Sports fans from around the country will look to Fresno this weekend as four of the nation's top women's basketball teams go head-to-head in the Women's NCAA Tournament at the Save Mart Center.
The Fresno Regional will determine one of the teams for the Final Four in Denver and has the potential to bring an influx of cash to local hotels and restaurants if fans flock to the games.
But will they?
The last time the Save Mart Center hosted the Fresno Regional in 2007, three games totaled 6,704 in attendance -- one of the lowest turnouts in tournament history.
This time around, four of the top five-seeded teams play here tonight: No. 2 Duke vs. No. 3 St. John's, followed by No. 1 Stanford vs. No. 5 South Carolina. The winners of those games will play each other Monday.
No one knows how many people will show up. As of midday Friday, 3,000 tickets had been sold, the NCAA said. The organization expects a lot of last-minute ticket buying and others expect plenty of Stanford fans to drive to Fresno.
Some local businesses already are raking in big bucks, especially the hotels hosting the teams. Nearby restaurants are prepared for packed houses.
Some call the tournament a win no matter how many people show up, including Layla Forstedt, executive director of the Fresno/Clovis Convention & Visitors Bureau.
"The media attention is wonderful," she said. "It puts us on the map as a destination ... for sports, for conventions, for meetings. We want to be at the top of the mind of everyone that we can handle these big events."
Stanford is expected to bring the biggest out-of-town contingent to the tournament because the school is so close, about a three-hour drive away.
"Any time we can put a California school in this regional, in the Sweet Sixteen, it's key to the success of the overall tournament," said Paul Ladwig, Fresno State's senior associate athletic director.
Stanford is a perennial women's basketball power -- part of the reason that the previous regional in Fresno was such a downer was the Cardinal's early exit from the tournament in 2007, marking the only time since 2004 that Stanford has failed to advance to the Regional final.
That kind of success breeds support.
"Their fans travel," said Heather Burns, deputy editor at espnW.com, the media giant's website devoted to women's sports. "It should be pretty full."
With a "hard-core" fan base and well-organized booster and alumni groups, the Stanford women average about 4,000 fans at home games, said Aaron Juarez, Stanford's assistant director of athletic communications. He expects at least 1,000 Stanford fans to make the drive to Fresno.
The tournament is already a big economic boon for hotels hosting teams, including the Piccadilly Inn Airport.
The 185-room hotel is about 80% booked with the team and other visitors from Duke. General manager Paul Hill said he can't fill up the hotel because the NCAA requires rooms be set aside for overflow VIPs.
The hotel's three restaurant venues -- the Steak & Anchor Restaurant, breakfast service and a bar -- also will bring in money over the next few days. Hill estimated the hotel will make $8,000 to $10,000 a day, as long as the team is in the tournament.
Because some fans will stick around for the Monday night game, the timing should bring a boost to local businesses as people spend Sunday going to restaurants, shopping and visiting places such as Yosemite National Park, Ladwig said.
"It helps that people will stay more than just one night," said Lori Lascola, general manager of the Park Inn by Radisson, formerly the Four Points by Sheraton hotel, at Blackstone and Dakota avenues. The hotel is getting plenty of bookings, though she wouldn't say how many.