MINNEAPOLIS — In addition to the flagrant caveat of an unpredictable Minnesota spring, folks taking in an NCAA Final Four game from the new Vikings’ stadium’s upper bowl may fear needing a telescope for a mere glimpse of the on-court action.
Wrong, say Minneapolis officials who last month submitted a bid to land one of the next few college basketball culminations.
"We think that our facility should be really well geared toward an event like the Final Four," Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority chair Michele Kelm-Helgen told FOXSportsNorth.com. "We’re going to have, for example . . . a video board that will make viewing the game available for everyone in the facility. They require 65,000-70,000 seats, so having tech that brings the game closer is really important."
Among plans for the near $1 billion, 65,400-seat, multipurpose venue — like Minneapolis’ successful Super Bowl bid, the crown jewel of the Final Four pitch — are two of the NFL’s largest and highest-quality video boards, according to the Vikings’ website. Thanks to an additional $1.2 million contribution from the team, the screen in the west end will measure 120 feet by 68 feet, while one behind the east end zone will be 88 feet by 50 feet.
That will rank fourth in the NFL video board arms race behind Houston’s Reliant Stadium, Dallas’ AT&T Stadium and San Francisco’s Levi Stadium. More pertinently, it would give every hoops fan packed into the building an adequate view of the NCAA tournament’s semifinals and title game.
Even if the players themselves look like Micro Machines figurines.
This is where the NCAA has gone in recent years, holding its marquee basketball contests inside stadiums meant for football. Since 1997, the collegiate athletics overseer has required all Final Four sessions take place in domed stadiums with a minimum capacity of 40,000. The past four Final Fours, including this year’s, took place inside Reliant Stadium, the Super Dome, the Georgia Dome and AT&T Stadium. College hoops’ last quartet of teams standing will convene at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis next season and Reliant again in 2016.
Even the now-demolished Metrodome hosted Final Fours in 1992 and 2001. The new stadium’s predecessor featured a pair of screens so small, almost 13 of them would fit inside the new stadium’s western video board.
"All the Final Fours now are being played in the round, full-stadium football setting," University of Minnesota associate athletic director Andrew Parrish, the proposed host school’s point man for the bid, told FOXSportsNorth.com. "In creating the facility, events like this were kept in mind."
With the football cathedral currently rising out of the ground on Kirby Puckett Plaza, the university, MSFA and Meet Minneapolis have teamed up in hopes of hosting either the 2019 or 2020 Final Four. The NCAA announced in November that Minneapolis was among eight finalists for one of four championships from 2017-20.
Hosting mandates a preliminary round take place at the site a year prior to the Final Four; the stadium won’t be ready until the fall of 2016 and is hosting the Super Bowl in 2018, so 2019 and 2020 are the most feasible options, Kelm-Helgen said.
In addition to the games themselves, Final Four week features a series of events and concerts including a festival adjacent to the stadium. Bid organizers also plan to transform Nicollet Mall into "Final Four Lane" in the days leading up to the contests, which generally take place the first or second weekend of April.
Hosting requires more than 10,000 hotel rooms, Parrish said, and the Twin Cities are more than prepared to accommodate. The metro area’s Skyway and mass transit systems also are selling points.
After beating out New Orleans and Indianapolis for Super Bowl 52, Minneapolis is up against those two cities and Atlanta, North Texas, Phoenix/Glendale, San Antonio and St. Louis in the Final Four pool. If the steering committee co-chaired by David Mortenson, the president of stadium builder Mortensen Construction, and HealthPartners CEO Mary Brainerd is able to lasso the event, it’d have an estimated $70 million-$200 million impact and bring in approximately 75,000 people from out of state, Kelm-Helgen said.
Former Gopher basketball players Trent Tucker and Lindsay Whalen have been named honorary co-chairs for the committee. Those two, Mortenson and Brainerd joined Gov. Mark Dayton earlier this week at a press conference announcing the formal bid.
Minneapolis representatives have attended the past few Final Fours and the future host meetings that go with them. NCAA officials are expected in August for an on-site visit, and the NCAA’s decision will be announced in November.
"I would hope we have a great shot," Parrish said. "At the last Final Four, someone referred it to me as the largest family-friendly sporting event in America.