SBD/Issue 138/Events & Attractions

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  • Ford Field Draws NCAA Tourney Record Crowd, But Is It Too Big?

    Final Four At Ford Field Draws 72,456 Fans,
    Setting An NCAA Tournament Record
    Saturday's two NCAA men's basketball Final Four games drew an NCAA-tournament record crowd of 72,456 to Ford Field, according to Erin Lacy of the DETROIT NEWS. Michigan State (MSU) defeated Connecticut in the first semifinal, and MSU coach Tom Izzo said, "It's hard to explain the emotion of the day. I've never had the experience of 70,000 people here mostly rooting for us" (DETROIT NEWS, 4/5). In N.Y., Joe LaPointe notes this is the first Final Four ever played with the court in the center of an arena floor in a domed football stadium, and to "create an atmosphere of intimacy, sounds from microphones on the floor and backboards were piped into the speakers, meaning the squeak of sneakers and the rattle of the rims could be heard clearly" throughout Ford Field. NCAA Senior VP/Basketball & Business Strategies Greg Shaheen said that the organization views the stadium as a "'bit of a laboratory' and that the experiment was well-received." LaPointe notes some of the "worst seats were close to the floor, in the rows directly behind the baskets where students sat." Because the court is raised a few feet, TV cameras and "other baseline obstructions blocked their views" (N.Y. TIMES, 4/6).

    RIGHT GAME, WRONG PLACE?  In Detroit, Mike Lopresti wrote watching the game from the top floor at Ford Field is "not a bad view, especially if you're a hawk." You "see the ball dribbled, and an instant later, you hear the bounce." Lopresti: "Welcome to the Final Four -- in the new jumbo size." From the upper deck, Ford Field "looks vast and beautiful, if not quite the place you want to have a basketball game" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 4/4). Former college basketball coach Rollie Massimino: "It's amazing. It's like 70,000 people and only 15,000 good seats" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 4/6). In California, Frank Burlison writes the "logistics and atmosphere in Ford Field just didn't feel right" on Saturday. If 60-65% of fans "need field glasses in order to clearly make out the uniform numbers, then the building is too big for basketball" (Long Beach PRESS-TELEGRAM, 4/6). In Charlotte, Ken Tysiac noted about two-thirds of Saturday's crowd was rooting for MSU, but the "home-court advantage wasn't overwhelming for the Spartans," because Ford Field is "so big the sound simply couldn't fill it" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 4/5). The OBSERVER's Tysiac also wrote in the closing minutes of the North Carolina-Villanova semifinal, if "you hadn't known any better, you would have thought you were at the ACC tournament at the Georgia Dome" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 4/5). North Carolina F Tyler Hansbrough said the raised arena floor is a "little awkward." UNC coach Roy Williams added, "If I ever turn into an architect, I would not build a gym like that. If I'm a head coach or athletic director, I will never have a building built like that. It's just not comfortable as a coach. Is it better for fans? I don't know. But I'm not a fan" (USA TODAY, 4/6).

    Detroit's Downtown Traffic Has Been Biggest
    Concern For NCAA During Final Four Weekend
    GRADING DETROIT: NCAA Exec VP Tom Jernstedt said Detroit has "done a marvelous job" playing host to the Final Four. Jernstedt: "They're very well prepared. It helped having the regional here a year ago. We invested nearly a million dollars in adjusting the sight lines for the seats that we own to enhance the seating configuration here. We're pleased with that based on what we've heard since we've been here." But Jernstedt noted the "one concern we've had has been the downtown traffic -- people getting here" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 4/6). UNC G Ty Lawson legally gambled at a Detroit casino ahead of Saturday's semifinal, and SI.com's Andy Staples wrote it "could have been worse for NCAA officials, who seem embarrassed and even a little surprised that when they brought four groups of 18- to 22-year-olds to a city without much nighttime entertainment other than a few downtown casinos, a few of-age players actually took advantage of their legal right to patronize one of those casinos." Detroit is a "fine town," but it "isn't equipped to host a Final Four." To be a "good Final Four host, a town needs a large indoor venue surrounded by hotels, restaurants and entertainment options, all within easy walking distance of one another," like New Orleans or San Antonio (SI.com, 4/4). 

    SPONSOR ACTIVATION: Final Four organizers said that "neither the hefty price tag nor the recession has hampered the NCAA's budget" for the event because "many corporate sponsors signed multiyear contracts years ago." AT&T this weekend hosted The Big Dance, a "music festival on the riverfront," while Coca-Cola hosted the weekend-long NCAA Hoop City party at Cobo Center. However, in Detroit, Jaclyn Trop reported that because of the economy, "some companies that locked into NCAA contracts are trying to cut spending where they can" (DETROIT NEWS, 4/4).

