SBD/Issue 138/Events & Attractions

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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