By Chris Gray
Ingham County Chronicle staff writer
The NCAA men’s basketball tournament kicked off on March 20 with locals flocking to their favorite bars and businesses to root for their favorite teams while enjoying a beverage among other fans. Helping the cause is Michigan State University’s basketball team, a national favorite to make it far in the tournament.
Steve Antaya, vice president of Ingham County-based Tom’s Food Center, said that the further the hometown team makes it, the more business his grocery stores receive.
“If they go further in the tournament, like the final four or even elite eight, you’ll see more people with parties,” Antaya said. “You see an uptick in game food — chips, pop and beer.”
Tom’s Food Center is getting in the spirit of the tournament with multiple basketball themed displays and baked goods. Antaya said that, to a smaller degree, fans of the University of Michigan’s team also create a presence at the grocery store.
“The longer the teams go on, the more you see people holding gatherings and parties,” Antaya said.
For Mike Heikkila, 24, watching the games requires a balance between the bars and his living room. Regardless of where he watches the games, however, he said he does spend extra money.
“I’ll be at home with some friends watching the smaller games and out at the bar for the big ones,” Heikkila said. “No matter where I am, there will be food and there will be beer.”
The tournament differs from most post-season events because it features 64 teams that play in a combined total of 63 games. The Super Bowl, in comparison, is the biggest sporting event in the U.S., but comes and goes in the matter of a few hours. The extended duration of the tournament offers a unique opportunity for local bars, restaurants and grocery stores because, collectively, it allows for more customers.
The tournament lasts until April 7, when the final two teams faceoff for the championship. If MSU makes it that far, they will have played in six games – six opportunities for people to give a boost to the economy while rooting for their team.