In 2014, it took one of the best teams in the country to bring the bid to the Buckeye State.
Ohio State and the Greater Columbus Sports Commission partnered with bodies as diverse as the city of Columbus, its city council, Experience Columbus, The Columbus Partnership and Nationwide to bring the event to the heart of Ohio.
And according to Ohio State director of athletics Gene Smith, the partnership was a home run as it hosted the NCAA committee in September and then made its presentation in Indianapolis last week.
“This is one of the best presentations that I’ve ever been a part of,” Smith said. “Everybody came together to make sure we positioned ourselves to make sure we had a chance, and actually, when I left the presentation last week, I had a great feeling because we nailed it. Every single person that was a part of that presentation last week in Indianapolis was right on. I walked out of there feeling like we’d made the sale.”
The Women’s Final Four – which brings with it the annual Women’s Basketball Coaches Association Annual Convention as well as a fan fest and other events – is the most prestigious college athletics event Columbus can host, and it is viewed by many as the biggest annual women’s athletics event in the country.
Dallas (2017), Tampa (2019) and New Orleans (2020) also earned bids in the 18-month process, beating out Nashville, Pittsburgh and Houston.
“It’s awesome. I’m so excited,” said OSU deputy director of athletics Miechelle Willis, who arrived at the event in a T-shirt with Columbus’ Final Four bid logo. “I thought our team did a wonderful job of selling what Columbus has to offer for the Final Four.”
It was a sweet feeling at the Buckeye Hall of Fame Grill when the bid was announced given Columbus’ first bid to host the event in 2008 was denied. It was a personal loss for many involved and led to redoubled efforts to bring the event to the capital city.
In addition, the continued revitalization of the Short North area just north of Nationwide Arena, which includes the opening of two new hotels including a Hilton across from the Greater Columbus Convention Center that includes close to 500 rooms and nearly 50 suites, helped push Columbus’ bid to another level.
Now, the dignitaries of the sport who venture to Columbus will have the convention, arena and all hotels within walking distance from one another, not to mention the bars and restaurants of the Short North and Arena District.
“I think even though (the bid) was a miss the last time, it really did elevate our opportunities for the future,” said GCSC director Linda Logan, “and I think all the people that were part of the announcement could help tell the story that we really did come of age today.”
The Women’s Final Four will generate an estimated $18-$20M in visitor spending for Central Ohio, utilizing close to 14,000 hotel room nights. It also follows such high-profile events as golf’s President’s Cup, held at Muirfield Village Golf Club in 2013, and the NHL All-Star Game in January.
“I think we make our mark one person at a time,” Logan said. “This is an aspirational event that has been on our radar for a very long time, so to work really hard to get it accomplished is very fulfilling.”
Ohio State will also hope to have a chance to take part in the event by then. The recruiting class brought in this season ranked second in the nation by some and headlined by star point guard Kelsey Mitchell will be in its senior year in 2018, and second-year head coach Kevin McGuff appears to have a team that won six consecutive Big Ten titles a few years back now on the right track again.
“I would love to be wearing a lot of scarlet and gray during that weekend,” said OSU legend Katie Smith, who helped with the bid and took the Buckeyes to their only Final Four in 1993. “Obviously it’s going to be motivation for them. It will be fun to watch them. It would be a lot of fun to be able to boast and be able to wear your school colors all weekend.”