Tens of thousands of college basketball fans trekked to Minnesota this past weekend for the NCAA Men’s Final Four, taking in the sights and sounds of the Twin Cities before they got a front-row seat to sports history.
The weekend was filled with festivities in Minneapolis — open practices at U.S. Bank Stadium, free concerts at the Armory and on Nicollet Mall, an interactive sports playground dubbed “Fan Fest” inside the Minneapolis Convention Center, and more.
Then there were the games. The controversial last-second finish between Virginia and Auburn that sent Virginia to the national championship game. And the overtime thriller on Monday night where Virginia defeated Texas Tech to become champion.
Virginia head coach Tony Bennett cuts down the net after his team’s 85-77 win over Texas Tech in the 2019 NCAA men’s Final Four National Championship game at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on April 8, 2019. (Streeter Lecka / Getty Images)
It was the second year in a row that the Twin Cities played host to a major national sporting event. That experience was evident, as the events and games over the past several days appeared to go off without a hitch.
“We feel like our Final Four in Minneapolis was a tremendous success,” said Kate Mortenson, president and CEO of the Minneapolis Final Four Local Organizing Committee. “We certainly feel like our expectation for attendance was met, if not exceeded.”
Pointing to the Final Four and last year’s Super Bowl LII as proof the Twin Cities region is a worthy host, local organizers are already thinking about what could come next.
ORGANIZERS REPORT A SMOOTH WEEKEND
A lot of planning went into the festivities and events of Final Four weekend, and it seemed to pay off.
Visitors and locals turned out in “extraordinary” numbers for the Final Four Fan Fest and the “Tip-Off Tailgate” activities along Nicollet Mall, Mortenson said.
Minnesota Gophers fan Tyson Soule, 3, left, from Lakeville, goes up for the dunk as his friend Ethan Schultz, 2, from Lakeville falls during the Final Four Fan Fest at the Minneapolis Convention Center on Friday, April 5, 2019. Their moms said that the boys’ favorite team is Minnesota. Tyson said he likes the Gophers because “the Gophers’ band is there.” Ethan added “and they make baskets from way downtown.” (Jean Pieri / Pioneer Press)
The festivities and atmosphere were enough to keep some visitors in town, even after their teams were bumped from the tournament.
“We feel like Minneapolis really showed well,” Mortenson said. “I saw quite a few team jerseys on Sunday and Monday for teams that were not going to be playing on Monday.”
And there were no major security issues despite the influx of avid sports fans.
There was only one arrest at the stadium, which happened during the Saturday games, said Minneapolis police spokesman John Elder.
“We did not see any … challenges or issues with the Final Four,” Elder said.
VISITORS ENJOYED THE GAMES — AND THE SIGHTS
In downtown Minneapolis, visitors could be spotted with a quick glance — they wore the orange and blue colors of Virginia and Auburn, Texas Tech red or Michigan State green.
They crowded Nicollet Mall during the day and filed into U.S. Bank Stadium in the evening.
Many visitors gave Minneapolis high marks for its skyways and light-rail system. They marveled at the scale of U.S. Bank Stadium and remarked that locals were warm and welcoming.
“It was amazing how helpful and friendly everyone here is,” said John Lorentzen, a Texas Tech alum from Chicago who drove here with his wife and two kids on Sunday to see the championship game.
Lorentzen and his wife, Christy, who are both “political nerds,” also toured the state Capitol in St. Paul during their short trip.
Kevin McClain, an Auburn alum from Atlanta, flew into the Twin Cities on Thursday night and stayed through the national championship game on Monday.
Aside from the games, McClain dined at Murray’s steakhouse, checked out Uptown and toured Target Field and U.S. Bank Stadium.
“I will tell you, (Minneapolis is) a great city,” McClain said. “One of the cleanest big cities I’ve ever seen. I’ve been all over the world.”
It is not immediately clear how many visitors came from out of state.
A study commissioned last year estimated that the Final Four would bring in 94,000 out-of-state visitors and $142 million in spending.
Organizers will not know the real numbers until May, Mortenson said, when the firm that commissioned the study releases its final report.
SOME BUSINESSES GOT IN ON THE ACTION, OTHERS DIDN’T
Some bars and restaurants in downtown Minneapolis cashed in on Final Four weekend. Those along Nicollet Mall welcomed wall-to-wall crowds who came in for a meal between activities.
The spike in business did not extend to every part of the metro region.
Jill Pavlak, co-owner of Urban Growler Brewing Co. in St. Paul, reported a “good spring weekend.” But she said that only about 20 customers she spoke to were there because of the Final Four.
Still, she said the weekend was notably better than Super Bowl weekend — her regulars stayed away then because they thought it would be too crowded.
“We’re very happy with our weekend numbers, but we wouldn’t credit the NCAA for it,” Pavlak said. “We had our regulars out. The weather was … decent enough that it didn’t keep people away.”
SO WHAT’S NEXT?
While sports fans took in the action at U.S. Bank Stadium, some local organizers met with clients who could bring the next big sporting event to the Twin Cities.
Executives for the College Football Playoff were in town and took an extensive tour of U.S. Bank Stadium, said Kathy McCarthy, director of public relations and communications with Meet Minneapolis and Sports Minneapolis.
Sports Minneapolis reps have had ongoing conversations with the executives, she said.
“It’s a relationship that we continue to cultivate,” McCarthy said. “(The Final Four) is an opportunity for us to show the city fully engaged. … If we can successfully do that, then we can help these individuals hold an incredibly successful event as well.”
In the meantime, plenty of other sports events will come to town.
This year, soccer’s CONCACAF Gold Cup will come to Allianz Field in St. Paul and the X Games will return to U.S. Bank Stadium.
In 2020, U.S. Bank Stadium will be the home of the NCAA men’s wrestling championship — 30,000 tickets have already been sold for the event.
The Division I men’s gymnastics championships and the NCAA men’s basketball regionals will come here in 2021, followed by the NCAA Women’s Final Four in 2022.
“We firmly believe that we have shown that we can successfully execute events,” McCarthy said. “That we have the venues, that we have things to offer the fans that would make them want to come back.”