I spent the past 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 doesn’t get enough recognition. Minneapolis went all out for this event.
Anyone that flew into Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport would have seen it on arrival, from the Final Four decals by the baggage claim to the banners promoting the event around the center of the terminal to the giant bracket located on the arrival level. This city was ready to host a Final Four.
Even within downtown Minneapolis, there were some cool events to attend. On the Saturday between the Final Four and the national championship game, I took a stroll down to the Minneapolis Convention Center, where I ran across a three-dimensional version of the March Madness bracket outside of the building. Spread out to four “sides,” this bracket had lines as dense as bricks, with the names of participating teams on both sides.
Within the convention center, there was this “Tourney Town,” a festival of college basketball greatness. In this hallowed space, there were basketball-related games that kids could play, merchandise available in a pop-up store, a stage where guest panels were held and a giant picture of each team with a support wall for fans to sign on the back. The convention center was a cool experience, but it gets better from there.
I walked from my hotel to the Target Center a few times. Although I never found the hotel where the University of Connecticut team stayed, I ran across the University of Louisville and University of South Carolina hotels. They made it very clear that this is where the players were staying by posting the school’s logo, as well as the Final Four’s slogan on the lobby windows. Two hours prior to tipoff 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 it was to wish the players and coaches luck or to show school pride for visiting fans. It gets cold in Minnesota, and the NCAA even had helpers in the skyway 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 city would still be buzzing with fans eager to see their team compete for a national title. Bueckers, a Hopkins, Minnesota native, 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 awarded the event by the league’s commissioner years in advance so that cities have time to prepare accordingly. Only in rare instances, 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 to prepare on such short notice.
There’s a lot of benefits that come with hosting these big events. At times, the event’s logo features some reference to a significant aspect of the city, whether it’s Denver’s Rocky Mountains for the All-Star game or the vibrant palm trees and sunset orange of Los Angeles that made up the Super Bowl LVI logo.
It goes beyond the logo too, as 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 major sources of revenue that should not be forgotten.
The first is from hotels booked weeks in advance. They fill up as the event gets closer to happening, making it impossible to find a room on gameday. Hotels located at least an hour away from the venue can be booked, creating revenue for the surrounding towns as well.
The second source of revenue is the community. The players have the most impact through their charitable actions such as a food drive or planting trees. At the end of the day, the league wants to leave a legacy on the city while inspiring the next generation of superstars.
Finally, consider the Olympics and/or the World Cup. When a city or country gets the bid years in advance, they get to work building world-class facilities for the athletes. The facilities, or the trust in building them, are the reason that a city gets selected in the first place. Providing an equitable place for athletes 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 their bags and leave while everything else returns to normal.
The Olympics and World Cup are a little different. The 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, were a major success, but issues of gentrification and deteriorating facilities have left many speculating that the city was simply not ready to host the global event. Hopefully, future host cities can take a lesson out of Brazil’s book and find ways to have stadiums that can continue to be used long after the games are over, 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 that the venues don’t deteriorate after the party’s over, or the city will spend decades cleaning up the mess. As long as there is this balance between preparing, underpreparing and overpreparing for an event, whichever city is chosen is going to have a few fun-filled days and may be asked to host again in the future.