The final Final Four? Phoenix faces rising competition as marquee sports events shift Las Vegas, Los Angeles

Despite its strong infrastructure and track record of successful hosting, Phoenix must adapt to maintain its status as a top destination for sports and entertainment. (Photo by Daniella Trujillo/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – The Valley of the Sun has evolved into a destination for some of the biggest sporting events in the country, including Super Bowls, Final Fours, college football championship game and NBA and MLB All-Star Games.

But the Phoenix area is facing greater competition than ever before to land the marquee events in the western U.S.

Las Vegas has emerged as a major player in the sweepstakes for the biggest sporting events – and just played host to its first Super Bowl – joining Los Angeles and Phoenix as prime destinations in the west.

Over the last 18 months, the Valley has been home to several marquee sporting events, ranging from Super Bowl LVII, the 2023 World Baseball Classic, and the 2023 World Series to annual events such as the WM Phoenix Open, Cactus League Spring Training and NASCAR Cup Series Championship.

Looking ahead, Phoenix will also host the WNBA’s All-Star Weekend festivities in July and 2027 NBA All-Star Weekend.

On Monday, Arizona adds to its resume, playing host to the NCAA Men’s national championship game at State Farm Stadium. It is the second time the stadium has been the site of the Final Four and first since 2017. The title game features No. 1 seeds UConn and Purdue, as the Huskies look to complete their quest for a repeat.

In recent years, however, cities like Las Vegas and Los Angeles have become more competitive in the selection process for marquee events. Vegas hosted Formula One for the first time in November and its first Super Bowl in February. Meanwhile, in the last two years, Los Angeles welcomed Super Bowl LVI and the 2022 MLB All-Star Game and is slated to host the Super Bowl again in 2027 and the 2028 Summer Olympics.

For Phoenix, questions are on the rise about how long the city can maintain its status as a destination.

“For long-term sustainability, you really have to make the infrastructure work for the people that live there,” ASU sports events and tourism professor Elizabeth Murphey said. “It’s not just for high tourism. So, adding the light rail, HOV lanes, those types of things Phoenix already has. They’re already … taking advantage of all these different (resources). They’re utilizing the fact that the weather is beautiful 10 months out of the year and it’s perfect for people to come from all over.”

Last month, NBA commissioner Adam Silver awarded the 2027 NBA All-Star festivities to Phoenix. It will be the fourth NBA All-Star Game to be played in Phoenix, first in 1975 and most recently in 2009.

“This is an incredibly desirable location. People love to be here,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in a press conference last month. “There’s so much to do in this community, so many outdoor activities.

“Our clientele comes from around the world (and) we have players now from 45 different countries. About one-third of our players now in the NBA are born outside of the United States. This community and state will get coverage in 215 countries and territories for the NBA All-Star Game and the WNBA is coming right behind us.”

Aside from the endless sports opportunities, Arizona is also widely known for its tourism industry, offering hikes, local restaurants, museums and warmer weather. The Valley’s ample sports and entertainment venues provide opportunities for year-round use, including but not limited to youth sports tournaments, concerts and golf courses.

The many other arenas and stadiums scattered throughout the area come into play when marquee events are in town, providing venues for associated events, such as a dunk contest, celebrity basketball game and an HBCU All-Star Game that all took place at GCU Arena.

“We want to make sure there’s something for everyone,” Phoenix Local Organizing Committee CEO Jay Parry said of the Final Four festivities. “At FanFest (at the Phoenix Convention Center), you’ll be able to take advantage of a lot of sporting activities. At the music fest up at Hance Park, we’ll have free music for three nights leading up to the Final Four. (And) we’re going to have (a) kids’ dribble presented by Buick, which will be a fun 0.7 mile walk through Downtown Phoenix with your free basketball and free t-shirt.”

When looking at the rise of Vegas, Los Angeles and others, Murphey attributed those bids to the changing dynamic and perception of those cities.

“There are people putting a lot of money and energy back into, like the revitalization of that area or brand about it,” Murphey said. “Vegas, (for example), there’s a lot of branding that (goes) back to, ‘We’re family-friendly. We’re safe and you can get there easily.’”

The recent openings of Allegiant Stadium, home of the NFL’s Las Vegas Raiders; T-Mobile Arena, home of the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights; and the Sphere have also contributed to Las Vegas’ increase in hosting marquee events such as U2’s 40-show residency.

“I think if you’re putting a lot of money in revitalization of the area, that’s great because you’re going to get the turnout and people want to see all these new, really cool venues,” Murphey said.

Inglewood, California, has emerged as almost a second downtown LA, while located just 11 miles away. In 2014, the historic Kia Forum completed its $50 million remodel, followed by the completion of SoFi Stadium in 2020 and the upcoming grand opening of the Los Angeles Clippers’ Intuit Dome ahead of the 2024-25 season. These new venues have injected new life to the Inglewood area.

