Atlanta is bidding to bring college basketball’s Final Four back to town — this time to the planned new Falcons stadium.
Officials from the Atlanta Sports Council, the Falcons and other local organizations met with the NCAA recently and will learn soon whether the city makes the short list of finalists to host the event again by 2020.
Bidding for marquee sporting events is nothing new for Atlanta, but this marks the first bid for an event in the retractable-roof downtown stadium, which is scheduled to break ground in April and open in 2017.
Plans also are being made to pursue two other mega-events for the stadium’s early years. Chick-fil-A Bowl president Gary Stokan has vowed to try to land the College Football Playoff championship game in January 2018, and Falcons owner Arthur Blank has targeted the February 2019 Super Bowl, the first Super Bowl the stadium would be eligible to host under NFL rules.
The bid process for those two events hasn’t begun, but the NCAA is well on the way to choosing its next group of Final Four sites.
With the event already booked through 2016, the NCAA last fall began the bid process for 2017-20. The first three steps were declaring intent to bid in October; submitting a draft budget, hotel rates and confirmation of adherence to bid requirements in November; and meeting with the NCAA basketball staff in December. The Sports Council is coordinating the Atlanta bid.
Sports Council executive director Dan Corso, Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau president William Pate, Falcons executive vice president Jim Smith, Georgia Tech athletic director Mike Bobinski and Georgia Dome general manager Carl Adkins attended last month’s meeting at NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis.
“I think it’s safe to say the NCAA was very impressed with what the Falcons are doing with the new stadium,” Pate said. “Any issues, if you want to call them issues, would be related just to (the NCAA) getting an understanding of how things are going to work — how people are going to flow into the building and things like that.”
Atlanta is bidding for the 2018, 2019 or 2020 Final Four, Corso said. But 2018 isn’t viable, according to the NCAA.
Venues “must be fully operational at least two years before the men’s Final Four will be played (in them),” NCAA spokesman Erik Christianson said in an email. Based on that, the earliest the Falcons stadium — slated to open in March 2017 — could host a Final Four would be 2019.
The NCAA won’t name the cities pursuing the 2017-20 events until its men’s basketball committee chooses finalists, which Christianson said will be “in the next several weeks.”
The bidders are believed to include New Orleans, Indianapolis, Minneapolis (in the new Vikings stadium slated to open in 2016), Houston, Glendale, Ariz., and Arlington, Texas.
Each offers a domed or retractable-roof stadium that satisfies the NCAA requirement of at least 60,000 seats. Another key requirement is that a city (or region) have 10,000 available hotel rooms.
For cities that are named finalists, completed bids will be due in May. Winners will be announced in November.
A new stadium typically increases the likelihood of landing marquee events. For example, the Dallas Cowboys’ stadium, which opened in 2009, hosted the Super Bowl in 2011 and will host the Final Four in April and the first College Football Playoff championship game in January.
Even so, a new venue adds complexity to a Final Four bid compared with a venue that hosted the event successfully in the past, as the Georgia Dome did in 2002, 2007 and 2013.
“There are certainly tactical issues that need to be discussed, issues as basic as lighting … and where you are going to load equipment,” Pate said. “The Falcons did an excellent job of walking through and answering a lot of those questions.”
Another issue is how the stadium will connect to the Georgia World Congress Center for ancillary events.
But the bottom line might be whether the NCAA will commit its signature event to an unbuilt stadium — or put Atlanta on hold until later. Final Fours for 2021 and beyond likely won’t be awarded until after the stadium opens.
Adkins and Falcons president Rich McKay have cited several elements of the new stadium’s design that they think will make it ideal for the Final Four.
A massive 360-degree video board incorporated into the roof opening will eliminate the need for the NCAA to install a temporary, center-hung board, as it did last year in the Georgia Dome. The stadium is designed to seat almost 84,000 for a Final Four, about 9,000 more than the Dome did last year. And it will have 300,000 more square feet of space, including more locker-room space.
At all of its Final Four venues, the NCAA plans to continue its recent practice of installing a temporary seating system that allows the court to be placed in the center of the stadium and pushes seats to courtside.
“If a venue has not hosted a Final Four, we would likely assign a preliminary round (of the tournament) at that facility the year before to evaluate the center-court seating configuration,” the NCAA’s Christianson said.
Atlanta plans to aggressively pursue the various marquee events — Final Four, Super Bowl, College Football Playoff championship game — as they become available and hopes to stack them in a way that doesn’t over-stress the city in any single year.
“All the cities that we compete with are in the same situation, trying to figure out how to get as many of these as they can,” Pate said. “Of course, our intent is to have all three.”
The Georgia Dome, slated for demolition when the new Falcons stadium opens in 2017, has hosted the NCAA men’s basketball Final Four three times and the Super Bowl twice:
Event; Years in Dome
Final Four; 2002, 2007, 2013
Super Bowl; 1994, 2000
Note: The Final Four also was played in Atlanta at The Omni, Philips Arena’s predecessor, in 1977.