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The upcoming 2021 NCAA women’s basketball tournament could inject as much as $27.2 million into San Antonio’s economy, according to a new study.

Furnished by economist Steve Nivin, director of St. Mary’s University’s SABÉR Research Institute, the estimate is a projection of direct consumer spending at local businesses such as hotels, restaurants, and retail stores during the two-week tournament featuring 64 teams. The study predicts more than 15,000 visitors will come to the city, booking roughly 35,000 hotel room nights.

The tournament – the first time that the entirety of the women’s basketball championship will be held in one area – has long been expected to be a boon for tourism revenue. The study released Monday gives hotel and tourism businesses a concrete number.

“In the current climate, it’s hugely significant,” said Michelle Madson, president and CEO of the San Antonio Hotel & Lodging Association. “It’s a much needed boost.”

The coronavirus pandemic has devastated the city’s hospitality industry. A study released in February from Source Strategies Inc., a San Antonio-based hotel data consulting firm, reported that lodging revenue in the city was nearly cut in half from 2019 to 2020.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg has previously called the event, which begins March 21, a “great opportunity for our local economy.”

Nivin said the estimate was produced by looking at past patterns of visitor spending and calculations for the event’s estimated attendance, limited to the 34-member travel party for each team, as well as up to six guests for each member.

“We know what visitors tend to spend their money on,” said Nivin, who has produced similar economic impact studies in the area for years. Nivin was the City of San Antonio’s chief economist from 2002 to 2008.

Nivin said the study will be submitted to the state for the purposes of its Events Trust Fund, a program that reimburses cities for costs associated with hosting large-scale events, such as security and venue renovations.

San Antonio Sports, the city’s nonprofit sports commission, said it plans to apply for $2 million in reimbursements.

The study does not take into account the NCAA’s announcement last month that it would allow up to 17% capacity for fans to attend select games at the Alamodome.

Those games include the round-of-16 games played March 27-28, round-of-eight games held March 29-30, and the Final Four, on April 2 and 4.

City officials will have the final say on attendance to the games as they assess the continuing pandemic.

Teams start arriving on March 16. A total of 64 teams will be in San Antonio and 63 games will be played overall, including early-round games in Austin and San Marcos.

When the city hosted the women’s Final Four in 2010, nearly $21 million was spent directly by visitors when the city hosted the women’s Final Four in 2010, according to a previous study from the SABÉR Research Institute. The economic impact is expected to be bigger this year, even with dramatically reduced fan attendance, because all 64 teams will be converging on the city.

The tournament, normally spread across the country, was consolidated to the San Antonio area to limit travel and simplify logistics amid the pandemic. San Antonio was previously slated to host just the Final Four games.

Waylon Cunningham

Waylon Cunningham writes about business and technology. Contact him at waylon@sareport.org.