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Economic impact of national Juco tournament drops

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) -- The economic impact of the national junior college basketball tournament apparently dropped in Hutchinson this year after the format was changed, according to a new study.

The NJCAA Division I tournament switched from a 16-team double elimination format to 24-team single elimination. Supporters of the change said that made all the games more meaningful but others noted that it also meant nearly half the teams left the city by the second day of the tournament in March, The Hutchinson News reported ( ).

A study by IHS, a Colorado-based company, which was contracted by the Hutchinson/Reno County Chamber of Commerce, found the five-day tournament in March brought in a little more than $1 million. The Greater Hutchinson Convention/Visitors Bureau had estimated the impact at $2.3 million and the impact of the tournament had ranged from $1.5 million to $2 million annually since 2001, according to reports in the News.

Those estimates were not conducted in the same way as the IHS survey, so they aren't exact comparisons, said LeAnn Cox, director of the Greater Hutchinson Convention/Visitors Bureau.

The change was felt in the city's hotels and restaurants, with reports mixed on whether it was an improvement.

"There was a different pattern in hotel arrivals and departures," Cox said. "We saw a lot of teams come in a lot earlier, because more teams played earlier. And then we saw teams leave within days after losing a game, so it will be a little bit of a wash. We would have liked to see more people come in mid-week than did, but it was the first year for us and I think there might be a bit of a learning curve as far as re-acclimating fans to the format."

Attendance at the tournament, which has been declining for years, did not improve as much as organizers had hoped with the new format. That's partly due to competition for fans from the NCAA tournament and a number of other entertainment options, Cox said. And all the NJCAA games were streamed online this year.

The NJCAA has asked the city to upgrade its arena and said it would consider moving the tournament if improvements are not made. The city is exploring hiring an architectural firm to study improvements and costs but it's still unclear what the cost benefit of the improvements would be and whether they would attract more fans. The city is also trying to find other events for the arena if the upgrades are made, Cox said.