Final Four will return to Atlanta in 2020

The Final Four is on its way back to Atlanta. College basketball’s marquee event will be played in the new Falcons stadium in 2020, the NCAA said Friday.

That will mark the fifth time in Atlanta for the men’s Final Four, which has become one of the larger happenings in sports.

The event was played at the long-gone Omni in 1977 and at the Georgia Dome in 2002, 2007 and 2013. For 2020, the NCAA chose a venue not yet built: the $1.2 billion retractable-roof stadium currently under construction downtown and slated to open in 2017.

“I am honored to welcome the … Final Four back to the City of Atlanta,” Mayor Kasim Reed said in a statement Friday night. “I’m especially proud that these games will take place in the brand new, state-of-the-art Atlanta stadium.”

The NCAA also chose sites Friday for other future Final Fours: Phoenix in 2017, San Antonio in 2018, Minneapolis in 2019 and Indianapolis in 2021. The 2021 event was a last-minute addition to this bid cycle. Three bidders were denied a Final Four: New Orleans, St. Louis and North Texas (the Dallas Cowboys’ stadium).

The 2015 and 2016 Final Fours, previously awarded, will be played in Indianapolis and Houston, respectively.

Over the years, the event has grown from its on-court centerpieces — two national semifinals and the championship game — into a spectacle that includes concerts, parties, a fan festival and other ancillary activities. The dates for the 2020 event will be April 4 (semifinals) and April 6 (championship).

The 2013 Final Four drew about 100,000 basketball fans to downtown Atlanta and generated an economic impact estimated by some studies at $70 million-plus.

“The 2013 Final Four was a great success in our city,” Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau president William Pate said, “and we plan to deliver an even better experience to college basketball fans in 2020.”

Atlanta began seeking another Final Four late last year. NCAA officials visited the city in August to learn about the planned new stadium and other aspects of Atlanta’s pitch. At the time, two members of the NCAA Division I men’s basketball committee said awarding the event to an unbuilt stadium would be a “leap of faith” that they would be comfortable making.

The Falcons will operate the stadium, and team president Rich McKay said in a statement Friday night that the team looks forward to its part in the basketball event.

“We promise to provide attendees with an outstanding game experience,” McKay said.

Atlanta’s bid group included representatives of the Atlanta Sports Council, Georgia Tech, the Georgia World Congress Center Authority, the Falcons and the ACVB. The group met with NCAA representatives in Indianapolis earlier this week, as did delegations from seven other cities.

The Atlanta representatives said their pitch focused on the new stadium and its convenient proximity to the Congress Center, hotels and new attractions such as the College Football Hall of Fame and the Center for Civil and Human Rights.

“I’m really proud of our bid group for their diligence over the past 14 months,” Sports Council executive director Dan Corso said.

Utah State athletic director Scott Barnes, chairman of the NCAA men’s basketball committee, described a competitive bid process in which the committee voted on cities in the same way that it votes on teams for the NCAA tournament each March.