The hub of the NCAA’s music and entertainment at the Final Four will be in downtown Dallas, but event organizers are expanding their offerings at AT&T Stadium to create the largest on-site party the NCAA’s ever had.
Turner Live Events, a division of Turner Broadcasting, manages all of the Final Four’s ancillary events, including the fan fest called Bracket Town and the March Madness Music Festival. Those two events are annually the core of the NCAA’s Final Four entertainment.
So Turner decided to take the party to AT&T Stadium with what it’s calling the Tip-Off Tailgate presented by Infiniti, a three-day fan fest with live music at the stadium. Kid
Live music is no stranger to the Final Four in recent years, but in Dallas it will be presented both downtown and at AT&T Stadium.
The Tip-Off Tailgate space will be on the east end of the stadium in Lot 4, a 450,000-square-foot space that will include a broadcast location for CBS and Turner, food, beverage, sponsor activation and hospitality from PrimeSport, the NCAA’s official hospitality provider.
“Dallas is a site that’s got some challenges,” said Shea Guinn, senior vice president of Turner Live Events. “It’s not like an Atlanta or a New Orleans where everything is right there downtown and everyone can walk to the events. We wanted to make sure there’s something for everyone to do when they get to the stadium.”
Guinn, who joined Turner in 2011 after stints at IMG and Reliant Stadium, said there are several advantages to the Tip-Off Tailgate at AT&T Stadium.
The stadium’s secure perimeter will include the Tip-Off Tailgate space. Because the tailgate’s footprint is next to the stadium, fans will have to go through security just once.
Entrance to the tailgate will be free each day. Anyone can enter on Friday, the day each of the Final Four teams practice, but only fans with game tickets will be able to enter on game days — Saturday and Monday.
The location is ideal because 65 to 70 percent of the fans typically enter the stadium through east-side entrances, Guinn said.
“What we’ve done, essentially, is create two entertainment sites instead of one,” Guinn said of the events in downtown Dallas and Arlington. “We’ll have Bracket Town and the March Madness Music Festival in downtown Dallas, and we’ll have a destination of its own at the stadium. … We had to make Arlington more of a destination for fans because the stadium is kind of far from Dallas. For fans who get out to the stadium early, they’ll have plenty to do.”
The tailgate also provides another platform for the NCAA’s 17 sponsors at the Final Four for incremental fees. Sponsor activation at these ancillary events can range from the high five figures to well into six figures, on top of the rights fees.
Most of the NCAA’s corporate champions and partners are activating in downtown Dallas at Bracket Town, which will be inside the city’s convention center. Bracket Town is growing to more than 400,000 square feet this year, up from 300,000 square feet the last two years in Atlanta and New Orleans.
Capital One is taking over presenting sponsorship of Bracket Town this year from Coke Zero, although Coca-Cola will continue to sponsor elements inside Bracket Town.
The NCAA’s three corporate champions, the highest level of sponsorship, will continue to sponsor the three-day music festival at Reunion Park. AT&T will have branding across the stage and park on Friday, while Coca-Cola takes over Saturday and Capital One closes on Sunday, which is highlighted by a Bruce Springsteen performance.
The Tip-Off Tailgate is another avenue for sponsors to interact with fans, and that’s where Infiniti’s focus will be.
“We’ve really been looking for a way to expand our presence, and we’re going to have a big footprint there,” said Allyson Witherspoon, director of Infiniti marketing. “We know people are there for the games, but we wanted to have some events there they could enjoy as well. Making a big media buy and being on TV isn’t enough anymore. We’re looking to have a much more well-rounded experience.”
The tailgate concept of bringing music and entertainment to the stadium began in 2011 because the Final Four at Reliant Stadium was several miles out of downtown Houston. IMG oversaw the NCAA’s music and entertainment events back then. That tailgate featured local acts in the parking lot of Reliant Stadium, and it wasn’t the major production that it will be at AT&T Stadium.
Turner Live Events was created later in 2011, largely to take over the NCAA’s ancillary events. That’s when Turner hired Guinn away from IMG.
“That was just dipping our toe in the water compared to what we’ve got planned in Dallas,” Guinn said of the first tailgate in 2011. “Everything this year is going to be much bigger.”
In addition to live music on the Capital One Quicksilver stage, the tailgate will include:
■ The Infiniti performance lounge: This 100 foot by 50 foot space will house luxury lounge furniture, a video board, additional TVs, on-stage “chalk talks” from basketball coaches, and eight Infiniti vehicles, including at least two sport utilities. While product specialists will be available to answer any questions about the vehicles, Infiniti will not be collecting consumer data. “We don’t want to be too intrusive, but if people have questions, we’ll be able to answer them,” Witherspoon said. “We just want this to be a cool place to hang out.”
Additionally, an Infiniti promotion inside the lounge will award seat upgrades to winning fans.
■ LG coaches’ cook-off: College basketball coaches will put their cooking skills to the test using LG appliances. These cook-offs, run in conjunction with the National Association of Basketball Coaches, have been a popular component of Bracket Town in the past and now they’re going to be on display at the tailgate.
■ Allstate championship sweepstakes: Fans will have the chance to win a trip for two to the 2015 College Football Playoff national championship game, as well as next year’s Final Four.
■ AT&T fan zone: An interactive trailer full of AT&T products and charging stations, with appearances from former players and coaches.
“It’s an environment that provides something for everyone,” Guinn said.