Georgia Dome has a new look for Final Four

The Georgia Dome won’t look the same for this Final Four as it did for the event in 2002 and 2007.

The basketball court, previously installed on one end of the massive stadium floor, has been relocated to the middle. An elaborate, temporary seating system has been erected on top of the permanent lower-level seating bowl, extending almost to the court. A 183,000-pound octagonal video board has been hung above the floor.

And the dark, towering curtain that typically has closed off thousands of distant seats for basketball games in the Dome? Gone.

The Georgia Dome hasn’t hosted an event since its floor was covered with 500 truckloads of dirt for the American Motorcyclist Association’s Supercross races Feb. 23. Since then, the building has been transformed for the Final Four.

When the event was previously played here, the Dome was configured to seat about 53,000 people. The NCAA subsequently decided that wasn’t nearly enough, figuring an expansion to 70,000-plus could generate an additional $4 million per year in revenue.

Starting with the 2009 Final Four in Detroit and continuing in Indianapolis, Houston and New Orleans the past three years, the NCAA has configured the stadiums to use every seat. Attendance topped 70,000 per session in those NFL venues and will again in the Georgia Dome, where officials say the temporary seating will push capacity past 74,000 (compared to the building’s 71,250 permanent seats).

“I think it will, without question, be the largest attendance of any sporting event we have ever hosted,” Georgia Dome spokesman Jason Kirksey said.

The NCAA’s decision to use its Final Four venues’ full seating capacities — and then some — required moving the court to the center of the stadiums and placing it on a 29-inch platform. At previous Final Fours and other basketball events in the Georgia Dome, the court was positioned in a north-to-south direction around what would be one of the football field’s 10-yard lines. (The football end zones are on the east and west ends of the Dome.)

This time, the court is placed in an east-to-west direction with center court where the midfield Falcons logo would be.

Placing the court in the middle of massive domed stadiums required the NCAA to remake the venues’ lower seating bowls to provide clear sightlines to the elevated court and to push fans closer to the court without obstructing the view of those behind them.

To accomplish that, the NCAA purchased a portable seating system, which has been installed at each Final Four site since 2009. The system consists of row after row of risers on platforms supported by an intricate, scaffold-like understructure. Chairs are latched together on each riser. The finished appearance looks, well, anything but temporary.

The risers sit atop much of the Georgia Dome’s regular lower-bowl seating, changing the angle and allowing 22 additional rows of seats that extend to within a few yards of the court. About 18,000 black temporary seats have been, or will be, installed, roughly enough to fill Philips Arena.

To make room for the understructure, about 8,000 of the Dome’s regular red seats were removed and stored in a trailer at a Georgia World Congress Center parking lot. Thousands more of the regular seats were simply covered up by the temporary structure.

“It’s like a puzzle,” said Adam Straight, the Dome’s director of facility operations. “It took us 15 months to plan for this.”

The last 8,000 of the temporary seats to be installed at the Dome were to arrive Monday night from Arlington, Texas, where they were used at the NCAA South Regional in Cowboys Stadium over the weekend. It’ll take only a few hours, Straight said, for a “small army” to install them.

The idea behind the seating configuration is to try to transform behemth football stadiums into something resembling cozy basketball arenas. And, of course, to sell more tickets in the process.

The Final Four has been played exclusively in domed stadiums since 1997. NCAA officials recently expressed a willingness to at least discuss the longshot possibility of an occasional return to traditional basketball arenas in the future, but the organization would have to give up a lot of ticket revenue — and shut out a lot of fans — to do so.

The temporary seating system isn’t the only change in the stands for this Final Four. Another change: an increased number of seats behind each basket allocated to participating schools’ students.

“We think the atmosphere around the court … will be that much greater,” said Dan Gavitt, NCAA vice president of men’s basketball championships.

There also is a change overhead from previous Final Fours in the Georgia Dome: The NCAA has had a massive eight-sided video board installed above the court, similar to the one constructed for last year’s Final Four in New Orleans. It marks the first time the Georgia Dome has had a center-hung video board for a sporting event.

Once college basketball’s championship is decided next Monday night, the temporary seats will come out, the regular seats will go back in and the octagonal video board will come down.

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