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March Madness: UD Arena prepared for First Four tournament teams

Once again, the Dance begins in Dayton.

For seven years, the community and the University of Dayton have hosted what began as the expanded NCAA “play-in,” the first four games of the 68-team men’s basketball tournament. Beginning Tuesday, those first games will tip off again at UD Arena, just east of Interstate 75 off South Edwin C. Moses Boulevard.

“I think it’s a testament to the Dayton region, and how we value college basketball,” said Neil Sullivan, UD vice president and director of athletics.

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Financial web site WalletHub recently ranked Dayton at No. 15 among “mid-size cities” for being among the “best college basketball cities.”

“Here in Dayton, we’re kind of like the epicenter of college basketball,” said Eric Farrell, executive director of the “Big Hoopla” First Four local organizing committee.

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“It’s everything ranging from college basketball down to high school basketball down to youth basketball and what our region and community stand for in regard to the sport,” Sullivan said.

“It’s important for us to continue to cement the University of Dayton Arena as a premier basketball venue,” he added.

Echoing estimates from the Montgomery County Visitors & Convention Bureau, Jeff Hoagland, president and chief executive of the Dayton Development Coalition, puts the event’s economic impact at a little over $4 million each year.

But the value goes far beyond that, Hoagland said. For two short days, Dayton becomes the “media market” for a nation entranced by the launch of the NCAA tournament.

And really, the attention starts earlier, on Selection Sunday, when anticipation begins in earnest.

“You can’t put a price on that,” Hoagland said.

UD Arena will be the home of the First Four through 2022, so the excitement is here to stay for several years at least.

Since 2011, winners of the first four games have moved to a second round. Winners then go on to a third round, with 16 games.

Then fans await the regional semifinals — the “Sweet 16” teams — and regional finals, the “Elite Eight,” which lead to the Final Four, which is in San Antonio March 31-April 2 this year.

Dayton isn’t a major metro area with its own major professional sports franchises, Hoagland said. Still, coalition staff encounter people “all the time” who know of Dayton based on the First Four.

In fact, the coalition will host seven site selectors — people who guide businesses in making location or expansion decisions — for this year’s First Four, he said.

“We have site selectors now who are actually coming back based on previous visits,” Hoagland said.

Dayton hosted the opening round game even before the 68-team tourney. UD Arena has hosted 105 men’s tournament games, more than any other site in the world, according to the Dayton Hoopla home on the Internet.

The site puts the economic benefit to the region at nearly $80 million in total since 2001.

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