DES MOINES, Iowa -- For the first time in the city's history, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament bounced its way into Des Moines last year, and in two years it's making a comeback.
On Tuesday, Des Moines secured the first and second rounds of the tournament in 2019 on March 21st and 23rd. Drake University will serve as the host school. All games will be played at Wells Fargo Arena.
The Local Organizing Committee, which is made up of several city and county-wide groups, says the opportunity to host the tournament again came after the success of the 2016 tournament. When placing their bid to the NCAA this time, the committee emphasized community and corporate support, strong ticket sales, and new amenities.
“It was a team effort to pull this off,” says Chris Connolly, general manager of the Iowa Events Center.
Now, with the location secured, Connolly says the real work begins.
“The positive is we were just a host, so I feel like we just had recap meetings going through a lot of this stuff in 2016,” he smiles. “So I think we'll sit down and seek reaction from the NCAA, and at a certain point they will dictate prices, so we need to get that information, but I think as a group we'll start getting together and start talking about areas that we will want to enhance in 2019, but work will start very, very soon.”
Connolly adds areas of improvement include managing long lines at concession stands and enhancing the fan experience through engaging events in the downtown area. In 2016, Cowles Commons hosted Hoops and Hops, an outdoor event with big screens of the games and food and beverage vendors.
The two-year waiting period is also giving the city time to wrap up some major projects. The portion of the skywalk that connects to the Events Center along with the convention hotels are slated to be completed in the spring of 2018, a year before tournament time. The Convention and Visitors Bureau says the lack of a hotel attached to the Events Center was one of the things they believe cost them the bid in previous years.
Tuesday’s news is not only big for the sports community, but also for those who take pride in the city’s reputation. Nickelle Stevens says it’s events like these that help put Des Moines on the map.
“Most people live in Iowa and know it’s great, but they don't go out and promote it. People are always pleasantly surprised when they come to Iowa, so this is just another excuse to get people here.”
Ticket prices for the event are expected to go on sale next spring.