Kentucky's sea of blue means more green for N.O. businesses

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wwltv.com

Posted on March 11, 2012 at 10:14 AM

Updated Sunday, Mar 11 at 10:38 AM

Monica Hernandez / Eyewitness News

NEW ORLEANS- The Crescent City has become a sea of blue this weekend.

Kentucky fans are filling downtown's bars and restaurants, erupting into the occasional spontaneous cheer, and painting the town blue.

Since Thursday, a dozen teams have played in the SEC Tournament, held in New Orleans this year. But none drew more fans than Kentucky.

"We are 'Cat fans through and through, we follow them whether they're winning or losing," said Jana Alvey, of Leitchfield, KY.

 "Even if they didn't get tickets to the game, they're still, they're just camped out everywhere," said Meg Judd, of Williamsburg, KY.

And that's good for business. Officials estimate tens of thousands of fans are in town for the tournament. Combine that with a pharmacist convention this weekend and a star-studded gala for Brad Pitt's Make It Right Foundation, and New Orleans area hotels are nearly sold out.

"The SEC Tournament is really important to us and we're so fortunate to have it here," said Mark Romig, CEO of the New Orleans Tourism and Marketing Corporation.

Souvenir vendors have been set up in the Central Business District for days, many  from out of state.

"Generally when you know there's a team that travels well for that particular event, there will be really good sales," said Edward Barnes, manager of Sports Mania, a sports merchandise store that has set up a white tent on Poydras Street. It is based out of Jacksonville, FL.

But even with all the fans in town for the SEC Tournament this weekend, officials said it's something of a warm up for the Final Four, which begins in New Orleans at the end of the month.

"Once again, New Orleans will be on the world stage, and we'll be telling this great story about how we are such an authentic and welcoming city," said Romig.

"You just feel the atmosphere, and we told them, you're practicing for the big blue flood to come back, on the first of April, because Final Four's here baby!" cheered Judd.

"It's the best, it's the best, I love it, I'll definitely be back again, maybe in three weeks for the Final Four," said K.L. Reed, of Williamsburg, Ky.

The Final Four is expected to have a $150 million economic impact on the city.

Kentucky is facing off against Vanderbilt in Sunday's championship game. It begins at noon.

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