RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Fans started filling Backyard Bistro ahead of tip-off Thursday, as co-owner Joe Lumbrazo prepared for a big weekend ahead.
"We're anticipating a strong day. Traditionally the first day is really strong. A lot of guys are skipping work and coming out. Their secret's safe with us if they want to come out - we're not going to tell," said Lumbrazo.
The sports bar doubled their food and drink orders, as well as staffing, as Lumbrazo anticipates business will triple during the first day compared to a typical Thursday.
"The further (local teams) get in the tournament, the bigger the crowds are going to be," said Lumbrazo.
Duke's game Thursday night against Oral Roberts is slated for 7:00, in the middle of dinner rush, while NC State is set to play Friday around 4:00. If both teams win, they'd play Saturday and Sunday, respectively.
The NCAA Tournament is happening as lawmakers are considering two pieces of bipartisan legislation which could impact future viewing habits. House Bill 94, filed last month, would allow for Happy Hour, while House Bill 347, introduced on Monday, would legalize sports gambling. Each bill passed on first reading in that chamber, and has been referred to a Committee for review.
However, it's an Executive Order, signed two years ago, that's allowing college athletes to capitalize.
"For 99% of the players in this tournament, this is the most marketable they will ever be for the rest of their lives," said Sam Weber, Head of Brand Marketing at Opendorse.
Opendorse, which is utilized by both Wolfpack and Blue Devil players, is an NIL platform, where companies and fans can connect with athletes for business and branding opportunities. The company anticipates total NIL spending will top $1 billion in 2023, with men's and women's basketball combining to make up 30% of that figure.
"Just in the last couple weeks, we're seeing the biggest brands in the world - Degree, Dunkin' Donuts, Capital One, Kellogg's, they're turning to us to quickly turn and execute campaigns in the lead-up to the tournament. We've been hearing from dozens of other brands across the country that they have their campaigns or ideas ready to go, but they're waiting for that standout player, they're waiting for that Cinderella that they can turnkey really quickly and capture the moment," said Weber.
For college athletes, Weber said March Madness provides the best opportunities.
"March Madness owns the attention window more than any other NCAA competition. With the College Football Playoff, they're competing with the NFL postseason, which is a monster in its own right, and it ultimately lasts three games. Those four teams in recent history have consisted of largely the same programs and the same players we're used to seeing every year. With the NCAA basketball tournament, it runs over the full month, it doesn't have major competition. The NBA is still gearing up for its postseason run. And I think the unique thing in it is it showcases 68 teams, and you'll see the blue-bloods that you see every year but you also get exposed to the St. Peter's of the world that really put those players in the spotlight that they've never had before," Weber said, referring to their run last year, in which they became the first 15-seed in tournament history to reach the Elite 8.