With one last desperate shot to bring his team three points closer to Kentucky, Kansas Jayhawks guard Elijah Johnson tries to find a window to shoot a three-pointer. Blocked, he fails to make the shot, solidifying the Kentucky Wildcats win in front of a full Superdome audience. Outside the arena, crowds celebrate on the streets just like they did nearly two months ago for Mardi Gras and in January for the Bowl Championship series; just like they will next year for the 47th Super Bowl. The Superdome continues to host the country’s greatest championship games, six Super Bowls, four BCS championships and five NCAA Men’s Final Four tournaments, bringing rowdy sports fans from all over the country. But New Orleans poses a new approach, using sports, to fixing an economy.
In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the Superdome served as a shelter for nearly 30,000 who could not evacuate New Orleans. For three years, city officials and celebrities like Brad Pitt have struggled to rebuild the 80% of the region ruined by the hurricane and bring its original residents back.
But in late 2009, the New Orleans Saints surged to the Super Bowl, bringing what the media portrayed as hope that the city needed to revive itself. During the same month of the team’s Super Bowl win against the Indiana Colts, New Orleans had the lowest unemployment rate of any metropolitan area in the country. The city also redeemed 91% of its original population.
While the BP oil spill in 2010 gave New Orleans another obstacle to overcome, its unemployment rate has remained lower than the national rate. The Superdome hosted the most publicized SEC football game of the regular season between the LSU Tigers and Alabama Crimson Tide last November, a time when New Orleans’ unemployment was around 6.4%.
This year, the Superdome hosted a rematch between the Tigers and the Crimson Tide, who made the 2012 BCS, along with this weekend’s Final Four. Local businesses, particularly restaurants thrive on these sporting events, some making more than double revenue during the weekend, reported New Orleans news station WWL-TV. Crowds cheered for the Big Blue Nation, and in turn, business is booming in the Big Easy.
Inside the Superdome on Monday night, Kentucky and Kansas basketball fans sat with great hope that their team would bring home a tournament title. Since Katrina, New Orleans has needed Americans to place their hope back into the city so it could thrive again. The game’s not over in New Orleans, it’s just beginning.