We all want Iowa or Iowa State to play in Des Moines. But what would that do for tourism?
Take a look back at the 2016 NCAA Tournament in Des Moines, the city's first time hosting first- and second-round NCAA games. Bryon Houlgrave, Des Moines Register
Three years ago, downtown Des Moines was swimming with people coming to watch the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament.
Four of the eight teams selected to play here were powerhouse programs with huge traveling fan bases: Connecticut, Indiana, Kansas and Kentucky.
They brought with them about 25,000 fans to drink Des Moines' local beer, eat at our favorite restaurants and sleep at our city's hotels. They spent $6 million on things such as lodging, transportation, food and entertainment.
In between games, fans lined downtown streets to watch the annual St. Patrick's Day parade, which had been pushed back a day to accommodate arena play.
The Des Moines metro is gearing up for the same influx of fans when the NCAA Tournament returns March 21. Des Moines could again get one or more of those powerhouse teams — and potentially one of Iowa's hometown teams.
The chances of seeing the Hawkeyes or Cyclones play in front of a local crowd are getting slimmer. (Drake isn't eligible to play here because they're the host school.)
But some are still wondering — if Iowa or Iowa State compete in Des Moines, would that hurt tourism?
Hoteliers, restaurateurs and the officials organizing Des Moines' showing say they aren't worried. They believe the addition of Iowa's hometown teams could make for an even better atmosphere than before.
"It would really enhance the excitement from a state perspective," said Greg Edwards, president and CEO of Catch Des Moines. "I think it would generate more local traffic and more Iowa traffic."
And it could potentially boost ticket sales, said Chris Connolly, general manager of the Iowa Events Center, where games will be held Thursday and Saturday.
People are already excited about coming to Des Moines — it was the first of the first- and second-round host cities to sell out its presale ticket allotment, he said.
Some of those tickets are already for sale on secondary markets. But there will be a huge boost of available tickets after Selection Sunday, when those ticket-holders decide whether they want to travel to Des Moines or not.
Connolly expects ticket-holders will be more apt to sell if Iowa or Iowa State comes here.
"It will drive demand through the roof," he said.
That proved to be true when the University of Dayton and West Virginia University competed in Columbus in 2015, said Jeremy Leifel, director of business development for the Greater Columbus Sports Commission.
"It was really evident in the actual games," he said. "When Dayton played you felt like you were at a Dayton Flyers home game."
Columbus, which had been a host city three times prior, saw a larger influx of tourists that year from all eight teams, but specifically Flyers and Mountaineers fans who made the short drive to the city, Leifel said. Dayton is about 72 miles west and Morgantown about 200 miles southeast.
That year, the Greater Columbus Sports Commission helped organize alumni events at bars and restaurants throughout the city. They also fielded calls from university officials looking for hotel rooms above and beyond what was initially reserved for their fans.
Leifel said he saw some Dayton fans traveling back and forth for the first and second rounds, but many stayed in Columbus for a few days.
"The men's basketball tournament, in particular, people make weekends out of it," he said.
Hotel managers in Des Moines say they're not worried about a drop in bookings, either. Many haven't seen a spike in reservations yet, but say that will happen once fans know where their teams are playing.
Will Ames fans still book hotels? Likely not, said Tara McFarling, director of sales and marketing at the Renaissance Des Moines Savery Hotel. But Iowa State fans live everywhere, she said.
"Iowa is so big, and Iowa and Iowa State both have fans that stretch well beyond the state boundaries," McFarling said. "So I think what's exciting about that is we'll have a lot more alumni come in."
According to the Iowa State Alumni Association, 42 percent of its alumni live in Iowa. Just 34.5 percent of Iowa's alumni live in the state, according to the UI Alumni Association.
As far as welcoming either team to Des Moines, both Catch Des Moines and the Iowa Events Center say they don't have special plans. They can't show favoritism to any one team.
But they hope that a home team playing here will give Des Moines a better edge than its first go-round as a host city.
"As far as excitement goes and atmosphere, I think that would be one element better than 2016," Connolly said.
Editor's note: The spelling of Jeremy Leifel's name has been updated to correct an earlier error.