U.S. Bank Stadium will be an unfamiliar place during the NCAA Final Four weekend next month.
“This will push the limits of the stadium,” said Patrick Talty, general manager of SMG, the company that manages the building.
First of all, the NCAA requires that all three basketball games, along with the team practices, be held under the same lighting conditions.
So there will be no glorious sunlight beaming through the clear plastic roof, because it will be concealed by the taxpayer-funded $5 million “darkening solution,” also known as custom-designed drapes.
Those curtains — which can be taken down, stored and reused — are 98 percent installed, Talty said, adding that they’re an “elegant” design.
“It doesn’t look like we threw a big trash bag up there,” he said Friday during an update on preparations at the regularly scheduled Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority (MSFA) meeting.
The signature pivoting doors on the west-facing glass wall, offering an impressive view of the downtown Minneapolis skyline, also will be covered and inoperable.
On the ground floor of the stadium, what is usually the Minnesota Vikings’ turf-covered playing field will be transformed with seating. Talty showed images of scaffolding being installed to support the NCAA’s custom 18,000-seat configuration. Floor seats for students and media will be placed at both ends of the basketball court.
The NCAA’s signature center-hung scoreboard will be raised to the soaring trusses inside U.S. Bank Stadium on a series of substantial pulleys that are mostly in place. From on high, the cube will deliver high-definition images of the heroes and the brokenhearted.
Talty said the event won’t bring the level of traffic distractions that the Super Bowl did in February 2018. The only outside work now visible is the removal of snow to make way for the main security checkpoint and entrance on the Commons park, Talty said.
The field of 68 college basketball teams participating in the Big Dance will be announced Sunday evening, and the first round of March Madness play begins next week. Each game sends the losing team home.
The 16 teams remaining after the first weekend will play the following weekend, from which only four teams — the Final Four — will emerge. They will soon make their way to Minneapolis.
Once the teams are set, images of their players and mascots will go up around town. More generic festooning of the skyways near the stadium will begin March 25, Talty said.
The first two games of the Final Four will be played on Saturday, April 6, with the championship game scheduled for the night of Monday, April 8.
“We will be game-ready by April 1,” Talty said.
The only free Final Four event at U.S. Bank Stadium will occur Friday, April 5, the day before the games. No tickets will be needed to watch each team’s hour-long practice, starting around 11 a.m.
“You get to be down close and see the teams in a relaxed atmosphere,” he said.
Turnout for that event depends on which teams win the trip to Minneapolis, but Talty said he expects about 20,000 to 30,000 visitors. “It will be busy, but it will be a really cool part of the event,” he said.
During the tournament games themselves, the stadium will be all but bursting at the seams. Some 72,000 are expected to attend each of the three games — more than the 67,612 who attended the Super Bowl. On Saturday’s gameday, Talty said, many fans get comfortable and stay the whole day, and SMG is adding concession stands on the main concourse to accommodate fans in the lower-level seats.
Meanwhile, the stadium roof has emerged unscathed by the recent weeks of wintry pummeling, unlike the occasionally tattered Metrodome roof. Long before U.S. Bank Stadium opened, architects promised a fail-safe roof of slippery plastic that wouldn’t allow snow to cling and accumulate.
The snow, MSFA Executive Director Jim Farstad said, is “falling off like it’s supposed to.”