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  • Honda Grand Prix Of St. Pete Drew Bigger Crowd This Year Than '08

    Honda Grand Prix Of St. Petersburg Drew An
    Estimated 140,000 Fans Over Three Days
    St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker said that this past weekend's IndyCar Series Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg "drew a bigger crowd than last year," according to Mike Brassfield of the ST. PETERSBURG TIMES. Baker said that this year "topped last year's estimated crowd of 140,000 over three days." Baker said of the race, "I think it's set to be here forever." Brassfield notes race promoters "called the weekend a smashing success, so they definitely want to add another year to their contract with the city." The race is "already under contract to stay in St. Petersburg through 2013," and Andretti Green Promotions Manager Dir Kevin Savoree said that the race promoter "now plans to seek a one-year extension." Savoree: "We're thrilled with how the event has gone. It's been a fantastic weekend. All three days exceeded expectations" (ST. PETERSBURG TIMES, 4/6). In St. Petersburg, Brant James reported next season's Grand Prix "may change dates as the first Sunday in April, the event's typical slot, falls on Easter" (TAMPABAY.com, 4/5).

    Many Feel Danica Patrick Should Stay 
    In IRL Where Sponsors, Fans Love Her
    STAYING OR GOING? IRL driver Danica Patrick, whose contract with Andretti Green Racing (AGR) expires after this season, said NASCAR is an "attractive beast." Patrick: "They obviously have a lot of drivers that enjoy it. I think it's all part of the things you have to evaluate." AGR Chair Michael Andretti said that because "much of the process depends on sponsors, there is no timetable to begin talks" with Patrick about staying in the IRL. An IRL official said that the IRL "clearly wants her back, too, but doesn't need her back." IRL Commercial Division President Terry Angstadt: "We absolutely want her to stay. We think she's a great fit for IndyCar racing. The demographics, the women that follow her, we think it's a great fit." The ST. PETERSBURG TIMES' James noted to field a "competitive IRL race car costs about $8[M] -- not counting driver salary -- for a full season, and her ability to attract sponsors could help feed an entire open-wheel team." Penske Racing Owner Roger Penske said, "I think she's in the right place. She's a woman. She has a great sponsors interest and the fans lover her. ... I have no idea what she can attract from a sponsorship, but I can tell you this, if I was Andretti Green I wouldn't let her go" (ST. PETERSBURG TIMES, 4/4).

    BEGINNER'S MANUAL: The AP's Mike Harris reported Richard Petty Motorsports co-Owner Richard Petty "will make his first foray into the Indianapolis 500 as an owner when he fields a car for John Andretti in next month's race." Andretti drove for the now-defunct Petty Enterprises NASCAR team from '98-'03. Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, which runs the full IndyCar Series, "will work with Petty at Indy, providing equipment and personnel" (AP, 4/4).

    WELCOME BACK? Penske said that if IRL driver Helio Castroneves is cleared of federal tax evasion charges, he "would return to the No. 3 car." Castroneves' case in U.S. District Court in Miami "could go to the 12-member jury this week" (INDIANAPOLIS STAR, 4/5).

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  • NASCAR Execs, Drivers Want Year-End Banquet Moved To Las Vegas

    NASCAR Drivers, Execs Feel Move To Vegas
    Would Create Opportunity To Include Fans
    After 27 years in N.Y., NASCAR's season-ending celebration "probably is moving to Las Vegas, beginning this year," according to Terry Blount of ESPN.com. SMI Chair & CEO Bruton Smith said of the possible move, "I'm glad to see NASCAR make a good decision. I think all of us are going to be overwhelmed with what Las Vegas can bring." Driver Jeff Burton said, "Our banquet needs some life injected into it. We need something new and exciting. I think Vegas is a way for us to do that. We need more fan involvement and we need a fresh look with new ideas." Blount wrote moving the event to Las Vegas "will give fans a chance to participate." Smith said that he "prefers having the banquet at Mandalay Bay or the MGM Grand, hotels that can seat 16,000 people for an awards ceremony." Smith: "Maybe we could sell 10,000 tickets to fans to let them come and enjoy the festivities." NASCAR VP/Communications Jim Hunter said that "having more fan involvement is important to NASCAR." Hunter: "That's definitely one of the things that would be very attractive about Las Vegas. We have such loyal fans. [It] would give us the opportunity to have several fan elements around the event." All that is "left to complete the deal is the length of the agreement." Las Vegas tourism officials "want a three-year contract, but NASCAR may opt for a one-year deal with an option, just to make sure things go well." Blount noted the banquet "takes place the first week of December, the same week of the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas" (ESPN.com, 4/3).

    RIGHT CHOICE?: In Milwaukee, Dave Kallmann wrote, "I'm a big fan of Las Vegas. ... I just don't see it as the place to put on an event that's supposed to exude elegance and class. It's a place to go if you're going to do something that you'd be ashamed of somewhere else. It screams bachelor party, not black-tie banquet." More Kallmann: "Perhaps NASCAR will change the format to somehow include fans. That would be OK" (JSONLINE.com, 4/3). In Charlotte, David Poole wrote of the event moving to Las Vegas, "I don't think that's a bad idea, but I don't think simply moving it will change much or fix anything. It's not so much about where as it is what. What's important is the ceremony is moved to a larger venue where fans can be part of the show. If it's easier to make that happen in Las Vegas, then moving it is the right thing to do" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 4/5).

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