Hospitality Industry Welcomes March Madness Attendance, Health Expert Preaches Caution

Feb 23, 2021

Thousands of March Madness masks were distributed across Indiana ahead of the Men's Division I Basketball Championship games that are scheduled to be played entirely in the state next month.
Credit Justin Hicks / IPB News

The NCAA’s decision to allow fans to attend March Madness could mean thousands more people in central Indiana. The addition of limited fans at the Men’s Division I basketball championship next month is welcome news for Indiana’s hospitality industry. 

Hotels and restaurants were already preparing to host 68 teams consisting of athletes, coaches, staff and family members. The latest decision allowing up to 25 percent capacity at each venue will increase the number of people coming to Indiana.

This follows the Super Bowl earlier this month where the number of fans was capped at 25,000. Lucas Oil Stadium could have up to 17,500 people including fans, teams and family members of participants.

Indiana Restaurant and Lodging Association President Patrick Tamm said the most recent addition of fans to March Madness is more good news for an industry he says has been the hardest hit during the pandemic. But he said it also means going above and beyond with COVID-19 operating guidelines and safety protocols.

“Restaurants need to double down and making sure and being ever more vigilant because there will be more scrutiny; there'll be more guests, potentially from other venues and other cities and states,” he said.

Tamm said while the NCAA tournament is drawing a lot of national attention, other sporting events, particularly youth sports, have already taken place in the state over the past year. He said COVID-19 protocols have been used to keep workers and guests safe. 

In addition to March Madness, both the men’s and women’s Big Ten basketball tournaments will also be played in Indianapolis this year.

One health expert said some fans could be OK, but officials will need to vigorously track the spread of COVID-19 before, during and after the games. Indiana University epidemiologist Thomas Duszynski said he understands why there is a desire to have fans, but said there needs to be a safety net in place.

“We need to make sure we have robust contact tracing in place, right? Two, we need cooperation from every other state and territory where people might be coming from – including teams with contact tracing – and understanding that we're going to share information about individuals from other jurisdictions that may have been exposed,” said Duszynski. “Or that when you get back home and you develop signs and symptoms that information is shared back with Indiana, so that we could do contact tracing there.”

He said if cases in Indiana increase before the tournament, officials need to be ready to adapt their plans. 

For anyone who may want to attend games, Duszynski recommends double masking or wearing a mask that tightly fits around your face, having a bottle of hand sanitizer and socially distancing when possible.

Contact reporter Samantha at shorton@wfyi.org or follow her on Twitter at @SamHorton5.