‘Obviously it’s a loss’: WIAA tournament moving from Madison carries economic impact

MADISON, Wis. – The WIAA Boys Basketball Tournament, normally held over a three-day span in Madison, won’t be for just the second time since 1920.

Due to concerns about the spread of Coronavirus as well as restrictions in Dane County, the event is happening in La Crosse and Oshkosh this year.

While it wouldn’t have come with normal crowds this year, those who live and work downtown say not getting the tournament will have a negative financial impact.

It is an enormous impact,” said Jason Ilstrup, President of Downtown Madison Inc.  “It’s a large part of the 304 million dollars a year spent by tourists in downtown Madison. It helps run our community, right?”

Ilstrup said he understands and respects Dane County’s decision to focus on COVID-19 mitigation. Under the newest public health orders, no more than 350 people can gather in one place. In La Crosse, games will be capped at 1,000 fans.

You absolutely are losing out on the economic impact,” Ilstrup said. “But we wholeheartedly honor and respect the decision of public health to make sure our community was safe, and they made the right decision.”

The Nitty Gritty, which is located just one block away from the Kohl Center, says it normally sees a surge of customers this time of year.

“It’s really kind of the sprint of the year,” said General Manager Michael Leto. “It’s really the meat and potatoes for a lot of the downtown businesses.”

Leto says not having the tournament will certainly not help business, but also says health and safety should be a priority.

Obviously keeping the staff and the public as safe as possible is everyone’s upmost concern right now,” he said. “Whatever we have to do to ensure the public’s safety, we’re going to adhere to that.”

Still, Leto says recovery for restaurants will take time – possibly even longer than the year they’ve spent operating under Coronavirus restrictions.

“As the end of this pandemic is hopefully potentially on the horizon, we hope that people in and around the community will continue to support locally owned restaurants,” he said.