Final Four Attendance to Hit New Highs
Until now, the Superdome held the four biggest crowds in the four years it hosted the Final Four between 1982 and 2003. The combination of recent Superdome upgrades and innovative NCAA seating configurations led to a return in 2012.
That first time in 1982 marked the beginning of a new era for the Final Four. In their first-ever bid to host the event, Superdome officials demonstrated the ability to accommodate crowds ranging from 25,000 to 45,000, using the West sideline seats nearest the court and both end zones.
When the Men's Division I Basketball Committee, chaired by then-Big Ten Commissioner Wayne Duke, visited a Tulane-LSU game the following season, they decided to include seats in the upper deck on the far side. The capacity jumped to 61,612, and the era of mega-arenas was on its way.
Tickets were sold at different price levels for the first time, and those farthest from the court were just $18 for the three-game package of the semifinals and Championship.
It worked. When Michigan State Coach Judd Heathcote reported a favorable reaction by the coaches' association, he told of walking down Bourbon Street during the Final Four and encountering a group of happy fans in their Minnesota garb. When he asked why they were there (the Gophers weren't in the Final Four), they replied they had been trying to get tickets for 10 years.
That led to another successful New Orleans bid-this time for 1987-and it brought the other domed stadiums into the picture: Seattle's Kingdome in 1989, Indianapolis' RCA Dome in 1991, Minneapolis' Hubert H. Humphrey Dome in 1992,
and back to the Superdome in 1993.
New Jersey's Continental Airline Arena was the last "small" building to host the Final Four in 1996. Beginning in 1997, it became the domain of the domed stadiums, and eventually a minimum of 30,000 seats was required to bid.
Another chapter begins in Detroit with the NCAA's newly expanded courtside seating, taking one of America's greatest sports events to even higher attendance levels. The Superdome will be in that number in 2012.
The state of Louisiana recently unveiled plans to reconfigure the Superdome's lower bowl seating, part of major upgrades since the building's renovation after Hurricane Katrina. Either way, Superdome officials anticipate more than 70,000 in 2012.
That event will be part of a four-year run of March Madness in New Orleans, with a men's1st/2nd round in the adjacent New Orleans Arena at the end of next season (2010), a men's regional in the Dome in 2011, and the Women's Final Four in the Arena in 2013.