ANDERSON — On the surface, the NCAA’s announcement Monday that it plans to hold the entire 2021 men’s basketball tournament in central Indiana appears to be a boon for area hotels, restaurants and other businesses that normally profit from major sporting events.

But during the pandemic, there are enough unknowns that cautious optimism, rather than excitement, describes the outlook of most tourism officials.

“There are lots of unanswered questions, but this should be great news for central Indiana and the surrounding communities,” said Mark Thacker, interim co-executive director of the Anderson Madison County Visitors Bureau.

Indianapolis was already scheduled to host the Final Four and the NCAA, desperate to avoid a cancellation of its showcase event for the second straight year, was determined to stage the event in hopes of avoiding another financial hit. By some estimates, the organization lost at least $375 million in revenue when last year’s tournament was scrapped.

Locally, officials are hopeful that if the tournament keeps its normal 68-team format, the event could move the economic impact needle even if fans are prevented from attending the games in person. Indianapolis, which will host the majority of the games at four venues in or near its downtown, expects a $100 million jolt to its pandemic-wracked economy.

“It’s like having a giant convention come to town,” said Steve Horwitz, an economics professor at Ball State University. “Given that the next best alternative is not filling those (hotel) rooms, etc., it’s a benefit.

“The big question is fans,” he added. “How many will there be? We just don’t know. But to the extent fans coming from out of town represent expenditures that would otherwise not have happened, that’s all to the good.”

Thacker likened the circumstances to 2012, when Indianapolis hosted the Super Bowl and hotel rooms in outlying communities were sold out for weeks. He expects an influx of out-of-town visitors, but with presumably fewer fans and more teams and support personnel, it remains to be seen how far the tournament’s economic ripple effects will reach.

“I think you’ll find plenty of people coming in and then spreading out in the surrounding counties,” he said, “but as far as economic ripples, I’d like to get through this week and have more dialogue with the folks in Indianapolis who kind of got this ball in motion.”

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