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Column: Fans come for NCAA games, but do they come back?

They came.

They saw.

They spent.

But will they come back? Or will the friends they tell about fabulous, resurgent Buffalo come to see for themselves?

In other words, is the NCAA tournament – and other events like it – a one-and-done infusion of people and cash that disappears when the fans do? Or is there a residual economic benefit as visitors who learn about the area this week return later to explore Buffalo Niagara’s attractions in more detail?

Curiously, there’s no data on that, even as Buffalo hosts the opening rounds for the sixth time since 2000.

"That’s always a residual from hosting these types of events," said Patrick Kaler, president and CEO of Visit Buffalo Niagara. who hears visitors talk about returning or telling their friends about the area. But the tourism agency has never tried to quantify the long-term benefits of hosting the tournament.

Neither have some of the city’s tourist attractions.

Surveys show most Darwin Martin House visitors learn about the Frank Lloyd Wright masterpiece through word of mouth or the house’s website, said Margaret Stehlik, director of tours and guest services. The Jewett Parkway attraction has never done a lot of marketing, but expects to do more this year as the first-floor restoration is completed in time to celebrate Wright’s 150th birthday in June, she said.

Like Kaler, she believes some visitors attending the NCAAs or similar events return later for a closer look, but there are no numbers to back that up.

"We don’t track people that way," she said.

Neither does the Nash House Museum, which didn’t get many visitors even while the tournament was here in 2014, said George K. Arthur, treasurer of the museum that is a pillar of the hard-to-find Michigan Street African-American Heritage Corridor.

Arthur said that applies to most conventions and conferences, which yield little in the way of tourism traffic. Like the Darwin Martin House, though, the museum has not done a lot of promotion yet, he said. Most of its visitors find their way there through word of mouth as heritage corridor supporters promote it at preservation conferences.

The Nash House Museum has just hired a consultant to help market the corridor, something Arthur feels local tourism officials have not done sufficiently. Nor has the city yet done much to make the corridor identifiable to tourists with streetscapes, archways and other infrastructure that tie the sites together in a "you are here" bow that lets visitors know they’re at a crossroads in African-American and American history. Few other cities can boast of sites like the museum, the Colored Musicians Club and the Michigan Street Baptist Church at one intersection, just blocks from the NCAA action in KeyBank Center.

Fans flocking to the center’s three double-headers will help generate an estimated $8 million in economic impact for the Buffalo Niagara economy, Kaler said. That’s a significant sum, especially because it is based on new money from visitors who would not otherwise spend here.

But how many of them will take the brochure, or hear the ads and the spiels of local ambassadors and come back to see all that Buffalo Niagara has to offer? Without that, we’re still leaving money on the table. And until we start tracking it, we won’t even know how much.

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