The Super Bowl LII crew handed a basketball to the 2019 Final Four organizers during a ceremonial event Monday, hoping to transfer some of the NFL excitement to the next massive gig at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Downtown workers on their lunch hour looked down from the skyway level in the atrium of the U.S. Bank Building as Gov. Mark Dayton received the ceremonial basketball from Final Four host committee CEO Kate Mortenson and expressed gratitude that he wasn’t expected to jump for the ball or put it in a basket.
The governor hailed last month’s Super Bowl in Minneapolis as “a phenomenal success” and pressed the theme of continuing Minnesota’s major league momentum, joking it was doubtful that organizers could top the snowmobile flip over Nicollet Mall that capped 10 days of activities for Super Bowl Live on Nicollet Mall.
“The Final Four is a chance to show [that] this is what happens when you come to Minneapolis, Minnesota — you get the best,” he said, acknowledging, however, that the economic effect had yet to be fully tallied.
Minneapolis will host the annual NCAA men’s basketball Final Four April 5-8, 2019. While it’s the capstone weekend of March Madness, it’s a significantly smaller event than the Super Bowl.
The influx of Super Bowl visitors is a topic of hot debate, but organizers put the figure above 100,000. More than 1 million people visited the Super Bowl Live event on Nicollet Mall, organizers said, but that number includes repeat visitors.
Final Four weekends in other cities, Mortenson said, have drawn some 60,000 visitors through their airports and another 60,000 have driven in from more than an hour away.
The Super Bowl typically is a 10-day event leading up to a single game on Sunday. The Final Four is a four-day event involving two semifinal games on Saturday and the championship on Monday night.
The Super Bowl required 10,000 volunteers, and Mortenson said the Final Four will require 3,000. At full strength, the Super Bowl Host Committee employed about 30 people full time; Mortenson said the Final Four will have no more than a dozen.
The Super Bowl gave away 52 “legacy grants” to youth health and wellness programs throughout Minnesota for a total of $5.5 million. Mortenson said there will be a Final Four grant component, but she declined to say how much.
The NFL event involved raising more than $52 million in private money. Mortenson wouldn’t say how much private support the Final Four will require, but she noted that the operation will get significant help from the NCAA, the University of Minnesota, the city of Minneapolis, the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority (MSFA) and Meet Minneapolis, the city’s convention bureau that’s largely funded with tax money.
The Final Four will be bigger than the Super Bowl in at least one regard: seating capacity. Attendance at the Super Bowl was 67,612. Final Four spokesman Steve Mann said that each of the three games could draw “more than 70,000.”
Still to be determined: Who will pay for the NCAA mandated blackout curtains needed for the stadium during the Final Four, and the cost of the curtains. Mortenson said that when the bid was made in 2014, the “venue was just a hole in the ground” and that “it was very clear from the bid specifications” that curtains would be necessary to ensure that the light is uniform for practices and games. The MSFA just put out a request for proposals last month and has not publicly discussed the project in depth.
The Final Four starts the Friday before the games with an open house at U.S. Bank Stadium. Fans will be able to go sit where they choose, watch an all-star game and see the Final Four teams conduct shootarounds on the tournament court.
The NCAA also plays host to free concerts, and Mortenson said she’s hopeful that others will, too, given the high turnout for the shows held in bone-chilling weather during the Super Bowl.
Monday’s lunch-hour handoff featured U.S. Bancorp Chairman Richard Davis, who was a Super Bowl chairman, and David Mortenson, chairman of Mortenson Construction and Kate Mortenson’s husband, who is also a chairman for the basketball event. “We will be with you every step of the way,” Davis pledged to Kate Mortenson.
The Final Four logo, like that of Super Bowl LII, carries the jagged silhouette of the new stadium and includes stars — four of them to signify each of the times that Minnesota has hosted the event, including 1951, 1992 and 2001. It shows evergreen trees atop a blue stream representing the Mississippi River.
This year’s Final Four will run March 31-April 2 at the Alamodome in San Antonio. Mortenson said a contingent of two dozen from Minneapolis will make the trip.
Rochelle Olson • 612-673-1747 Twitter: @rochelleolson