Division II tourney games at WWU brought $1M to local economy

When Western Washington University hosted two simultaneous college basketball tournaments from the NCAA Division II West Regional earlier this month, the events provided an estimated $1 million boost to Bellingham’s economy, according to university athletic officials and the local tourism board.

WWU hosted games for both the men’s and women’s tournaments at the school’s Carver Gym. More than 11,000 people packed the facility for the events, including fans from opponent schools such as Chaminade (Honolulu, Hawaii) and Grand Canyon University (Phoenix, Ariz.). The tournaments brought nearly 250 coaches and athletes to Bellingham, along with an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 fans and supporters.

“It was an incredible six days. I can’t remember any Division II school hosting both men’s and women’s regionals the way we did, but it was a testament to not only the teams and coaches, but our staff and the city of Bellingham as well,” Western Washington University Athletic Director Lynda Goodrich said, in a press release. “The visitors had nothing but great things to say about our city and the hospitality shown them.”

The $1 million estimate came from tallying the estimated number of visitors over the course of the tournaments, and then factoring a per-diem eating and dining expense for each of those visitors. It did not, however, factor in the potential additional boost to local retail businesses, meaning the final impact is likely greater.

The WWU men’s basketball team’s run in the Division II national tournament continues Saturday, March 30, with an 11:30 a.m. semifinal game against Drury University (Springfield, Mo.) at 11:30 a.m. in Louisville, Ky. The men’s team advanced with a win over Florida Southern, 96-82, in an Elite Eight matchup on March 28.

The men’s team is looking for a repeat of its national-title season last year.

The Viking women’s team advanced to their Elite Eight bracket, but lost to Ashland University (Ashland, Ohio), 66-54, in a March 27 game in San Antonio, Texas. The women’s team rose to No. 5 in the Division II national rankings by the end of their season. They ended the year with a record of 29-4, which was just short of tying a school record.

“The Western men’s and women’s tournaments generated more than March madness, they also generated much appreciated March revenues in hotel rooms, restaurants and businesses throughout Bellingham,” said Loni Rahm, president and CEO of Bellingham Whatcom County Tourism. “The events provided our community with a great opportunity to share the excitement and extend our hospitality to alumni, family and fans.”

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