“It’s changing that reputation and it’s providing jobs for those venues and for those areas,” Murphey said. “People that are living locally are probably going to be the ones working for them because it’s convenient for them and easy to get to, especially if they don’t have vehicles at all. If they don’t have vehicles, they can get to work easily just by taking the bus system, or they’re not traveling two hours each way just to get to and from work.”

As more cities and teams across the country continue to grow and develop their infrastructure, Phoenix will have to keep pace to maintain its status as a destination for marquee sports and entertainment events. Recent and forthcoming upgrades to Chase Field and Footprint Center, and earning the host for the 2027 NBA All-Star Game are a strong start down that path.

“It’s really competitive to get these major events,” Parry said. “What we have as a host community is a proven track record – hosting the Men’s Final Four very successfully in 2017, Super Bowl last year, this Men’s Final Four.

“So, we are really adept at hosting these major events. We have a great tourism and business community that supports all of it, and we have … facilities at State Farm Stadium and Downtown Phoenix, around the Valley. It’s really a Valley-wide initiative and everyone steps up and plays their role.

“Whether we’re hosting a Men’s Final Four or a Super Bowl or some other major event, it’s about tourism economic impact, economic development and bringing new businesses to the Valley, but ultimately it’s about leaving a lasting legacy and making sure that in the case of the Final Four, after the Championship game occurs, we’re leaving a legacy here in Arizona that will be here for years to come.”

This year’s Final Four Legacy Project took place at Eastlake Park in Phoenix that saw renovations to indoor and outdoor basketball courts, among other enhancements.

According to an Arizona State University news release, the 2017 Final Four generated an estimated $324.5 million, according to a study by Arizona State University’s W.P. Carey School of Business, while setting a Final Four record of 2,201 credentialed media.

“2017 was an amazing success for Arizona and our goal is to elevate that event in as many ways as we can,” Parry said. “It’s all about making it bigger and better, getting more of our residents involved and getting even more media exposure. These events are fantastic for tourism, for economic development, and allows us to tell our stories around the world why Arizona is the absolute place to be to live, work, and go on vacation.”

Phoenix has long been seen as a hub for these marquee events, dating back to the start of the WM Phoenix Open in 1932 and shortly after, the start of Cactus League spring training in 1947. The Fiesta Bowl has been hosted in Arizona since its inception in 1971, originally at then-Sun Devil Stadium, before relocating to Glendale in 2007. The Fiesta Bowl has been home to three College Football Playoff Semifinals and one College Football National Championship.

“These are huge economic drivers for Arizona and do so much to help the small businesses that make our state so great,” Arizona governor Katie Hobbs said.

The bid process for marquee sporting events varies depending on the event specifically. Some events like the Fiesta Bowl and WM Phoenix Open are hosted in Phoenix yearly, while others such as the Super Bowl, NCAA Men’s Final Four, NBA All-Star Game and World Baseball Classic follow a more formal bidding and selection process.

An important distinction in determining the hosts for these events is the NFL’s decisions for Super Bowl host cities. Starting with Super Bowl LVII, the NFL switched from a bidding process to a new selection process with potential host cities directly. The league now approaches cities directly and provides them with an opportunity to draft a proposal.

The NBA has recently shifted to a similar process for its annual All-Star Game, while also outlining distinct criteria necessary for the host city. Host cities are required to have at least three five-star hotels with at least 7,250 rooms, a convention center at least 650,000 square feet in size, and an airport with at least 75 domestic and 20 international flights, Sports Business Journal reported in February.

League sources confirmed those requirements to SBJ but added that small market cities can still be eligible by use of multi-purpose facilities, reaching an undisclosed number of seats throughout the venues and sufficient ride-hailing capabilities.

Like the Final Four and Super Bowl, the NBA All-Star Game has expanded its footprint since the last time it was in Phoenix in 2009, with more interactive fan experiences. After the success of this year’s All-Star festivities in Indianapolis, the Suns and NBA expect to improve on that show in 2027.

“We already know what kind of show we want to put on, … but we want to make it special,” Phoenix Suns and Mercury owner Mat Ishbia said of hosting the 2027 NBA All-Star Game.

“Phoenix is special. I’m newer to Phoenix and I’ve learned really quick how amazing this community is, how amazing the fans are, and how amazing the people are. And I’m really excited to showcase that to the whole world.”

Anthony Remedios AN-thuh-nee reh-MEE-dee-os (he/him/his)
Sports Broadcast Producer, Phoenix

Anthony Remedios expects to graduate in May 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism and a minor in community sports management. Remedios also works with Varsity Sports Show, Walter Cronkite Sports Network and Blaze Radio.

Daniella Trujillo(she/her/hers)
Sports Visual Journalist, Phoenix

Daniella Trujillo expects to graduate in spring 2025 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism and a minor in digital audiences. Trujillo has interned as a sports photographer and videographer for BJ Media.