Basketball-Final Four remains big business within U.S. borders

ATLANTA, April 9 Tue Apr 9, 2013 1:53am EDT

ATLANTA, April 9 (Reuters) - Millions of Americans were glued to their television sets on Monday to witness Louisville beat Michigan in the college basketball championship game but the thrill was largely lost on the rest of the world.

The month-long orgy of college hoops culminates with the Final Four, one of the biggest events on the U.S. sporting calendar, but had it not been for a gruesome broken leg, interest in the tournament would have remained firmly within American borders.

When Kevin Ware's tibia snapped in half during the regional finals last month, the shocking pictures gave an international audience a macabre introduction to March Madness while turning the Cardinals guard into an instant celebrity at home.

"I don't think the attention has really been taxing on anybody," his Louisville team mate Peyton Siva said.

"I think, you know, if anything, I'm just glad to know Kevin Ware now even more because he's probably the most famous person I know.

"You know, when you have Oprah Winfrey and Michelle Obama call you, it's pretty good to say I know that person."

Despite its immense popularity, few players are familiar names beyond their own schools and alumni yet the numbers produced by March Madness are staggering.

In 2010, the NCAA entered into a 14-year, $10.8 billion deal with CBS Sports and Turner Broadcasting for the television, internet and wireless rights to March Madness and it has been every bit the ratings bonanza networks expected.

FOOTBALL STADIUMS

It has also been a cash cow for Final Four host cities, with Atlanta expecting to receive a $70 million economic jolt for staging this year's extravaganza, according to Atlanta Convention and Business Bureau.

It was estimated that 100,000 fans poured into Atlanta for a Final Four weekend of college hoops, fan festivities and free concerts filling hotels, bars and restaurants, turning the city's Peachtree Street into a pulsating yellow and red party.

The Final Four has developed into such a colossal event that it has outgrown traditional basketball arenas and is now staged in football stadiums like the Georgia Dome, with a tournament record crowd of 74,236 filling the home of the National Football League's Atlanta Falcons.

Outside, thousands more unwilling or unable to pay the scalper's asking price of $1,000 a ticket gathered in nearby pubs to watch the tournament climax.

There is more wagered on March Madness than on the Super Bowl, with millions of Americans from President Barack Obama to super model Heidi Klum filling out their tournament brackets.

The odds of picking a perfect bracket are astronomical yet millions of Americans challenge the odds every year.

The Pregame.com website estimates that wagering on this year's March Madness tournament will exceed $12 billion. Of that, $3 billion will be put into office pools of tournament brackets. (Editing by John O'Brien)

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