SEATTLE — After a long hiatus, March Madness is coming back to Seattle.
KeyArena will host second- and third-round games of the 2015 NCAA men’s basketball tournament on March 20 and 22.
It’s the first time the tournament has played games in Seattle since 2004.
The NCAA has in recent years awarded preliminary-round games to other cities in the Northwest, including those with smaller venues than KeyArena.
Organizers in Seattle said it has been difficult to obtain the NCAA games because the 17,072-seat arena, which underwent a $74.5 million renovation in 1995, has an image problem nationally.
“Everybody in this country wants these events, so when you have 50 cities bidding on these slots you can’t just put in a good bid, you can’t just show you can do a good job, you have to show you can do a great job,” said Ralph Morton, executive director of the Seattle Sports Commission. “You have to be able to show the community is really going to rally behind it.
“We really took a step back this time and evaluated everything that we’ve done and made sure that there was not an option to fail.”
The NCAA also announced Spokane’s Veterans Memorial Coliseum will host second- and third-round games of the 2014 NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
It will be the fourth time since 2003 that Spokane has hosted preliminary-round games, which has led to speculation that Seattle had fallen out of favor with the NCAA.
Seattle has a strong history with the NCAA tournament dating to 1984, when it hosted the Final Four at the Kingdome.
Seattle was also the Final Four site in 1989 and 1995, but when the city demolished the Kingdome, it lost its capacity to host a Final Four because the NCAA prefers to hold the event inside larger venues.
After the 2004 NCAA tournament, there were several complaints about KeyArena, which might explain the 11-year drought.
Morton has worked to repair the building’s image. KeyArena will host the Pac-12 women’s basketball championships next March and the NCAA women’s volleyball championships in December 2013.
“We’re going to have to go the extra yard to make sure this event is a huge success because our goal isn’t to host this once in awhile,” Morton said. “It’s to host this on a regular basis. Our goal is to knock this out of the park.”
Eight teams will participate in the preliminary-round games in Seattle, and tourism reports estimate the NCAA tournament could generate $8 million to $15 million for Seattle, Morton said.
“The real value is being a part of March Madness, which really takes over the country,” he said. “You can (estimate the financial benefit) in so many different ways. It depends on the teams you get to determine what the specific economic impact will be.”
Portland’s Rose Garden will also host second- and third-round games in 2015.
The University of Washington will serve as the host school for the games in Seattle.
“It’s just important for the psyche of our town,” UW athletic director Scott Woodward said. “We are a basketball town. Even though we did lose the Sonics, we still have great talent here. We have great tradition in basketball. This is a big-time city.”