NCAA games mean $5 million impact on Memphis economy

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Thousands of basketball fans are traveling to Memphis this week to watch NCAA tournament games.

Butler takes on North Carolina in the first game Friday night, followed by UCLA versus Kentucky.

Those big games equal big dollars for local businesses.

Before the lunch hour Thursday, fans of all four teams could be seen walking Beale Street and B.B. King Blvd.

As they represented their teams wearing all sorts of fan gear, WREG spoke with people getting a taste of the Bluff City.

Butler fan David Cross told WREG, "Just got in town last night, this is our first trip out." Cross said he and his family were hoping to use the trolley system to get around downtown.

This is the third NCAA regional Memphis has hosted, but Convention and Visitor's Bureau President Kevin Kane says landing games with such storied programs and devoted fans means an even bigger boost for the local economy.

"This is great for the city. Economic impact of $5 million, with 12,000 hotel rooms that will be sold over the next few days just for this basketball tournament."

Kane noted it's not just downtown businesses that will benefit.

Cross' plans serve as a good example.

He said, "I might try and do Graceland. I heard that the zoo is really fun for younger kids."

Out of town fans aren't the only ones driving the local economy this week.

Cathie Liles is a Kentucky native, living in Germantown. She was downtown with family and friends Thursday to watch the open practice.

"My husband and I are spending tomorrow night downtown at a hotel down here after the game and hoping to return on Sunday."

WREG met a large group of fans from Butler. Ken Keltner and his friends said they'll travel anywhere the team goes and added they were enjoying Memphis so far.

At one point, the conversation somehow shifted to a debate over who's the bigger VIP, Vice President Mike Pence who is supposed to be in town, or Butler's mascot Blue, (or "Trip" as he's called), who can't make an appearance inside the Forum due to NCAA rules.

One of the fans said, "We want to see...the vice president, pet our dog Blue!"

Oddly enough a little "bulldog" reporting led WREG to Butler Blue's mom, Tiffany Kaltenmark, on Beale Street!

"He's down here with us, making some appearances right now," Kaltenmark said of Trip.

Kaltenmark said it seems lots of Butler fans have made it to Memphis.

"Everybody kind of started rolling in yesterday so seems like we got pretty good support out here already."

Kane said research shows that with large sporting events such as this one, each out of town guest is worth approximately $270 a day to the local economy.

"This is Memphis in May, starting six weeks earlier thanks to March Madness right here with this regional."