I spent last weekend in Minneapolis covering the NCAA Women’s Final Four. While all three college basketball games were fun to watch in person, something else caught my eye that isn’t recognized enough. Minneapolis pulled out all the stops for this event.
Anyone who has flown to Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport would have seen it upon arrival, from the Final Four decals near baggage claim to the banners promoting the event around the center of the terminal to the giant stand on the arrivals level. This city was ready to host a Final Four.
Even in downtown Minneapolis, there were cool events to attend. On the Saturday between the Final Four and the National Championship game, I wandered into the Minneapolis Convention Center, where I encountered a three-dimensional version of the March Madness bracket outside the building. Spread out over four “sides”, this stand had lines as dense as bricks, with the names of the participating teams on both sides.
In the convention center was this “Tourney Town,” a festival of college basketball grandeur. In this sacred space, there were basketball-related games for children to play, merchandise available from a pop-up store, a stage with guest panels, and a giant photo of each team with a wall of support for fans to sign on back. The convention center was a cool experience, but it gets better from there.
I walked from my hotel to Target Center several times. Although I never found the hotel where the University of Connecticut team was staying, I did pass through the hotels at the University of Louisville and the University of South Carolina. They made it clear that this is where the players stayed by displaying the school logo, as well as the Final Four slogan on the lobby windows. Two hours before the whistleblowing on Sunday, loyal South Carolina fans waited outside as the team boarded their bus to the sound of their fight song.
Large billboards visibly showed support for each of the teams involved, whether wishing the players and coaches good luck or showing school pride to visiting supporters. It’s cold in Minnesota, and the NCAA even had airway aids that provided directions to the arena.
Even if Paige Bueckers and the UConn women’s basketball team didn’t make it to the Final Four, the town would still be bustling with fans eager to see their team compete for a national title. Bueckers, a native of Hopkins, Minnesota, and the Huskies made the experience even more interesting.
All of this made me wonder what a sporting event of this magnitude does to a city. Normally, the city is assigned the event by the league commissioner years in advance so cities have time to prepare accordingly. Only in rare cases, like last year’s Major League Baseball All-Star Game in Denver or the 2017 National Basketball Association All-Star Game in Charlotte, would a city need prepare in such a short time.
The organization of these major events has many advantages. Sometimes the event logo references an important aspect of the city, whether it was the Rocky Mountains of Denver for the All-Star Game or the vibrant palm trees and orange sunset of Los Angeles that made up the Super Bowl LVI logo.
It also goes beyond the logo, because an event of this magnitude generates a lot of revenue for the city. Some of that revenue comes from the event itself, but there are two main sources of revenue that should be kept in mind.
The first comes from hotels booked weeks in advance. They fill up as the event gets closer, making it impossible to find a venue on game day. Hotels located at least an hour away from the site can be booked, which also generates revenue for surrounding towns.
The second source of income is the community. Players have the most impact through their charitable actions such as a food drive or tree planting. Ultimately, the league wants to leave a legacy for the city while inspiring the next generation of superstars.
Finally, think about the Olympics and/or the World Cup. When a city or country receives the bid years in advance, it gets to work building world-class facilities for the athletes. Facilities, or confidence in their construction, are the reason a city is selected in the first place. Providing athletes with a fair place to thrive impacts the sport for generations as well as the local economy.
The only downside to all of this is what happens after the event ends. With events such as the Super Bowl, any All-Star Game, or the Final Four, the leagues pack up and go while everything else returns to normal.
The Olympics and the World Cup are a bit different. The 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil were a great success, but problems with gentrification and deteriorating facilities left many thinking the city just wasn’t ready to host the global event. . Hopefully future host cities can learn a lesson from Brazil’s book and find ways to have stadiums that can continue to be used long after games have ended, like Atlanta’s Turner Field.
In conclusion, major sporting events bring a sense of pride to citizens, as well as immersive opportunities to grow the game when a city is selected to host an event. At the same time, you want to make sure the venues don’t deteriorate after the party is over or the town will spend decades cleaning up the mess. As long as there is this balance between preparing, under-preparing and over-preparing for an event, the chosen city will have a fun few days and may be invited to host again in the future.