Cities hosting March Madness games spend years preparing for them

Posted at 2:52 PM, Mar 06, 2015

Planning a party is hard work, right? The host has to think about food and drink options, entertainment, seating, making the house presentable and where dozens of guests will park.

Now imagine 140,000 people are coming over for the weekend.

Attendance will be at least that high at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis next month, when the site hosts the 2015 NCAA Final Four. It will be the seventh time the Circle City has hosted the nation’s ultimate men’s college basketball event.

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What goes into getting ready for an event as massive as the Final Four?

“It takes years of preparation, countless meetings and full staff involvement,” Lucas Oil Stadium’s Executive Director Barney Levengood told the Scripps National Desk this week. He summed it up more succinctly by saying, “It’s intense.”

When asked to compare hosting the Final Four to another event, Levengood could only think of one.

“The media involvement is second only to the Super Bowl,” he said. Levengood oversaw Lucas Oil Stadium when it hosted Super Bowl XLVI in 2012.

Opened in 2008, the building is mostly known as a football venue — home of the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts — meaning temporary seating is added to increase capacity by about 10,000 for basketball games. The NCAA requires a venue have a seating capacity of at least 70,000 to host the Final Four.

While Indy will host the final three games of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, March Madness starts about 115 miles away in Dayton, Ohio.

A view inside University of Dayton Arena during the 2014 First Four. (Getty Images)

University of Dayton Arena is hosting the First Four — which refers to the first four games of the tournament — on March 17 and 18. With a seating capacity of about 13,000, the arena is humble compared to Lucas Oil Stadium, but the challenges facing its staff are similar.

“Every year there are some new procedures added,” said Scott DeBolt, director of University of Dayton Arena. “We have additional event staff for NCAA tournament games that we don’t have for typical men’s basketball games.”

DeBolt said the NCAA has treated Dayton as a “test market” for various practices for over a decade. University of Dayton Arena has hosted the opening round of the tournament since 2001, and to date has hosted more NCAA tournament games than any other venue.

“From the NCAA’s standpoint, we have such a great track record with them that it makes it easy for them to say it will run smoothly [in Dayton],” DeBolt said. “It runs like clockwork.”

DeBolt said the biggest transitions the arena undergoes before March Madness are assembling the floor — which arrives after being contracted by the NCAA — and setting up two additional rows for media members at courtside. Arena staff also has to move its television camera setup to the opposite side of the building from its usual position.

This time-lapse video shows an NCAA tournament floor being delivered and assembled at North Carolina's PNC Arena in 2014. (WRAL)

“We shoot from the opposite side because CBS and Turner [Broadcasting System, Inc.] don’t like the existing camera angle,” DeBolt said.

DeBolt anticipates about 24,000 people, or “close to a sellout,” will file into University of Dayton Arena for the two-day event this year. Unlike the Final Four, which holds nationwide appeal regardless of which teams make it, First Four attendance depends largely on which teams are selected.

“We prefer teams that travel well or are local,” DeBolt said. “It boosts ticket sales.”

Back in Indianapolis, Levengood cited security as the most challenging aspect of hosting the Final Four.

“It takes total involvement from the entire community that’s hosting the event,” Levengood said. “We have meetings with state and local officials and law enforcement in preparation.”

Levengood also said he meets regularly with other stadium directors from around the country, with the most commonly discussed topic being the proper ways to handle crowd control issues.

“We’re looking forward to all the fans coming to town,” Levengood said, as his team was finalizing preparations. “We just hope the weather is cooperative.”

Clint Davis is a writer for the E.W. Scripps National Desk. Follow him on Twitter @MrClintDavis.