Basketball fans descending on the Twin Cities for next month’s Final Four will be greeted by a four-day tailgate on Nicollet Mall, where a giant Ferris wheel and outdoor concert venue are meant to wow out-of-town guests.
Ten blocks away, a free music festival at the Minneapolis Armory is also expected to attract large crowds.
The growing list of festivities is designed to hype the annual NCAA college basketball championship at U.S. Bank Stadium, held April 5-8.
“It’s like the nation’s biggest college reunion,” Final Four committee CEO Kate Mortenson said Wednesday. “Downtown Minneapolis will be lit with college basketball fever.”
The City Council signed off on a proposal to redirect bus traffic off Nicollet for the Tip-off Tailgate, a walkable experience between S. 8th and 12th streets. Cross traffic should remain open everywhere but 10th Street — the location for a family-friendly Ferris wheel.
Similar to last year’s 10-day Super Bowl Live event, Nicollet Mall will be loaded with food and drink stalls, live TV interviews, corporate kiosks and interactive games.
What’s different is the clientele.
Catering to a college basketball fan base means entertaining a wide swath of college students who travel alongside their home teams. University bands and pep squads are known for spontaneous rallies leading up to the game. Some might even serenade revelers eating at sidewalk cafes.
“When you get the youth involved, it’s pure fun you can’t fully plan,” Mortenson said.
Organizers also promise several photo stations where fans can mark their moments.
Other events are Final Four fixtures, including a Fan Fest for youngsters, a free open house at U.S. Bank Stadium for team practices and an All-Star Game.
A full schedule of activities is listed at www.ncaa.com/final-four .
Mortenson hopes the range of events — all promoting a “Come ready to play” theme — offer high-energy experiences for even those unable to afford the weekend’s games. Her mantra has become: “No ticket, no problem.”
About 72,000 fans are expected to attend the tournament at U.S. Bank Stadium, about 4,300 more than came for the Super Bowl.
The NCAA will pack them in by bringing seating that extends down to courtside at the center of the Minnesota Vikings’ football field.
Staff writer Rochelle Olson contributed to this report.