- Hosting March Madness finale will cost MSFA nearly 12 times the amount to stage 2018’s Super Bowl LII
- Two large events at US Bank Stadium secured on back of $5.2m investment in curtains and drapes
- Biggest attendance in stadium history – 72,000 – expected on both semi-finals and finals day
Hosting the Final Four of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament is projected to cost the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority $8.3m (€7.4m), far more than the approximately $700,000 it cost the organisation to host Super Bowl LII last year.
But the owner and operator of the $1.1bn US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis believes the investment will pay off in the long term due to the huge publicity the facility will gain from the four-day finale to March Madness. This return to the national spotlight, the MSFA believes, will lead to significantly more visitors and events down the line.
The principal costs lay in reconfiguring a stadium built primarily to stage American football – the main tenants are the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings – into one able to host a basketball tournament. This includes: installing an additional 14,000 seats and an overhead centre-hung scoreboard (both provided by the NCAA); a basketball court; and fabric curtains and panels to cover its 460,000 sq. ft of giant glass windows and translucent roof. Temporary staff have been hired for ticketing, concessions, guest services and cleaning positions.
According to MSFA chairman Michael Vekich, the Final Four operating costs are budgeted at $7m but $2m will be made back from the sale of concessions and merchandise. The Minneapolis Final Four Local Organising Committee has also agreed to contribute $200,000.
The curtains – which are required by the NCAA, so that practices and games have consistent light no matter the time of day – will cost $5.2m but the Organising Committee has also agreed to contribute $1.7m toward this cost. The curtains will take several dozen riggers roughly five days to install before the Final Four, and the same again to remove them thereafter.
This “darkening solution” is considered a capital investment, rather than an operating cost, as it will be used for future events. The curtains are expected to last the lifetime of the stadium.
Vekich believes the $8.3m total investment, which will come from MSFA operating reserves funded by state taxpayers and the Vikings, represents good value for money.
Indeed, the US Bank Stadium has already secured two large religious events in 2019 and 2021 directly on the back of the arrival of the curtains. They could also help land the NFL Draft, which the Vikings are looking to host in 2022 or 2023.
“This is clearly an investment for the future,” Vekich tells SportBusiness. “Hosting two major national and international events within 12 months clearly sets us apart from other venues in the country and that is a clear message to the marketplace that we can handle events and the potential technological issues that come with that. We’re state-of-the-art.
“We’re able to showcase this iconic stadium and we’re looking to send a message that US Bank Stadium [can handle] almost any event that can come our way. We are looking at soccer games and collegiate events and large conventions in addition to large concerts. We know that we can go from very large to a small accommodation to anywhere in between.
“The Super Bowl has clearly gotten us other events. The board made a decision as a capital improvement to get the darkening solution and this enabled us to get two religious events. We are also chatting with other organisations that need that same thing.”
Greater logistical challenge than Super Bowl
While the Super Bowl is just a one-day event, the Final Four runs over a four-day period.
The college basketball extravaganza begins with the free-entry Reese’s Final Four Friday, which features all four teams practising and a college All-Star Game, followed by the two semi-finals on Saturday and the National Championship Game on Monday.
To help prepare for the Final Four, the US Bank Stadium held its first collegiate basketball tournament late last year: the US Bank Stadium Classic from November 30 to December 1, which featured four games. As part of bidding for the Final Four, stadiums are required to host a basketball event in advance to test all aspects of game operations.
“The biggest compliment that came out of that, a number of coaches and athletics directors said it felt like an NCAA national event,” says Vekich. “We were just going to have two teams [initially] but we had more. So we knew when we got to the Final Four: we know how the lighting works, how the audio works, and believe it or not understanding how the sound of the buzzer works.
“All these little details that may not be recognized but if you don’t pull them off flawlessly then people will recognise.”
About 72,000 fans are expected on both semi-finals and finals day – more than the 67,612 who attended last year’s Super Bowl. With a such significant turnover of guests, organisers must ensure concessions and merchandise are well stocked, the Wi-Fi can handle all the attendees’ demand for data, and that the facility is kept spotlessly clean for the duration.
“Everything we learned from the Super Bowl has been a platform in order to multiply the kinds of things that will happen,” says Vekich. “And we have a very experienced team with [venue management company] SMG and we are working very closely with the NCAA.
“We have been working for a year with the NCAA on this. The NCAA know exactly what they want, when they want it and how they want it. We work through that and make adjustments as necessary to get things done. It’s not [SMG’s] first rodeo and [they] know how to pull these things off.”
With an operating loss in the multi-millions of dollars, hosting the Final Four is an expensive branding exercise for the MSFA. The great indirect benefit that makes it worthwhile, Vekich says, will be from the attendees and viewing public – approximately 16 million people watched last year’s final while around 13 million watched each semi-final – being able to see US Bank Stadium successfully pull off another major sporting event once again.
“The name ‘US Bank Stadium, home of the Minnesota Vikings’, was used numerous times in the Super Bowl and that will happen with the Final Four,” says Vekich.
“This is a four-day event and people will see what we can pull off internally. As the owner of this beautiful facility, we get the benefits of showing this off as well as the financial benefits that are going to come with more events that will be here.”