The upcoming NCAA men’s basketball Final Four at U.S. Bank Stadium will cost the public millions more than the Super Bowl did last year.
After reimbursements, the cost of the Final Four to the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority (MSFA) — the public body that oversees the stadium budget on behalf of taxpayers — is estimated at $10 million, including operations and the blackout curtains required by the NCAA for the tournament.
In contrast, the MSFA paid $627,000 for the Super Bowl last winter.
While there was a cost estimate for the Final Four in the bid the MSFA submitted in 2014, current MSFA Chairman Michael Vekich would only say of the expected NCAA bill: “It’s a lot larger — I’ll leave it at that.”
Vekich explained that the NFL wrote checks to cover public costs, and that the NCAA does not.
The operating cost of this year’s Final Four is currently estimated at $6.9 million, a figure that doesn’t include the tab for the blackout curtains. The curtains and their installation, needed to keep stadium lighting consistent for all games and practices, will cost the MSFA about $5.2 million. The MSFA has been reimbursed $1.7 million by the Minnesota Final Four Host committee for the curtains, and will receive another $200,000 from the host committee for operations. The committee is expected to raise those funds from private donations, though a spokeswoman declined to discuss the fundraising targets.
The MSFA is expecting an estimated $2 million in revenue from merchandise, food and beverage sales, including beer and wine not previously sold at the Final Four.
The two semifinal games will be played Saturday, April 6, with the title game on Monday, April 8.
U.S. Bank Stadium will welcome fans on Friday, April 5, with a free open house where the four teams will be on display with casual shootarounds on the tournament court — laid out east to west at the center of the Vikings’ football field.
The event requires a staggering amount of preparation and operational work at the stadium.
Changing the football stadium into a basketball venue for 70,000 fans will be the biggest transformation in the building’s 2 ½-year history.
In addition to the curtains, there will be two other major installations: new seats and scoreboard.
The NCAA requires some 10,000 seats to be placed near the court, which will cost more than $2 million.
And the NCAA’s giant scoreboard will be hung from the stadium’s center ridge truss; the end zone video screens won’t be used when there is action on the court.
Fans won’t see the other Final Four operational mandates.
Tunnels and transport areas in the stadium’s bowels will be transformed, and there will be media work areas, interview rooms and locker rooms festooned for each team.
The back-of-the-house operations requirements are significant, too. SMG general manager Patrick Talty, a veteran of Final Fours in other cities, has pointed out that U.S. Bank will require daily top-to-bottom cleaning so that it’s spotless for the next event.
‘We can make this happen’
So who pays the tab? It’s complicated, because the MSFA’s budget comes from multiple sources.
State and city taxpayers make an annual $6.4 million payment to operate U.S. Bank Stadium, and another $1.6 million to the capital fund that was created to keep the stadium updated and attractive.
The Vikings, the building’s main tenant, contribute more than $10 million annually to the stadium’s operating and capital improvement funds. The team paid more than half the $1.1 billion it cost to build the stadium, which opened in August 2016.
The MSFA also receives a $32 million payment annually from SMG, the global event management company that books and operates the facility.
Vikings’ Vice President Lester Bagley said that the team is excited about the Final Four.
“A lot of Minnesota’s state and community leaders worked hard to ensure that [the stadium] would host these major events,” he said, adding that it was “unfortunate” the blackout curtains were “so expensive.”
The bid for the Final Four was submitted in 2014 long before SMG had been hired or Vekich was on board.
That bid was prepared by former MSFA Chairwoman Michele Kelm-Helgen, Final Four organizing committee CEO Kate Mortenson and Meet Minneapolis CEO Melvin Tennant.
The Final Four campaign was under the radar, especially when compared with the Super Bowl bid that same year. That involved a contingent of corporate heavyweights flying to Atlanta to pitch NFL owners and promise to back a $50 million fundraising effort to cover all costs.
The Super Bowl bid wasn’t made public until after the game was played — and the Final Four bid won’t be available until after that event either.
“I would have approached it in a whole different way,” Vekich said of the bid.
He said he would have asked tough questions to get a solid understanding of the scope of the event, operational costs and requirements such as the seating and curtains.
He said he also would have wanted to know the amount of the NCAA reimbursement.
Kelm-Helgen, who resigned as MSFA chairwoman in 2017 after public criticism over her personal use of public luxury suites, didn’t respond to requests for comment.
At the time of the 2014 Final Four bid, the stadium was a hole in the ground still two years from completion. Vekich said the excitement of booking the new building likely led to the bid in 2014. But a full picture of the cost of hosting the event didn’t come into focus until late last year.
The cost “is not the result anybody thought it would be … but we’ve got it covered,” he said, adding that the Super Bowl and Final Four nicely position U.S. Bank Stadium to book other big events.
“You take a look at two huge sports events that will be watched by millions of people,” Vekich said. “The major message is that we can make this happen.”