A packed Wells Fargo Arena during the 2019 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. Well Fargo will be the site of the tournament again in 2023. Photo contributed by Catch Des Moines.

Wednesday’s announcement that Des Moines has been chosen to host the first and second rounds of the 2023 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament was a reason to celebrate, not only for the success of bringing the tournament back to Des Moines, but because it provided a ray of hope during a year when the coronavirus pandemic has decimated the travel and tourism industry.

It will be the third time the tournament will be in Des Moines, which hosted it in 2016 and 2019.

The announcement was a spark to what otherwise has been a down year, said Greg Edwards, president and CEO of Catch Des Moines.

“Over the past months we’ve lost 305 conventions and sports events, so it’s been a downer of a time. So this puts a hop back in our step,” he said. “It's good news, and I think the community is ready to start hearing more good news and the timing couldn’t be better.”

Not only was the announcement a big morale booster, it will be a big economic shot in the arm.

Edwards said that when the NCAA tournament came to Des Moines in 2019 it brought an estimated 20,000 people to the community, resulting in $8 million being injected into the local and regional economy.

But it also comes with bragging rights for the community, he said.

“The whole metro comes alive,” he said. “Everybody is excited it’s here. There’s all kinds of activities throughout the city, the restaurants and bars, banners are up, it’s just a whole sense of excitement and pride for everybody that lives here.”

The announcement was the result of months of work with Drake University, the Iowa Events Center and hotel partners, putting together a bid package that was due about a year ago, Edwards said.

In a couple of months, bimonthly meetings will begin to be held to put together plans. As the 2023 tournament gets closer, monthly meetings will be held to put everything together, from what happens inside the arena and other logistics at Wells Fargo Arena, to what is happening in the community to welcome guests at the airport, police escorts for the teams, and other details.

“There’s a lot of work that goes into it,” Edwards said.

Jay Byers, CEO of the Greater Des Moines Partnership, said the tournament helps put the Des Moines region on the national stage.

“It's a national event that brings visitors from across the country to our community. It showcases the region to a national TV audience and it gives us a great opportunity to tell our region's story to a national audience,” Byers said.

He said the announcement further cements Des Moines’ reputation as a sports town, citing other major events such as NCAA track and field events, the Drake Relays, the Principal Charity Classic, and local professional teams such as the Iowa Cubs, Iowa Wolves, Iowa Wild and Des Moines Menace.

“This is really a testament that that work continued, that we knew as a region that we needed to look to the future and bring these events to our region,” Byers said. “It’s important we continue  to look for those opportunities and this announcement is a just great way to  show continued momentum in our region as being able to attract these amazing events, and to provide hope for our region, for something really exciting to look forward to in the future.”

Being able to attract events like the NCAA tournament helps make Des Moines more attractive not only to potential businesses or employees looking to locate here, but also to local residents, Byers said.

“That’s something special,” he said. “Not only is it an opportunity for our residents, but also it’s a huge economic impact as well. It just brings a whole new audience to help invest in those important amenities, but also for those of us who live here to experience a world-class event in our backyard.”

Edwards said he learned of the announcement when he was on a Zoom call with the Catch Des Moines board. He heard shouts outside his door and said he figured it was good news.

“A staff member opened the door and said, ‘We got it, 2023,’” Edwards said. “You know, it was actually very emotional to me and a lot of the staff. I had to pull myself away from the Zoom camera for a moment and wipe my eyes off a little bit because it was just one of those feelings of, gosh, we finally have something to smile about.”