Women's Final Four banner at American Airlines Center, Dallas.
A National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) basketball Final Four is a Final Four, regardless of if hosting men or women. “I don’t even think about it in terms of men versus women,” said Dave Brown, chief operating officer and general manager of American Airlines Center, Dallas, host of the March 31-April 2 Women’s Final Four. “I know it is different, but in a lot of respects, it is a lot the same. I think about it in terms of the Final Four.”
And Brown isn’t far off, as the NCAA expects more than 50,000 visitors to flock to downtown Dallas for the three-game, three-day event where American Airlines Center is expected to host over 19,000 fans.
“We are a big venue in a big market and have a great platform from which to tell the women’s championship story,” Brown said.
But it almost didn’t happen.
Brown said the center first bid on the Final Four six years ago and were “pretty shocked” when it didn’t come through. At that point, Brown and the supporters of the bid regrouped and bolstered its women’s sports resume by bringing in early-round women’s tournament games in 2011 and 2013 and the Big 12 Conference helped enhance the center’s resume by moving the women’s basketball championship to the venue in 2013 and 2015.
Three years ago, American Airlines Center bid again. “We showed them our sincerity in terms of how much we wanted the Women’s Final Four,” he said. And the NCAA responded with the 2017 tournament.
With the tournament in hand, it was time to get to work in preparing to host the event, which included monthly two-day meetings with the NCAA to go over everything from operational aspects, ticket sales, security, setup of the building and all the associated events, such as the Tourney Town festival that sets up outside the center in one of the parking lots. That event includes basketball interactive experiences, live entertainment and merchandise. “There is a lot more to it than the game itself,” Brown said.
From creating a fresh security protocol because the event is classified as a “high-profile” event, to preselling tickets, three years of work will wrap up in one final weekend. Brown said the city—and North Texas as an entity—has embraced the championship, with a virtual sellout of the event without even knowing the teams involved.
As the championship weekend draws near, the physical work ramps up, from setting up Tourney Town to covering in-venue sponsors that don’t match the NCAA. “The NCAA requires a blackout and our sponsors understand that,” Brown said.
But beyond that, don’t expect a dramatic conversion for a building that serves as the home venue for the National Basketball Association’s Dallas Mavericks. Some courtside seats will change into media and NCAA official seating, and the Mavs’ practice court—located inside the center—will morph into the media center, but most changes remain cosmetic. The food and beverage offerings will look slightly different, with the elimination of beer in the concourse and new hospitality suites and school-specific spaces offering differing menus based on the regional cuisine of the schools participating. Brown said he does expect to “trick it up a little” in terms of concessions to give spectators a little home cooking, a plan they’ll figure out as the four teams qualify.
Plenty of additional work comes along with hosting a Final Four, but for American Airlines Center, the work will pay off in the long run. “Do we hope it positions us for future competitions? Absolutely,” Brown said. “I think we would be very disappointed if we didn’t (host more tournament games). It is a ton of work and commitment, and we are not doing it to be one and done.”
Along with the potential to host future NCAA basketball, whether early-round men’s or women’s, regional rounds or another Women’s Final Four (the Men’s Final Four is staged in stadiums), Brown said the area loves basketball and Dallas craves the opportunity to host it whenever possible.
Plus, hosting a Women’s Final Four offers “terrific exposure for us, shows our commitment to the NCAA and is a lot of fun, frankly.”
“It is complex and time-consuming,” he said, “but it is very rewarding. I don’t think we could be any more ready than we are right now. Our staff, from top to bottom, is excited to have this opportunity. This is our first, and it is fun to work on something different. It is something you don’t get to do very often.” After all, Brown is talking about hosting a Final Four. And he doesn’t care if it is men’s or women’s.