Duke and UNC-Chapel Hill square off in February in Chapel Hill. College basketball is expected to return in the coming days, although the pandemic will blunt the economic impact. (Photo by Peyton Williams/UNC/Getty Images) College Basketball in North Carolina
Duke and UNC-Chapel Hill square off in February in Chapel Hill. College basketball is expected to return in the coming days, although the pandemic will blunt the economic impact. (Photo by Peyton Williams/UNC/Getty Images)

Under normal circumstances, college basketball is a big boon to NC’s local businesses. But these are not normal circumstances.

While it’s still about a month away for the rest of the world, Christmas might come early for many North Carolinians in the form of college basketball. 

The “Hoops State” is home to some of the most marquee programs and athletes in the country, and that’s been well documented. 

However, this season, several municipalities that benefit from the commercial success of college basketball will be affected by the pandemic-related gathering and attendance restrictions. With cases surging in the state, changes to these restrictions are likely not on the horizon. On Tuesday, the Atlantic Coast Conference announced that the Men’s Basketball tournament would be held in Greensboro, but officials across the state say without fans, businesses will continue to suffer. 

Cardinal & Pine asked economic leaders from Durham, Greensboro, Raleigh, and Winston-Salem how college basketball normally affects their region and how it will feel different this year. 

Raleigh: Scott Peacock, Director of PR for the Greater Raleigh Sports Alliance

Winston-Salem: Laura Johnson Lee, Senior Vice President of Economic Development, Greater Winston-Salem, Inc. 

Durham: Marcus Manning, Durham Sports Commission’s Executive Director. Susan Amey, Discover Durham’s President & CEO

Greensboro: Henri Fourrier, President/CEO, Greensboro Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Read more: Thanksgiving Is Going to Be Weird This Year. Here’s How to Cope.

How does college basketball season affect local business traffic and commerce in a normal year and what differences do you foresee this year?

Peacock: College basketball has a significant impact on our local economy each year as visiting fans travel to the Greater Raleigh area and stay in area hotels, dine at local restaurants and shop at our local retailers all while visiting for a game. This year is going to be markedly different due to the pandemic as all of the teams in this region will be playing games with very limited capacity or no fans at all. As a result of the decreased visitation, this year’s college basketball season will be significantly less impactful to the local economy.

Lee: In Winston-Salem, we’re lucky to have two outstanding NCAA basketball teams with great fan bases. We won’t see as many visitors this year drawn by live sports to shop in our stores and stay in our hotels, but safety remains paramount right now. Until we can cheer for our teams safely, protecting our athletes, spectators, and community, we’ll support them from home. We are working with partners across our community to advocate for pandemic relief policies, protecting our vital business and tourism industries during the public health crisis. 

Manning: With so much history and so many powerhouse programs, I’d argue college basketball is more impactful here in the Triangle than any other place in the country.  I’m hopeful maybe retailers sustain some business, as fans want to stay connected to their team in some way wearing the latest gear at home while watching games, but it’s tough to imagine just how hard it’s going to be for the local businesses that typically rely on fans walking into an establishment to spend their money while watching a game.

Amey:  Businesses nearby each campus will miss out on the foot traffic of thousands for each game that passes before a vaccine is developed and it’s safe to gather inside. There’s nothing we could do for those businesses that will completely replace the lack of traffic, but we’ve been advocating on their behalf since the pandemic started, trying to encourage local demand and find creative solutions.

The facts first. Subscribe to the Cardinal & Pine newsletter.

How does college basketball season affect the greater community in your area?

Fourrier: Basketball has a huge presence in Greensboro, being that we are home to seven colleges/universities. We experience national exposure every time we host an ACC or NCAA tournament as these are significant to our economy. We will feel the impact as long as teams are playing with no fans.

Manning: How does college basketball not affect the greater community in Durham? There’s unparalleled visibility for NCCU when NBA pros show up to their warmups sporting Eagles gear. The discussions that happened over the summer about top high school recruits potentially considering more HBCU programs to learn from the likes of Coach Moton inserts the university, and Durham, into national conversations.

The Duke-UNC rivalry and other conference matchups put the community in the national limelight, cutting to scenes of downtown and around campus at commercial breaks across national networks. ESPN’s College GameDay typically comes to Durham at least once a year, bringing along with it a TV crew (that needs to eat at restaurants and sleep in hotels) and poignant stories about diehard fans. All of that brings great pride to the community. 

Amey: No matter who you choose to cheer for, sports have a way of bringing people together. Other communities across the country might have NFL or MLB teams to rally behind, but here we proudly have college basketball.