Mercedes-Benz Stadium, site of college basketball’s 2020 men’s Final Four.
Photo: Scott Cunningham/Getty Images
Photo: Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

How Atlanta is preparing for next year’s Final Four here

After college basketball’s national championship game is played in Minneapolis on Monday night, Atlanta will be next up as host of the Final Four.

A delegation of 35 people from Atlanta, all involved with various aspects of preparations for the event here next year, will be in downtown Minneapolis this weekend for behind-the-scenes access to the Final Four at U.S. Bank Stadium and surrounding activities. 

“A lot of our folks will be checking out everything from the Fan Fest to the music series to … the media headquarters and the transportation,” said Carl Adkins, executive director of Atlanta’s Final Four host committee. The delegation also will attend a three-hour NCAA-led meeting Sunday for future host cities, which have been selected through 2026.

Next year’s event in Mercedes-Benz Stadium will mark the fifth time in Atlanta for the men’s Final Four, the previous ones held in buildings that no longer exist: The Omni in 1977 and the Georgia Dome in 2002, 2007 and 2013. The 2020 event was awarded by the NCAA in 2014, when the new Falcons stadium was in the early stage of construction and had not yet been named. 

Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which opened in August 2017, hasn’t hosted a basketball game, raising the possibility that the first played there will be a national semifinal April 4, 2020. Minneapolis’ stadium, which opened one year ahead of The Benz, hosted four college basketball games over two days in December, the only basketball games played there before the Final Four. 

“At this point, there is not a plan to (have a basketball game in Mercedes-Benz Stadium) before the Final Four,” Adkins said. If that changes, it likely would be for a Georgia Tech men’s or women’s game, he said, but the stadium wouldn’t be set up in the same configuration as it will be for the Final Four. 

The court is placed in the middle of the stadium floor and elevated on a platform for the Final Four. A temporary seating system is erected on top of part of the permanent lower-level seating bowl, extending almost to the court, to improve sightlines. 

“The (NCAA) staff and contractors came in last year and did a mock build-out of one quadrant of the lower seating bowl,” Adkins said. “They were pretty well convinced that everything is going to be fine with it.” 

One issue in preparing Mercedes-Benz Stadium for basketball will be how to cover the wall of windows on the east end of the building. At U.S. Bank Stadium, which has a a translucent roof and a massive window wall facing the Minneapolis skyline, the NCAA required installation of darkening curtains to maintain uniform lighting for all Final Four games and team practices. The curtain system cost $4.6 million.

In Atlanta, organizers hope for a different and less expensive solution: Pleased with the look of the Super Bowl graphics that covered Mercedes-Benz Stadium’s wall of windows earlier this year, they envision doing something similar with a thicker material for the Final Four. That could serve the dual purpose of branding the exterior of the building for the event and blocking out light. 

The NCAA hasn’t signed off on the idea yet. “We’re going to work collaboratively on that,” Adkins said. 

Monthly planning meetings will be held with the NCAA beginning in June, he said. As with other marquee sports events, the ancillary activities associated with the Final Four – the March Madness Music Series, the Final Four Fan Fest, the corporate hospitality, etc. – have grown. Festivities stretch across five days, increasing the amount of planning required and ultimately the fan engagement.

“I think the evolution and sophistication of the on-the-ground fan experience has gotten better and better,” said Vince Thompson, founder and CEO of Atlanta-based sports and entertainment marketing firm MELT, which is working its 17th consecutive Final Four on behalf of client Coca-Cola. “There are more things for fans to do. You’ve got a lot of alumni and energy and emotion around the event. 

“It tends to be a little less corporate than, say, a Super Bowl. … You’ve got a lot more accessibility to a lot of events.” 

For next year’s Final Four, preliminary plans are for the Fan Fest to be held in the Georgia World Congress Center and the music series in Centennial Olympic Park, both a short walk from the stadium. 

The 2020 Final Four will be the third mega-event in Mercedes-Benz Stadium in three years, completing a run that began with the College Football Playoff national championship game in January 2018 and continued with the Super Bowl earlier this year.

“Atlanta arguably is becoming one of the sports-event destination capitals in the country, maybe the world,” Thompson said. 

The Atlanta delegation in Minneapolis includes representatives focused on all aspects of the Final Four,  from the games to the ancillary attractions to public safety. The host committee, the stadium, Georgia Tech, the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Congress Center and the Atlanta Police Department are represented. About half of the group arrived in Minneapolis on Thursday and will stay until Sunday; the rest will arrive Sunday and stay until Tuesday. 

Next year’s Final Four will benefit from lessons learned in Atlanta on the college football championship game and Super Bowl LIII, said Adkins, executive director of the local host committees for all three events.

“Certainly after the Super Bowl, there is a big sigh of relief, I think, from just about everybody and anybody involved with it,” Adkins said. “But I can tell you the team we’ve got here is really fired up about the Final Four, and it’s just a matter of how we spread that excitement through the community.”

FUTURE FINAL FOURS

Sites of college basketball’s men’s Final Four over the next seven years:

Year | City | Venue

2020 | Atlanta | Mercedes-Benz Stadium

2021 | Indianapolis | Lucas Oil Stadium

2022 | New Orleans | Mercedes-Benz Superdome

2023 | Houston | NRG Stadium

2024 | Phoenix/Glendale | State Farm Stadium

2025 | San Antonio | Alamodome

2026 | Indianapolis | Lucas Oil Stadium

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