PHOENIX – On a crisp winter morning at the Eastlake Community Center, there were sparks of intrigue and excitement as NCAA officials and Valley leaders showcased some of the upcoming festivities that will take place before and during the 2024 NCAA Men’s Final Four in April.
The first semifinal tips off in 79 days at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, but the panels Wednesday focused on the events that will run throughout Final Four weekend. From music festivals to dribbling across downtown, the options are plentiful. And so far, it appears there have been minimal bumps in the road as organizers prepare for one of the biggest spectacles in sports.
The festivities will kick off with the Final Four Legacy Project, which is renovating Eastlake’s downtown basketball courts inside and outside. Through the initiative, the center’s inside courts will be completely remodeled, including the scoreboard and bleachers, along with the weight room.
Improvements also are expected to the playing surface, hoops and backboards on the outside courts for a community that has been using the space since it was built on East Jefferson Street in 1889. Over 20,000 kids use the inside courts each year, with 8,000 utilizing the outside facilities each year as well.
Eastlake and the NCAA will unveil the renovations during a ribbon-cutting ceremony on April 2, which will include a mural from a local artist to commemorate the Valley hosting the men’s Final Four for the second time.
Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs said she hopes the project and the Final Four weekend as a whole “leaves a positive legacy that will endure long after the games have been played,” in the Valley.
Hobbs opened the ceremony by welcoming everyone to the historic center. She expressed her excitement for the Final Four’s return to Phoenix, as it will give the local economy a boost and show more tourists what Arizona has to offer.
She reported that the 2017 men’s Final Four at what was then called University of Phoenix Stadium brought in $324 million in economic impact, with this year’s event having the potential to overcome the previous boost due to the region’s rapid growth in hotels and restaurants over the past seven years.
For comparison, the 2023 Super Bowl, which was played on Feb. 12 at State Farm Stadium, generated $1.3 billion in economic impact, a 40% increase from when the venue previously hosted the event in 2015.
It is the second time that the Final Four is being held in the Valley and the 25th year Arizona has hosted March Madness games. The state hosted its first March Madness game in 1974 when UCLA stand out and current basketball announcer Bill Walton led the Bruins to a 111-100 victory over Dayton in triple overtime at the McKale Center in Tucson.
It was an easy decision for the men’s tournament to return to Phoenix, several NCAA officials said.
NCAA Senior Vice President of Basketball Dan Gavitt explained that the Valley’s rich history of hosting major events was a big reason the Final Four returned to the Valley. He also noted that downtown Phoenix has gone through extensive development since 2017, giving incoming fans plenty of opportunities to experience Arizona’s culture.
Dr. Charles McClelland, chair of the Division I Men’s Basketball Committee and Commissioner of the Southwestern Athletic Conference, relayed that when it came to evaluating Phoenix as the potential host of this year’s Final Four, the city matched all of the committee’s requirements.
“Phoenix fits all of the boxes that we needed to check,” McClelland said.
The committee has been preparing for April’s festivities for years already.
“The most surprising thing is the relative ease and smoothness of the entire process,” McClelland said. “We’re literally a couple of months away and I haven’t seen any major hiccups, which is significant to having a great event.”
McClelland and Gavitt both expressed their desire to bring more Final Fours to the West in the future, including Phoenix hosting the Women’s Final Four in 2026 and Las Vegas hosting the 2028 Men’s Final Four.
This marks only the third time in nearly 30 years that the Final Four has been hosted west of Texas. The only city to host the men’s tournament outside of Phoenix during that span was Seattle, when it welcomed the Final Four to the Kingdome in 1995.
Phoenix Suns and Mercury CEO Josh Bartelstein brings a unique insight into the preparations, as he was the captain on Michigan’s 2013 team that reached the national championship.
He’s utilized his experience to help facilitate the best possible environment for the four teams to replicate the feelings that “made it so special” when the Wolverines were at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta for the 2013 Final Four. Bartelstein described the experience as the second-best thing to ever happen in his life, second to meeting his wife.
As teams from across the country continue to build their case over the next two months leading up to Selection Sunday on March 17, the Valley is finishing its preparations in hopes of showing the country that Phoenix is the premier destination for major sporting events for years to come.
LIST OF EVENTS
Men’s Final Four Legacy Project Ribbon Cutting
Place: Eastlake Community Center
Date: April 2nd
Men’s Final Four Fan Fest
Place: Phoenix Convention Center
Dates: April 5-8th
Times: 4/5: 12-8 p.m. | 4/6: 10 a.m. – 8 p.m. | 4/7: 10 a.m. – 8 p.m. | 4/8: 12-6 p.m.
March Madness Music Festival
Place: Margaret T. Hance Park
Dates: April 5-7th
Reese’s Men’s Final Four Friday
Place: State Farm Stadium
Date: April 5th
Time: Open Practices from 11 a.m. – 2:50 p.m. | Reese’s NABC All-Star Game at 3:30 PM
Men’s Final Four Dribble
Place: Heritage Square (starting line) and Phoenix Convention Center (finish line)
Date: April 7th
Time: 10:30 a.m.
Men’s Final Four Tip-off Tailgate
Place: State Farm Stadium – Great Lawn
Dates: April 5, 6 and 8th
Times: 4/5: 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. | 4/6: 11:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. | 4/8: 2-5:30 p.m.