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Madison businesses soldier on despite losing state tournament crowds

Tournaments take place around the state of Wisconsin to close February.
Lakeland falls in the WIAA State hockey semifinals.
Lakeland falls in the WIAA State hockey semifinals.
Published: Feb. 26, 2021 at 8:16 AM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - The final days of February wind down in Madison without the hustle and bustle of the high school WIAA State Tournaments that would typically end the month and begin March. But those tournaments are still taking place across the state, and the downtown area is feeling the loss.

In a non-pandemic year, the state tournaments for several sports, including hockey and wrestling, would bring not only families from communities across the state but plenty of fans too, all pouring into the downtown area to enjoy high school teams burn through the brackets.

But due to the capacity restrictions set by Dane County officials, sporting events of this size are not allowed, moving them to places like Wausau and Wisconsin Rapids. This is a big hit for businesses in the downtown area, particularly in the hospitality and service industries.

For restaurants downtown, like Nitty Gritty, the absence of tournaments would normally help carry the business after the slow months of January and February. But this year, the end of February is marked with fewer guests and less staff.

“We have one-third of the staff working that we would normally have during these weekends,” said Nitty Gritty GM Michael Leto.

And it isn’t just them; everyone in the Madison community is feeling the loss. According to Jamie Patrick, Madison Area Sports Commission VP, the departure of the men’s basketball tournament alone is roughly $6 million in economic impact.

“Of course, we would love to have them here,” said Patrick of the tournaments now playing out elsewhere across the state. “But we understand the realities that we’re working with, and we just have to build towards what’s coming next.”

He added that the sports commission is hopeful for the return of some state tournaments to the area for Spring sports but says that it is still unclear if those will take place in Madison

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