Big 12 games selling out, but economic impact for Kansas City unknown

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Not as many basketball fans as usual are downtown this week for the Big 12 basketball tournaments. Still, organizers and city merchants are grateful that at least the games are taking place.

For those complaining about the lack of crowds, all they have to do is remember what it was like last year at this time. Throngs of fans from all over the country packed up and left Kansas City when the tournament was canceled.

This year, no more than 20% of the T-Mobile Center is occupied at one time. That’s about 4,000 people. At Municipal Auditorium, less than 2,000 fans will be allowed to watch the women play. There will be no bands, no cheerleaders and no dance squads.

Organizers said the reduced celebration is not taking away from the energy fans feel being part of the tournament again.

“I couldn’t help but smile as I looked around the venue,” Kathy Nelson, president and CEO of the Kansas City Sports Commission, said. “At first I thought, ‘Oh, I’m going to be sad seeing how quiet it is.’ It wasn’t that way.”

Visit KC told FOX 4 it has no idea how much spending during this year’s tournament will generate for the Kansas City economy. This is an unprecedented situation.

Nelson says the men’s tournament is sold out, and the women’s games still have a few tickets left.

“It was definitely uplifting to see people,” she said. “You see people in their masks everywhere, but we are accustomed to that now. You could hear everything, so that’s a little different. You could hear coaches talking to players. You could hear fans across the venue yelling. But you could still feel that energy, and that was awesome.”

A big unknown is just how many people will come downtown without a ticket. Nelson said fans can come to the Power and Light District and be part of the excitement if they wear masks and maintain social distancing.

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