The NCAA's transformation of U.S. Bank Stadium for the men's Final Four in April will be the most comprehensive in the young building's history.
And in return, the Minneapolis venue will offer up an amenity never before available during college basketball's March Madness finale: adult beverages.
"This is the first Final Four that beer and wine will be sold to the public," SMG general manager Patrick Talty reported Friday to the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority (MSFA). SMG, which operates the stadium for the MSFA, a public body, is coordinating the event with the NCAA.
SMG received permission to sell alcohol during the tournament, starting Friday, April 5, and ending Monday, April 8. The four teams that survive the monthlong March Madness tournament will come to Minneapolis to compete in the final three games of the season, with the champion crowned at Monday night's game.
The tournament's allure has grown far beyond college basketball cognoscenti, owing to the proliferation of amateur betting pools called "brackets." Because of the one-and-out structure of the tournament, upsets — also known as "bracket busters" — are almost inevitable, giving a fan with zero expertise a decent shot at coming out on top.
About 72,000 fans are expected to attend the games 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. Talty said the NCAA needs to use "every square inch" of the building, including all the storage space.
Fans won't see some unusual aspects of the makeover because they'll take place on the service level, below the stands where the locker rooms, kitchens and parking spaces are located. That's the space that players will use as they move to and from the court.
"They really work on making it special for the student athletes," Talty said.
A subterranean parking area will be transformed into the media workroom. A secure perimeter that will contract and expand throughout the weekend will ring the stadium, but it won't interfere with access to the light-rail transit station outside the stadium.
MSFA Executive Director James Farstad told the board that hardware for the blackout curtains mandated by the NCAA is 86 percent installed. The NCAA requires lighting conditions to be identical not just for the three games but for the team shootarounds that begin Friday and occur through the weekend.
Another big reveal: The curtains that will be installed on the stadium's west wall, the one with the five large glass doors, will have an acoustic-enhancing quality. U.S. Bank Stadium so far has not won raves for its sound quality at large concerts.
MSFA Chairman Michael Vekich said those blackout drapes will remain in place from the Final Four through the Garth Brooks shows next summer.