NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - March marks a busy time for sports fans, but one college tournament is garnering a lot of attention in New Orleans, and it’s not what you may think. We spoke to organizers who say they’re expecting more than 10,000 guests at this year’s SEC Gymnastics Championship, and they say LSU is a big reason why.
“This was a slam dunk for us,” said President and CEO of the Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation Jay Cicero.
Cicero is talking about college sports, but this has nothing to do with basketball.
As fans cheer on their NCAA favorite in March Madness, another set of devoted followers makes its way to the Crescent City. They're here for the SEC Gymnastics Championship.
“It’s really going to be really exciting. We were watching the warm-ups today, and the girls are incredible and the teams are so enthusiastic. Hopefully, this will be even bigger than 11,000,” Cicero explained.
Cicero says they've already sold more than 9,200 tickets.
"And that's a record for this event," he said.
Cicero says LSU draws well for their home meets, which helps to guarantee a substantial crowd. But tourism officials say New Orleans is a sweet spot for SEC fans, which is just a drive or short flight away. What’s more, they say the city is familiar territory for SEC fans. The folks who hail from those states make up 50 percent of yearly visitation.
“It has all eight teams from the SEC, including LSU. LSU is obviously their drive-in market, but the other teams are also drive-in markets but a lot of visitors who come in for this,” said Cicero.
Walk-On’s Sports Bar manager Marshall Hahn agrees - the SEC travels well for all sports, and gymnastics should be no different. He says he and his staff have been preparing for the championship for several weeks.
“LSU called us about a month and a half ago to do some things on site and off site. Florida is doing some things with us tomorrow. Arkansas is doing some things with us tomorrow. So we’ve been kind of looking at this for a few weeks now,” said Hahn.
And just to give you an idea of how many they're expecting, Hahn says the Florida team has 30 members plus 100 people traveling with them.
"With these types of events popping up and some other events popping up with the SEC, it's a big deal. It definitely keeps us running and gunning until football season," Hahn explained.
This is the first time New Orleans has hosted the SEC Gymnastics Championship. Cicero says his organization worked to put in a bid for the tournament a couple years back due, in part, to LSU’s strong appeal across the Southeast.