NCAA March Madness Returns to Hartford after a two-decade absence


Christiana Lenzer, Staff Writer

After a little over two decades, Hartford has another shot of hosting the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament since getting accused for lackluster marketing- and for rampant gouging on parking fees. The city’s XL Center arena will house the “Big Dance” on March 21st & 23rd, during which eight teams will play first and second round games.


Championship organizers predict the complete opposite of Hartford this year in comparison to the 1998 tournament, estimating a regional economic boost of $7.7 million, hotels, bars, restaurants and state tax coffers all getting a piece of the action. The 25,000 expected spectators will also supplement the exposure of Hartford on a national, televised stage, redeeming the city’s reputation.


Hartford Business Improvement’s marketing director, Chip McCabe, said “We want this tournament back. We want the NCAA to look at Hartford and go, ‘This is a city that does it right, and we want them to host again.’”


With three weeks until the national tournament, tickets have been selling quickly, according to Chris Lawrence, general manager of the XL Center. There are less than 500 tickets remaining for each of the three sessions, single-session tickets ranging from $60 to $100, while “all session” packages range from $240 to $300. Depending on the teams that are selected to play in Hartford, more tickets could become available the week of the tournament.


Officials credit lobbying by UConn and recent renovations to the XL Center Arena in securing first and second round hosting site this year. Planning for the tournament kicked into gear a year ago after the 2017 NCAA site announcements, sending Hartford officials to Pittsburgh, the first host of the first and second rounds of March Madness, to take notes.


The tournament will not only bring great revenue in for this city but will also put Hartford on the map. Operational manager of the arena, Michael W. Freimuth says the tournament will “put Hartford, Connecticut on TV screens for two days across the country. There’s not a bar, a restaurant that doesn’t have the TV on with all this stuff…it’s very important.”


Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin said the tournament’s 20-year absence from the city will be far different in 2019, “Driving up the highway, they’ll see the Colt Armory as a commercial and residential center, instead of a vacant, crumbling building. Getting off the highway, they’ll see a new entertainment and restaurant district at Front Street, where there was once just a void. And right around the corner from the XL Center, they will see one of the best minor league ballparks in the city rather than a sea of parking lots and dilapidated buildings.”