If you’re looking to watch NCAA hockey champions crowned, Minnesota will be the place to be from 2023 through 2025, with three Frozen Fours — two for the women and one for the men — coming to the State of Hockey.
If you were looking for a quick return to the NCAA Wrestling Championships after the 2020 event slated for U.S. Bank Stadium was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic, your wait continues.
The NCAA on Wednesday announced sites of more than 450 preliminary rounds and championship events from 2022 to 2026, and Minnesota received four championships, including three in hockey. They are:
• The 2024 Men’s Frozen Four at Xcel Energy Center.
• The 2023 Women’s Frozen Four at Duluth’s Amsoil Arena.
• The 2025 Women’s Frozen Four at Ridder Arena.
• The 2023 Men’s Swimming and Diving Championships at the Jean K. Freeman Aquatic Center.
University and Minneapolis sports officials made a pitch for the 2023 wrestling tournament after the 2020 event was expected to draw crowds of 40,000 to the Vikings stadium. Instead, the NCAA awarded the tournament to Tulsa, Okla.; Kansas City, Mo.; Philadelphia and Cleveland from 2023 to ’26.
The Twin Cities also unsuccessfully bid for the 2024 Women’s Volleyball Championship and a men’s basketball first- and second-round regional, both for Target Center.
The new batch of championships joins some previously announced NCAA events in the Twin Cities that include:
• A 2021 men’s basketball regional semifinal and final at Target Center.
• The 2021 Men’s Gymnastics Championships at the University of Minnesota’s Maturi Pavilion.
• The 2022 Women’s Final Four basketball tournament at Target Center.
The men’s Frozen Four will make its fourth visit to Xcel Center. It was one of four sites newly awarded, including Tampa, Fla., in 2023; St. Louis in 2025; and Las Vegas in 2026.
Other women’s Frozen Four sites announced were Durham, N.H., in 2024 and State College, Pa., in 2026.
New group leads effort
The three new NCAA events coming to the Twin Cities are thanks in large part to the efforts of Minnesota Sports and Events (MNSE). The private nonprofit group consists of multiple Twin Cities sports power players who’ve joined to pitch large-scale sporting events on coming to the region.
The revelation of the group’s existence came Wednesday before the NCAA’s announcement.
Wendy Blackshaw is the president and CEO of the new MNSE organization that she started in June. Vikings vice president Lester Bagley said the NFL team is “all-in” on the new effort.
Blackshaw described the new nonprofit as having a “shared services” model where the cities use their collective resources to make unified sales requests to leagues and events. Then once the bid is won, Blackshaw said MNSE will create a local organizing committee as it has already done for the women’s basketball Final Four in 2022.
Blackshaw has experience in the arena; she was the vice president of marketing and sales for Super Bowl LII in 2018, responsible for raising more than $53 million in corporate donations.
With many new sports venues in the Twin Cities, there have been private conversations for years about how the region could best market itself as a host for sporting events.
Blackshaw said the new model emerged from her fundraising efforts for that 2022 women’s Final Four as well as numerous conversations with the local professional sports teams.
Marshaling the troops
MNSE received initial funding from the teams and convention bureaus. It is not seeking state money, but it’s not yet known how the group will evolve beyond the three-person startup staff. Blackshaw cited similar organizations in Kansas City and Indianapolis as possible models for the growth.
The convention bureaus from Minneapolis, St. Paul and Bloomington are all part of the core group behind the effort along with top officials from the University of Minnesota, the Twins, Timberwolves, Lynx, Vikings, Wild and United FC.
Twins CEO Dave St. Peter and Bloomington Convention and Visitors Bureau CEO Bonnie Carlson are co-chairs of the MNSE board.
Bagley said once the pandemic is controlled and the economy opens, it’s going to be stiff competition for events, so the group effort will be needed. He also showed optimism about sports playing a part in bringing the Twin Cities region back.
“We stand out. We have the Fortune 500 companies, the venues, the restaurants, the hotels,” he said, adding that there’s also a track record. “We’ve shown that we can deliver with the Super Bowl, Final Four and X Games.”