A recent Star Tribune news story reported that the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority is spending an estimated $10 million to host the NCAA men’s basketball Final Four April 6-8 in Minneapolis. By comparison, the publicly funded authority shelled out $627,000 to host the Super Bowl in 2018.
That’s an eyebrow-raising difference. But even though the Final Four and Super Bowl are both major national events, their sponsor organizations — the NCAA and NFL, respectively — have different contractual expectations of their local hosts, explaining some of that disparity.
The Super Bowl brought a major return on taxpayer investment — an estimated $370 million, according to much-debated figures touted last year. Now those who oppose public funding for stadiums and events have turned their attention to the Final Four and the $10 million figure.
Is the Final Four worth the public investment? We think so. An estimated 94,000 visitors will come to the metro area during what typically is a slow time in local tourism, according to the local organizing committee. And those visitors, along with local fans, are expected to pump $142 million into the local economy as they spend on food, lodging, merchandise, transportation and entertainment during the weekend.
There’s additional impact that’s valuable but also more difficult to quantify. The Final Four will put the Twin Cities on the national stage again, continuing to build on the area’s reputation as a host of major events. As this region competes with other major markets for business and workforce development, its major-league status is important — not only in sports, but also in recreational activities, music and the arts.
Still, the $10 million figure caused a buzz. A significant portion that amount is for blackout curtains required by the NCAA. The college sports authority calls for uniform lighting at any host site for all practices and the three games of the tournament. The games are played in the evening, but practices are held during the day when natural light will flow through huge glass panels on the top and the western side of U.S. Bank Stadium.
The $5.7 million curtains will be retractable and can be taken down and stored for future use. Having that “blackout solution” available makes the stadium more attractive to other events that need that option.
The Final Four also is worth the investment as a boost to the hospitality industry. According to state figures, those businesses lost 3,000 jobs during the same time period last year because of a slowdown in sales. It’s expected that many of those jobs will be maintained this year because of the Final Four.
Because college basketball holds special appeal for young people and families, Final Four organizers have made community engagement central to the tournament’s mission. Most of the events planned around the tournament will be free and open to the public.
Who knows, some of the college students who travel here or tune in to broadcast coverage may one day be on the other end of a sales pitch from a Minnesota company looking for skilled workers. Reasonable public investment in making the Twin Cities an even stronger talent magnet is well worth the cost.