One year out: Phoenix on the clock for NCAA 2024 men's Final Four

When the NCAA Final Four convenes in NRG Stadium in Houston this week there will be at least a dozen or so interested parties from Arizona on hand taking thorough notes.

The 2024 men's basketball championship is coming to State Farm Stadium, with Arizona State serving as the host institution. The field trip will be for local officials to gather information and exchange ideas with those doing the hosting honors this year.

"It might seem like a year is a long time but it goes by so fast and there is a lot to do," said Debbie Johnson, co-chair of the local organizing committee along with Tom Sadler, president and CEO of the Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority. "We're gearing up for what is going to be a very busy and exciting time."

Cities get plenty of lead time when it comes to preparing for the undertaking. The right to host the event was awarded to Phoenix in July of 2018, a year after the Final Four was played here for the first time. Future Final Fours have been decided through 2030: San Antonio in 2025, Indianapolis (2026), Detroit (2027), Las Vegas (2028), Indianapolis again (2029) and Dallas (2030).

Greater Phoenix is no stranger to hosting major sporting events. Already this year, the VRBO Fiesta Bowl served as the site of a College Football Playoff semifinal between TCU and Michigan, and of course, just two months ago Super Bowl 57 between Kansas City and Philadelphia took place in Glendale.

A general overall view of the fan plaza outside before Super Bowl 57 between the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles at State Farm Stadium on Feb. 12, 2023, in Glendale, Ariz.
A general overall view of the fan plaza outside before Super Bowl 57 between the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles at State Farm Stadium on Feb. 12, 2023, in Glendale, Ariz.

While the basketball games — two national semifinals on Saturday, with the championship played Monday — will be the main attraction, the Final Four includes ancillary events, many of which will be open to the public at no charge.

In 2017 a three-day March Madness Music Festival drew a total of 135,000 enthusiasts to Hance Park, which reached capacity for the weekend events. The Final Four Fan Fest, sponsored by Capital One, drew 50,803 to the Phoenix Convention Center.

Johnson confirmed that those activities will likely be part of the agenda for next year's event, although they're still early in the planning stages. Both venues were key sites during Super Bowl 57.

The 2017 semifinal games, which featured Gonzaga vs. South Carolina and Oregon vs. North Carolina, drew 77,612, the second-largest crowd in State Farm Stadium history. The Final Four’s total attendance of 153,780, remains the second-highest in the event’s history.

"It's really about the student-athlete experience. We got a lot of great feedback on what we did the last time but of course, you always want to do more," said J.D. Loudabarger, ASU's associate athletic director for facilities and operations. "What that means and in what form that will come, we're not sure yet."

While the local group has the experience of having hosted before, Johnson said things could change drastically in just a few years and there is always more to be learned. That's why the Arizona contingent is in Houston this week despite having already hosted.

"Things are always evolving, whether that comes to something like security or logistics and the experience you're providing for the teams. You never stop learning or evolving as to things you can do better," she said.

When Glendale hosted in 2017 it was the first men's Final Four to be held west of Texas since 1995. The NCAA requires a minimum capacity of 70,000 to host the event and until recently few indoor venues in the west met that benchmark. Today, Arizona faces stiffer competition when it comes to bidding for major athletic events, most notably SoFi Stadium in greater Los Angeles and Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas.

SoFi, which seats 70,000 spectators but could accommodate up to 100,000 depending on the event, opened in the fall of 2020 and is home to the NFL's Rams and Chargers. It hosted Super Bowl 56 on Feb. 13, 2022, and was the site of College Football's most recent CFP championship game, in January. Next up for the venue is Wrestlemania 39 this weekend.

Previously in Glendale: What we learned when North Carolina beat Gonzaga for 2017 national title

Allegiant Stadium, which seats 65,000 but is expandable to 71,835, is home to the NFL's Raiders as well as the UNLV football team. It is also the site of the Pac-12 championship football game as well as the annual Las Vegas Bowl, which in 2021 featured Arizona State against Wisconsin. It opened in July 2020. The stadium will host next year's Super Bowl, the first to be played in Las Vegas.

Not only are these events good publicity for the state, but they also generate significant revenue. The 2017 Final Four generated an estimated economic impact of $324.5 million, according to a study by ASU's WP Carey School of Business.

Exposure can also bring in future dollars as well. The 2017 championship game between North Carolina and Gonzaga averaged nearly 23 million TV viewers. It was broadcast in 176 countries and was the first Final Four broadcast in Spanish. More than 2,200 media members were credentialed.

The last event was staffed by 3,332 local volunteers who logged a combined 29,736 hours. Johnson said a call for people who want to help will go out soon, and all are welcome, whether they want to volunteer for a few hours or can work multiple days.

Loudabarger said between 25 and 30 staff members from ASU are going to be directly involved with the event, their primary focus being what he called "running the floor," taking care of details such as the shot clock, game clock and scoreboard. ASU will also provide athletic training and medical staff which regularly works with its teams. ASU's marching band director, Jim Hudson, will serve as a liaison with the bands from the visiting schools.

"We have shown that we can hold major events here and it will be organized and everyone is going to have a good time," Johnson said. "If we didn't provide a great experience then they wouldn't keep coming back to us. We're looking forward to meeting that challenge again."

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Phoenix 2024 Final Four organizers in Houston for first-hand look