GLENDALE, ARIZ. – Two years before college basketball’s biggest spectacle comes to the Twin Cities, Minneapolis’ Final Four committee had a dozen representatives studying and taking in the experience the past several days at the University of Phoenix Stadium.
Minneapolis, with U.S. Bank Stadium as a lure, was awarded the 2019 Final Four three years ago. The committee’s local organizers have attended Final Fours in Arlington, Texas, Indianapolis and Houston since that announcement. But more specific details to help their own preparation came from Glendale this year and will be taken from San Antonio in 2018.
“The NCAA does put us together with future hosts from other cities to share information,” said Kate Mortenson, president and CEO of the 2019 Minneapolis Final Four local organizing committee. “We were competing in the bid phase, but now we’re guardians of the event. Everybody wants to see everyone succeed. There are things about Phoenix we can’t replicate [such as the weather]. We also have a different footprint. Phoenix is very spread out. Our location is very compact downtown. That’s a strength that we’ll have. But we learned a ton with how things were going in Phoenix.”
It’s been 16 years since Minneapolis played host to the Final Four at the Metrodome. Local trends, attractions and businesses have changed over the years, along with the number of people attending the event and its financial impact, reportedly at least $70 million.
“It’s a matter of making sure we have the capacity to give people the experiences they want to have,” Mortenson said.
Having a chance to see a Final Four hosted in another NFL stadium this past week was valuable for the Minneapolis committee. Six months ago, the NCAA sent representatives to analyze the Vikings opener at U.S. Bank Stadium. They wanted to see how fans reacted to being at the venue for the first time.
Much like University of Phoenix Stadium, U.S. Bank will have a basketball court built between the 35-yard lines with a floor raised 30 inches. A complex seating system will be installed with about 10,000 extra seats. A scoreboard that weighs 65,000 pounds (more than 100,000 with the rigging attached) will hang above the court.
Mortenson said her committee members took notes about everything from how student sections for all four teams were seated from game to game to the halftime entertainment, activities during timeouts and the Tailgate Tip-Off Fan Fest located outside, which included concerts, basketball courts, beer tents and a Ferris wheel.
The tailgating event at the Minneapolis Final Four likely won’t be as large in scale as Glendale’s because downtown will already have a lot of activity, Mortenson said.
“We’re excited to see what kind of activities and programming we can do at Nicollet Mall and the Commons area,” she said. “But a lot of the activity you see will be in the bars and restaurants downtown, a built-in, ready-to-go party experience.”
The one thing local organizers can’t control will be the teams in the Final Four in two years. Gonzaga, North Carolina, South Carolina and Oregon helped draw near-record crowds. The announced attendance for the North Carolina-Oregon national semifinal game Saturday was 77,612, the second-largest after a game in Dallas in 2014 that attracted 79,444. U.S. Bank Stadium will seat close to 75,000 for the Final Four, Mortenson said.
There will be a warm-up basketball event at U.S. Bank Stadium featuring the Gophers playing an opponent to be determined in December 2018. The original plan was to have the “test game” a year earlier because the extra seating is scheduled to be partially installed this spring.
“Having the game closer to our event will make it a little bit more exciting and more of a draw,” Mortenson said. “We don’t know the opponent yet, but it’s going to be exciting. Especially with the season the Gophers had really helps us position for a very exciting basketball event inside of U.S. Bank Stadium. Kind of a little taste of our Final Four in 2019.”