March Madness returns to Cleveland this Thursday and Saturday, sure to pack the Q -- and the city -- with college basketball fans.
Big Blue nation is on the way. As March Madness descends on Cleveland for the Midwest Regional Finals, Kentucky basketball fans will find their way to support the Wildcats.
Kentucky basketball is a way of life in the Bluegrass State and their fans spare no expense traveling nationwide to follow the Wildcats. When you consider that Lexington, KY, home of the unbeaten University of Kentucky, is only about a five-hour drive to Cleveland, and that Kentucky is a huge favorite to win the National Championship, it certainly means there will be big numbers of Big Blue fans making the trip.
"Having Kentucky here is going to accelerate the interest on a national basis," says Joe Marinucci, CEO of the Downtown Cleveland Alliance.
It's not just Kentucky fans that will be invading northeast Ohio.
Notre Dame, like they do almost everywhere, has a built-in fan base here and the Irish will bring a strong alumni presence to Cleveland.
West Virginia fans have a shorter drive of about three hours from Morgantown, which means the Mountaineers will be well represented.
The long trip from Kansas most likely will not slow down fans of Wichita State, who took out state rival Kansas to advance to the Sweet 16.
Add it all up and Marinucci expects a direct economic impact between $5-$10 million for the region.
"It's an opportunity to kind of showcase our community to people who may have not been here very recently," he believes.
The semi finals are Thursday. Notre Dame and Wichita will tip off at 7:15 p.m. Kentucky and West Virginia will tip off about 30 minutes after the completion of the first game.
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