It’s been a decade since New Orleans last played host to the men’s NCAA Final Four.
A lot has changed since 2012, when the Kentucky Wildcats cut down the nets at the Superdome.
The New Orleans area has weathered a couple of major surges during the COVID-19 pandemic and is still trying to recover from the damage Hurricane Ida wreaked on the region last August. What hasn’t changed, however, is New Orleans’ ability to throw a party and host a major sporting event.
That’s why local and NCAA officials are so optimistic about the April 2-4 event at the Caesars Superdome.
This will be the city’s sixth Final Four, most of any city in the nation. It will also be the first major sporting event New Orleans has hosted since the pandemic and since Ida.
But if any city can handle the myriad issues that accompany big event planning today, it’s New Orleans, which has an experienced team of local organizers accustomed to navigating health and safety guidelines and dealing with staffing and supply chain shortages.
Many local organizers have worked multiple Final Fours in the city. New Orleans previously hosted the event in 1982, 1987, 1993, 2003 and 2012. “What we have to cover here is less than most other places, because this is (No.) 6, so there is a lot of experience,” said Tulane athletic director Troy Dannen, who is co-chairing the local host committee along with University of New Orleans athletic director Tim Duncan. “… This would not be a good year for someone to be hosting their first Final Four. It’s a blessing for all of us that it is in New Orleans and that experience is there to make sure this event is run the way that we run events here.”
If this year's event is similar to the 2012 Final Four, it will be a boon for the city’s struggling hospitality industry. The 2012 Final Four attracted more than 75,000 fans to the city and generated almost 230,000 hotel room stays and an economic impact of $168 million, according to a study by the UNO division of business and economic research.
“Obviously, this is a huge deal for our economy,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said. “It’s coming at exactly the right time, coming off the storm and out of the pandemic.”
The Final Four will feature semifinal games on Saturday, April 2. The championship game is set for Monday, April 4.
Fans, media and tournament officials will be greeted by a refurbished Superdome, which is in the midst of a $450,000, multi-phase renovation project. The stadium will feature expanded concourses, new entry gates, enhanced food and beverage services and new locker rooms.
“Our hospitality industry has taken it on the chin, our cultural ambassadors (have), as well, but we are back and are ready to not only host this event but to move this city forward in ways that we have never seen before," mayor LaToya Cantrell said.
In addition to the three Final Four games, the four-day weekend includes a handful of events free to the public, including a dribble parade for kids at Heritage Park on Sunday, a fan festival at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, a music festival at Woldenberg Park, Friday-Sunday, tailgate festival at Champions Square and a college all-star game at the Superdome on Friday.
"We are extremely excited," said Jeff Rossi, the senior vice president of events at the Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation and the executive director of the local organizing committee. "This is an opportunity for us as a city, as a region and a state to show that New Orleans is ready to host again."
The NCAA picked a good year to hold the Final Four in New Orleans. The 2021-2022 campaign has been one of the best in recent memory for the city’s college basketball scene. With UNO leading the Southland Conference, Loyola ranked No. 1 in the NAIA Top 25 for the first time ever and Tulane tied for third in the American Athletic Conference, college basketball has never been better in New Orleans.
"We're expecting this to be the first Final Four where two local institutions participating," Dannen quipped. "We're setting this up well for the NCAA."
Added Duncan, tongue in cheek: “We’re a basketball town now."
Article by Jeff Duncan, NOLA.com.