come together and show how great Indianapolis is,” said Gavitt. “The 2021 Men’s Basketball Championship will be forever remembered and cherished as historic.”

The impacts of the tournament will likely be felt for the foreseeable future across the hospitality industry in Indianapolis, particularly for restaurants and bars that have faced significant challenges throughout the pandemic.

“Through the pandemic, game days were not what they used to be,” said Rob Strong, owner of Stadium Tavern.

The sports bar, conveniently located right near Lucas Oil Stadium, typically doubles as a place for people to park during games.

“Being this close to Lucas Oil Stadium normally helps us but it definitely hurt with limited capacity,” said Strong. “It was rough. Normally we have parking. Didn’t have any parking this year for events.”

Strong said his business lost about $100,000 in the last year, and after facing the challenges many business owners know all too well, he said the tournament brought back a sign of positivity.

“With the tournament coming around it really helped. We were fortunate Creighton University booked us for two of their three games,” Strong said.

He said March Madness was beneficial to his business, and hopes the same for others.

Strong said, “got caught back up on some of our bills, we were able to bring some of our old employees back in, give them a chance to make some money again and new employees as well.”

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“We love our community. We want people to be safe coming in here so absolutely they should show the government we can do it, we’ve been doing it,” said Strong.

Over by Banker’s Life Fieldhouse is O’Reilly’s Irish Bar and Restaurant, another establishment that saw the month of March as a hopeful sign.

Joel Reitz, co-owner of O’Reilly’s said, like many other restaurant owners have experienced, things had remained pretty much the same since last year.

“What we saw was about the same thing we have seen over the last 10 months. Not a lot of people working in their offices downtown. No tourism, no visitors,” said Reitz.

“It depended on local business, but people stay in their neighborhoods for local businesses as well and not a lot of people live downtown,” he said.

Reitz said things really began to pick up right ahead of March Madness.

“Starting right before the Big Ten tournaments was St. Patrick’s Day and I thought it was a great introduction to Indianapolis – a re-introduction to downtown,” he said. “It really was fantastic.”

“It was a lot of momentum. It was fantastic. We should be able to keep the momentum going. It’ll still be a challenge until we become fully vaccinated and more wide open with less restrictions,” said Reitz.

He said he hopes more people re-introduce, or introduce, themselves to Indianapolis so they can see what it has to offer.

“I’m very proud of the city of Indianapolis, my own staff personally, and everyone involved in this undertaking. It was nearly flawless. I’m very proud. Everyone should be proud of themselves,” said Reitz.

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The NCAA also credited the restaurants and their staff, who helped in the coordination of meal deliveries for the teams, staff and personnel.

Gavitt said being able to provide the food and necessities a team needed to create a good experience was a top priority, and although logistically challenging, restaurants stepped up to be a part of the program put together by the Indiana Sports Corp and other organizations.

“The food portion of it actually worked quite well,” said Gavitt.

“We are deeply appreciative for the entire community and how we were able to come together and show how great Indianapolis is,” said Gavitt, “this business community, this civic community and do it in a way that hopefully gives hope to all of us that we are maybe coming out of this pandemic finally and doing it safely and responsibly.”

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