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Volume 21 No. 1
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What's in store for the tournament's future?

Courtside signage

For as long as the NCAA has had a corporate sponsorship program, only two brands have been visible at courtside during the tournament — the NCAA and whichever brand Coca-Cola has promoted. At one time it was Dasani water, and recently it’s been Powerade, which places its red and black coolers next to the benches.

Photo by: Getty Images
That’s going to change this year. Using the LED signage available courtside and on big screens inside the arenas and stadiums where the tournament is played, the NCAA will offer its sponsors a level of recognition they’ve never had before.

Mark Lewis, the NCAA’s executive vice president for championships and alliances who oversees the partner program for the NCAA, said it’s not new inventory that’s being sold. Rather, “it’s just a way for us to say thank you to our sponsors,” Lewis said.

The sponsor recognition is part of an overhaul in the way games are presented. Tournament games also will feature replays, something that’s been largely absent from previous tournaments.

“We’re trying to do a better job of replicating what you would typically see at a game on campus,” Lewis said.

The future of domes

The NCAA has created a bit of a stir by saying it will discuss the possibility of taking the Final Four back to traditional arenas, rather than the domes that have been its home since 1997.

Mark Lewis, the NCAA’s executive vice president for championships and alliances, said he wants to at least broach the topic with members of the basketball committee, who would ultimately have to make the decision. Keeping the Final Four exclusively in a dome means that certain markets, such as those in the Pacific Northwest, just aren’t accessible anymore.

“As far as future Final Four sites, do we want to stay in a dome exclusively?” Lewis said. “I don’t know. That’s a conversation we need to have.”

Sitting up close

Close to 250 courtside seats will be made available to fans at this year’s Final Four, as part of a new seating model the NCAA is using in the Georgia Dome.

One of the downsides of the NCAA’s “in the round” seating model, which puts the court in the middle of the dome, is

Crews install seating at the Georgia Dome.
Photo by: Colonnade Group
that fan seats are farther from the court. The NCAA is trying to address that by moving the temporary seating closer to the court, while moving several rows of media to alternate locations. The Colonnade Group, a Birmingham-based company that specializes in big event seating and hospitality, is installing the temporary seating around the center court at the Final Four.

“Creating a 20,000-person environment in a place with 70,000 seats is not easy,” Robbie Robertson, Colonnade’s president and CEO, said of the Final Four. “But I think the fans in the Georgia Dome will see that the atmosphere is very good.”

Mark Lewis, the NCAA’s executive vice president for championships and alliances, led the charge to eliminate what he called “the moat,” that area of benches and press seating that created the feeling of a moat around the court.
Lewis said most of those up-close seats will go to the families of the student athletes, meaning most of those premium tickets will be complimentary to the players.

Turner waits its turn

Unless CBS and Turner change their contract, CBS is scheduled to televise the Final Four through 2015, and then the two will alternate, with Turner taking the even years beginning in 2016.

When that time comes, Turner will have to decide if its broadcast will mimic CBS’s, or if it will have a completely different twist. For example, will Turner continue using “One Shining Moment” at the conclusion of the broadcast?

“I don’t think we’ll be looking for major changes,” said Turner Sports President David Levy. “But there will be something of a signature in there. We won’t be wearing CBS jackets.”

March Madness on any screen

Matt Hong, Turner’s senior vice president of sports and operations, has a new favorite word — personalization. It will be integral to the Turner-run March Madness Live this year and going forward.

“The way one fan consumes March Madness digitally and the way another consumes it is personalized by their affinities,” Hong said. “The way fans affiliate with one team versus another is different.”

Hong indicated that March Madness Live users will have personalization options, not unlike what’s available to viewers of Bleacher Report, the new Turner acquisition that enables users to customize their online experience based on their favorite teams. March Madness Live this year will be available to users on any screen — computer, mobile or tablet.
“Ubiquity is frankly required in this day and age,” Hong said.

In the future, Turner will consider additional ways for fans to customize their experience.

“We’ve had some things, like a 360-degree camera that users could control at the PGA Championship,” Hong said. “We’re not doing that this year, but that could be something for down the road.”