College Basketball Nation: New Orleans

Sports key to New Orleans' resurgence

January, 10, 2012
1/10/12
6:15
PM ET
With New Orleans hospitals, schools and basic infrastructure in dire need of rebuilding following Hurricane Katrina, many taxpayers wondered aloud why the Federal Emergency Management Agency would allocate $156 million for a renovation of the Superdome.

Sure, the stadium was eligible for FEMA funding because it was state-owned, open to the public, and it sustained damage during Katrina. Yet questions came, anyway.

But for Louisiana, it marked an “If You Build It, They Will Come” idea. Fast-forward six years, and note that the Mercedes-Benz Superdome -- on the heels of a $336 million, multiphase renovation -- is in the midst of playing host to a string of the country’s major sporting events.

[+] EnlargeMercedes-Benz Superdome
Chris Graythen/Getty ImagesThe Mercedes-Benz Superdome before the All-State BCS National Championship Game.
In addition to the annual Sugar and New Orleans bowls, the city that hosted the Allstate BCS National Championship Game Monday night also has Saints playoffs games this winter, the SEC men’s basketball tournament and men’s Final Four this spring, the Super Bowl in February 2013, and the women’s Final Four a few months later.

Landing such events was part of the post-Katrina recovery plan, says Mark Romig, chief executive officer of the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corp., and a member of committees for the Super Bowl and Sugar Bowl. “We knew for us to come back and to lift ourselves up, we had to go through this process.”

Romig says New Orleans annually ranks at or near the top of the list in hospitality jobs nationally, with between 70,000 and 80,000 positions. He says that number is “very close” to pre-Katrina levels and that there are more restaurants in New Orleans than before the hurricane, and hotel numbers are comparable.

John Williams, interim dean for the University of New Orleans’ College of Business Administration, attributes much of the city’s jump from $4.3 billion in tourism spending in 2009 to $5.5 billion in 2010 to sports. Business travelers are staying an average of 2.2 days longer than their business plans, he says, often to attend sporting events.

Williams says studies also show fans visiting for sporting events are more likely to patronize local restaurants than other tourist segments, like day visitors or business travelers. It’s why he thinks the city has seen a jump in restaurants from 805 pre-Katrina to 1,230 today. “Sports are really key to that,” he says.

Williams says the city saw a 6.6 percent growth in tourism-related jobs in the first quarter of 2011 alone. While numbers have not yet been vetted for the remainder of 2011, he says the city has been experiencing a snowball effect since hosting Saints playoff games in 2009.

Romig says hosting events like the BCS game Monday essentially provides the city with immeasurable free advertising to help boost tourism unrelated to sporting events. ESPN logged more than 36 hours of programming on sets around New Orleans in the week leading up to the game, not counting the game itself, pre- or postgame shows or halftime shows.

Asked to estimate the value of the advertising New Orleans received around the BCS National Championship Game, Malcolm Turner of Wasserman Media Group says, “There’s no question we’re talking in the tens of millions of dollars.”

The projected economic impact from the recent Sugar Bowl and BCS National Championship Game was $400 million. The R&L Carriers New Orleans Bowl played on Dec. 18 and the Saints playoff game last Saturday were expected to contribute another $45 million. But the Super Bowl is the big revenue generator, with estimates at about $900 million.
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  • Education secretary Arne Duncan, whose first name always looks weird to me when I type it -- not that I type "Arne Duncan" all that often, but still -- is hitting college basketball where it hurts: Graduation rates. This might be worthy of a longer discussion later, but Duncan's idea is to tie graduation rates to NCAA tournament admission; if you're not graduating players, you can't play in the postseason: "You had four teams that didn't graduate any African-American players. Zero. If that was my son, I don't know if I would want him playing there," Duncan said. "And why did we allow them to play in this tournament, make all this money, be on national TV, and they're not graduating any kids?" Oooh, I know! (Furiously raises hand.) Because no one actually thinks college basketball is an academic enterprise? That only the most naive college basketball viewers argue that college basketball is great because they're watching student-athletes? That, for better or worse (definitely worse), no one really cares? Is that why?
  • I have no idea who to believe in this mess, because no one -- neither Mike Garrett nor Tim Floyd -- seems particularly trustworthy.
  • Speaking of USC, women's coach Michael Cooper (yes, the Showtime Lakers Michael Cooper) issued an apology for opening a news conference with, "My opening statement is [expletive] UCLA." Hilarious! Also kind of mean, and definitely the sort of thing you have to apologize for if you plan on being a head coach at any program for very long. But still, Michael Cooper, well done. Big round of applause. You, sir, are 90 percent onions.
  • Saturday's Cornell-Columbia game at Columbia's Levien Gymnasium is sold out. Yes, a sold out Ivy League basketball game at CUNY. What? It's not like there's anything better to do in New York.
  • UCLA still believes it can improve. This is where a smart aleck like me says that at 7-10, there's no way UCLA can get worse, and so promising improvement is a little like me promising that I'll get better at blogging today: When you're this bad, there's nowhere to go but up.
  • Royce White returns! After retiring from basketball, the Minnesota forward has returned to Tubby Smith's squad at long last. White's legal issues still need to be resolved -- White plead guilty to disorderly conduct and theft for his role in a mall altercation last year, and he's still a focus of an investigation involving a stolen laptop -- but if Smith allows him, White could return to the floor soon.
  • New Orleans quit the Sun Belt, which brings the school one step closer to settling in at the Division III level. When asked for comment, one New Orleans fan screamed "Uh, OK? GO SAINNNNNTSSSSSAHHH!"
  • I like college basketball. I like ridiculous haircuts. You can find me wherever the 'twain shall meet.
  • Casual Hoya breaks down and aggregates Georgetown's huge win over Pitt last night.
  • From the ESPN file, check out Dana O'Neil's excellent look at the surprising Binghamton Bearcats, who suffered one of the worst offseasons of all-time and are somehow not only not winless, but downright competitive. Keep in mind this is a team that had to have open tryouts on campus to fill the 2009-10 squad. It's shocking, really. And speaking of Dana, IU blog Inside The Hall sat her down for a Q & A on her gig, the Hoosiers, and her current All-American picks.
  • A Sea Of Blue takes a look at Kentucky's average margin of victory in 2009-10 and compares it to years' past. Despite the occasional Wildcat letdown and Kentucky's willingness to allow inferior teams to stick around -- think Georgia at Rupp Arena, for example -- the Cats' average margin of victory compares well with the more successful of former coach Rick Pitino's teams.
  • Finally, one quick note on this nonsense: Saying regular-season games don't matter is like saying any given week of the NFL doesn't matter. By itself, no. It's just one-sixteenth, or in college basketball's case, one-thirty-second of a season. The marginal value is low. But the games matter in the aggregate. Which team wins the NCAA title has as much to do with seeding and chance as talent, and every game on the way to the tournament has tiny little reverberations and consequences for March's massive payoff. You know, just like any other sport. Decrying college basketball's regular season as nothing but entertaining TV filler seems more than a little off-base.

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