The Big Dance may still be more than a year off, but it’s time to get ready for March Madness, Minneapolis-style.
Preparations for the 2019 NCAA Final Four men’s basketball championship officially start Friday, when the Minneapolis Final Four Local Organizing Committee will unveil the logo for the tournament to be held at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Gov. Mark Dayton and Richard Pitino, the Gophers men’s basketball coach, are expected to attend Friday’s launch.
“The logo unveiling is the start of the drumbeat,” said Kate Mortenson, president and CEO of the nonprofit organizing committee. “The four days of the Final Four are the culmination of 10 months of activities.”
Much like the 2018 Super Bowl organizing committee, Mortenson and her crew will host community and philanthropic events during the months leading up to the event, with an emphasis on youth, education, diversity and inclusion.
They’ll also promote Minneapolis and its amenities, with the aim of pumping up the city’s reputation for being a great basketball town for players and fans alike.
The Final Four and Super Bowl organizing committees have been meeting to compare notes and align schedules, even though the events are a year apart.
“We are going to show the world how to have March Madness, Minneapolis-style,” said Mayor-elect Jacob Frey. “These events, whether it’s the Final Four or Super Bowl, are an excellent opportunity to highlight what sets Minneapolis apart. We really have an extraordinary city. We need to collectively stop being so modest and start highlighting it.”
Minneapolis last played host to the Final Four in 2001 at the Metrodome. But a lot has changed since then.
There’s a dramatic new stadium, light-rail expansion, revitalized public spaces such as the Nicollet Mall, and a downtown crowded with new buildings and home to 60,000 residents — transforming Minneapolis into an ideal venue for college basketball’s biggest event, Mortenson said.
Minneapolis is one of only about a dozen cities nationwide that can host the Final Four with an enclosed stadium that seats 70,000 in a cosmopolitan setting, Mortenson said. And the goal is to host the tournament several times more, she added.
“The venue is tucked in downtown. That’s the experience everyone wants for a Final Four,” she said. “It’s a dynamic, urban, global city.”
Those changes are what brought the NCAA back, officials said.
“Minneapolis offers a brand-new venue, with excellent hotels, convention space and other assets that will benefit the participating teams and fans who will attend the 2019 Final Four,” said JoAn Scott, the NCAA’s managing director of the men’s basketball championship, in a written statement.
“There’s also a great transportation system that will allow people to get around easily and enjoy one of the marquee sporting events this country has. The fact that the NFL and the NCAA selected Minneapolis to host their premier events says a lot about the city, and we’re excited to be coming there.”
Frey said the growth of downtown has been critical in attracting big events.
“You want to watch some hoops, get a drink at a dive bar, have a great meal and see some street life. You want to experience the city, not a surface parking lot in the suburbs,” he said.
Frey, who has represented downtown Minneapolis on the City Council since 2014, knows firsthand how hosting a successful event can make a city attractive. Frey, a Virginia native and law student at the time, first visited Minneapolis to run the Twin Cities Marathon. He was so impressed that he moved there after graduation.
Mortenson was named the organizing committee’s CEO in 2014 when Minneapolis was awarded the tournament. She has worked in nonprofit consulting and broadcast journalism for nearly three decades, and her husband, David, is chairman of M.A. Mortenson, the construction company that built U.S. Bank Stadium.
The Final Four could spark an estimated $70 million to $200 million in economic impact, but she said the organizing committee has even more ambitious plans.
“These large events have many ways they can produce impact. There are social and civic benefits as well as economic impact,” Mortenson said.
One way the organizing committee plans to leave its mark on the city is by putting talk about diversity and inclusion into action.
Three of the four full-time staffers on the organizing committee are women or people of color. About 75 percent of vendors and service providers are either owned by women or members of minority groups. A paid internship program for high school and college students and young professionals is also designed to reflect the community.
An impact advisory council made up of about two dozen professionals is helping the organizing committee connect with a diverse group of vendors and contractors.
“It’s about so much more than the games,” said Duchesne Drew, a vice president at the Bush Foundation who co-chairs the NCAA organizing committee’s advisory council. “It’s an opportunity to make sure the dollars that come into town tied to the event get spent more equitably and thoughtfully across the community. It’s an opportunity to put some minority and women-owned businesses on the map.”
In addition, Mortenson said the organizing committee is focused on hosting youth-oriented events in every ward of the city that showcase the “inspirational aspects of basketball, including health, wellness and achievement.”
Other mainstays of the Final Four hosting experience will include the legacy restoration project, where the NCAA renovates an existing facility in the city; Fan Fest, which attracts more than 50,000 visitors; the March Madness Music Festival, which features three days of urban, pop and country music; and the Final Four Dribble, where a parade of thousands of children, teens and adults will dribble basketballs down the street.