March Madness is making another trek through Buffalo.
The NCAA Tournament returns to the First Niagara Center for second and third round games March 20 and 22, 2014, marking the fifth time in 14 years Western New York is hosting college basketball’s premier event. Buffalo previously hosted early round matchups in 2000, 2004, 2007 and 2010 in the multipurpose First Niagara Center.
The Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, whose members include Canisius College and Niagara University, will once again serve as the host.
“I think Buffalo has established itself as a good venue and site for the championship,’’ MAAC Commissioner Rich Ensor said. “The fact that we’re getting it on a rotation or once every four or five years speaks to the job the arena and the local community have done in supporting the event.’’
Buffalo was a huge winner in 2010. Of the eight venues that held games in the first and second rounds, Buffalo had the highest attendance, with a total of 56,535 fans for an average of 18,845. The local average was higher than Salt Lake City’s, which held West Regional semifinal and finals games in front of an average of 17,420. The other regionals were held in high-capacity domes, including Reliant Stadium in Houston, which seats more than 71,000 for football.
With the participant field having increased to 68 teams since the tournament was last held here, what used to be first- and second-round games are now second and third rounders. The four first-round games, now called the first four, are scheduled for March 18-19 at the University of Dayton, with the four winners advancing to the second round.
“We’ve done well historically when we’ve done it in Buffalo and also when we did it in Albany; we’ve sold out the venues in all cases, and we’re very proud of that,’’ Ensor said. “There’s a great college basketball base in the region, and it’s a convenient site for a lot of fans to get to and their fans. You can get teams from the Northeast who can drive or teams for the Midwest. Attendance is a big plus for Buffalo.”
What’s more, the tournament is also a quick-hit economic boon for Western New York. An estimated $5 million in immediate economic impact was associated with the March Madness visit to the Queen City in 2010, when two nearby powerhouse teams – Syracuse and West Virginia universities – drew supporters. The tournament in 2007 was estimated to have had a $4.5 million economic impact.
The NCAA appears to be moving away from domed stadiums for the regional finals because of attendance concerns, and Ensor submitted bids for both the second and third rounds and the regional finals in 2014 and ’15. While Buffalo was bypassed for a regional – Syracuse will play host to one in 2015 – Ensor said it is not a reflection on the bid.
“It’s just that they look what they’re trying to achieve in terms of attendance in venues and that goes into the filter of choosing these cites,’’ he said. “In many ways it’s better economically to have the second and third rounds because you get eight teams coming in with eight sets of fans. I think most people think the Sweet 16 is the more prestigious round, but strictly from a business viewpoint, the second and third round is more beneficial to the local economy.’’
Before 2000, Buffalo last hosted the NCAA Tournament in 1954 in Memorial Auditorium, and the top ticket was $3. The opportunity to host another didn’t arise until 1976, when a local contingent put together a presentation to bring the 1981 Final Four to Western New York. The NCAA narrowed it to Philadelphia and Buffalo, and it went with Philly because Buffalo didn’t have enough hotel facilities.