New Orleans Set to Host NCAA Final Four at Perfect Time

NEW ORLEANS – New Orleans is lucky to be hosting the NCAA Men’s Final Four in 2022 instead of 2021.

Next year’s championship, scheduled to take place in Indianapolis (which happens to be the headquarters of the National Collegiate Athletic Association), will likely be heavily modified because of COVID-19 safety protocols.

With vaccines on the horizon, however, organizers of the 2022 New Orleans tournament – only 16 months away – are planning for a good old-fashioned live sporting event that draws big crowds while incorporating appropriate safety protocols. It’s a vision that seems miles away from the current situation in New Orleans, where positive coronavirus tests have doubled in the last two weeks and the city is considering stricter measures to prevent crowds from gathering and the virus from spreading.

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Jeff Rossi, Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation senior vice president and executive director of the New Orleans Local Organizing Committee

“The NCAA has preached flexibility and being able to make decisions quickly on your feet,” said Jeff Rossi, the Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation senior vice president and executive director of the New Orleans Local Organizing Committee. “Having said that, we are planning a typical NCAA event with a full stadium, full fan events and full concerts. Everything will be open. People are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

Rossi and other Final Four organizers talked to the press this week to promote the unveiling of the event’s official 2022 logo. 

Rossi said it’s encouraging that Anthony Fauci, one of the leaders of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, has indicated that stadiums will likely be able to host large crowds by the start of next year’s football season.

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“That’s wonderful news for us because if they’re doing it in the fall of 2021 that means we will be doing it in the spring of 2022,” said Rossi. “Our plan is to have our usual awesome event.”

Rossi said there are new best practices that will likely apply to all big events in the foreseeable future. ASM Global, the company that manages the Superdome and other facilities worldwide, in particular is still learning how to keep things safe as it hosts Saints games and plans upcoming Pelicans games. That knowledge will be useful for the Final Four and more.

“We will definitely be applying what they have learned and we also have been dealing very closely with the city,” said Rossi. “Together, we are trying to figure out what it’s going to look like when you can gather not just for an indoor sporting event but also an outdoor concert at Woldenberg Park, for instance. Whatever is appropriate in the summer of 2021 will hopefully be different in the spring of 2022. We don’t know exactly what it’s going to look like yet but we are working with all of our partners to figure that out so everyone can feel comfortable coming out.”

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The Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation, a nonprofit with a staff of 10, leads the Final Four’s New Orleans Local Organizing Committee with help from official host institutions Tulane University and the University of New Orleans. The committee’s initial challenge is to raise public and private funds to cover the costs of hosting an event that will ultimately have a major economic impact on the city. 

The 2012 Final Four in New Orleans, for example, is estimated to have had a total economic impact of $168 million thanks to more than 75,000 traveling fans. Rossi said organizers are hoping for an impact closer to $200 million this time around.

To get there, first they have to meet all the obligations of the bid – and this is something that keeps getting more expensive. 

“Competition is fierce,” said Rossi. “Cities around the country are continuously raising the bar and offering more and more. Our job is to keep New Orleans competitive and figure out ways to continue bringing these massive events to New Orleans and driving tourism.”

There are David and Goliath overtones whenever New Orleans is competing with cities that are much bigger and have more of a corporate base. Take Miami or Atlanta, for example. Rossi said that’s where the Sports Foundation really shines.

“We’ve got it down to a science how to pull off an event like this and do it in the most economical way,” he said. “It’s not always apples to apples that you’re comparing but New Orleans always competes with cities with bigger budgets for the same events. And we are proud of how we manage it and are able to execute things efficiently.”

Whatever it takes, the end result is worth it.

“This is the light at the end of the tunnel,” said Rossi. “All industries in New Orleans have been hit hard by COVID but tourism especially. Now that we have this event in sight, we hope to get people excited and get the message out that New Orleans is open and remind people how great of a city we have.”

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