Eight cities. A four-year window. One goal: Final Four.
As the NCAA winds up for March Madness, it’s also winnowing down the cities that will host its events in years to come. The recent announcement that eight destinations have been shortlisted to be considered as hosts for the Women’s Final Four from 2021 through 2024 has sent off a flurry of social media posts, e-mails and press releases.
The elite eight, as they are now, that are on final approach will have until late April to submit their final bids. Announcement is expected to come in October 2018. Here’s an advance peek, though, at each city’s chops:
Cleveland, Ohio: Cleveland last hosted this event in 2007. The city is set to host four NCAA championships in 2019 including DII Men’s Wrestling, NCAA Fencing, NCAA Women’s Bowling and DIII Men’s and Women’s Outdoor Track and Field. In 2020, Cleveland will host as Men’s and Women’s DII Swimming and Diving, and DIII Indoor Track and Field. NCAA also awarded 2021 DIII Men’s and Women’s Outdoor Track & Field Championships in partnership with University of Mount Union. The 2020 DI NCAA Men’s Basketball First and Second Rounds will also be in town.
What they’re saying: “To have the Women’s Final Four return to Cleveland would be a tremendous opportunity to continue showcasing our community’s ability to attract and host major sporting events,” said David Gilbert, President and CEO of Greater Cleveland Sports Commission. “We have a long-standing proven ability to wrap our community around events in a way that makes them not only special and unique but very successful. Additionally, this event was extremely impactful when Cleveland hosted it in 2007. Our track record with hosting NCAA events and Championships has proven that we’re a well-suited destination. In addition to our incredible community support, Cleveland boasts a vibrant downtown and exciting visitor attractions, incredible partnerships with The Mid-American Conference and Quicken Loans Arena and our fairly centralized location is close to much of the country’s population. Given all these factors, it makes sense that we’d be on the shortlist of potential hosts for this event.”
Dallas, Texas: Dallas hosted Women’s Final Four in 2017, using the American Airlines Center. If Women's Final Four comes to town, it expects to use that venue again. It also hosts the first and second rounds of the men’s championship this March. Dallas has long been a center for football as well, hosting the 2017 Big 12 Championship, 2017 Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl and the 2017 Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic. In 2018, it’ll also host the NFL Draft.
What they're saying: "The NCAA Women’s Final Four in 2017 was BIG for Dallas and truly something very special for our community," notes Monica Paul, Executive Director of the Dallas Sports Commission. "The American Airlines Center was electric and full of energy for the semi-final and championship games and we look to recreate that atmosphere and work with the NCAA to provide even more fan engagement around ancillary events. We learned a lot over the 14-plus months of preparation that contributed to the success of the 2017 Women’s Final Four and we look forward to taking lessons learned in 2017 along with adding some new features to have Dallas repeat as a host city."
Houston, Texas: If Houston lands the Women’s Final Four, it’ll be a first for that city, although it’s already on the books to host Division I Men’s Basketball Regional games in 2020. In addition, Houston was one of 16 hosts for the 2017 NCAA Baseball Championship. It was also named to host the 2019 Division III Women’s Golf Championships. Already a hub for sports, Houston has hosted the IWF World Championships in 2015, and will be the home base of the 2020 UCI BMX World Championships. The 2017 Bassmaster Classic was held just outside of Houston, on Lake Conroe.
What they’re saying: “We are extremely pleased and honored to make the finalist list,” said Janis Schmees Burke, CSEE, of the Harris County - Houston Sports Authority. “Although Houston has hosted many memorable sporting events in recent years, we have never had the opportunity to host the Women’s Final Four. We feel it would be an ideal site for the event... we have great venues, a good footprint with all sites within walking distance, and a tremendous fan base. We have four NCAA D1 universities within the city boundaries and several others in close driving distance. As a woman in the sports industry, it’s my great pleasure to champion female athletics, and what better way to do so than to host this premier NCAA national championship event?!”
Indianapolis, Indiana: Indy is a Women’s Final Four veteran, having held the event in 2005, 2011 and 2016. NCAA’s 2018 Annual Convention was also held in the city (location of the NCAA’s headquarters), as was the 2017 NFL Scouting Combine. In addition, the 2022 College Football Playoff National Championship was recently announced as having chosen Indy.
What they're saying: “Indianapolis is thrilled to be named a finalist for the NCAA Women’s Final Four,” said Indiana Sports Corp President Ryan Vaughn. “Our city has a rich history of successfully staging world-class sporting events and hosting a premiere women’s championship is right at the forefront of our mission. We look forward to working with the NCAA on the next steps of the process and providing a first-class experience in Indy.”
Kansas City, Missouri: Kansas City last counted the Women’s Final Four as a guest in 1998 but it has done plenty of basketball hosting in the meantime. In March, it hosts both the Big 12 Men’s Basketball Championship and the NCAA Women’s Basketball Regionals. (Trivia point: the Big 12 Men’s Basketball Championship has been played in Kansas City 16 times since the league began competition in 1996-97 -- more than any other city in the Conference.) It will also host the 2018 and 2019 NCAA Division II Football Championships.
What they’re saying: According to Kathy Nelson, president and CEO of the Kansas City Sports Commission and Foundation/WIN for KC, “Kansas City has proven to be a city that knows how to host championships. In 2017 we successfully hosted five NCAA events starting with a men’s basketball regional and ending the year with the Division I Women’s Volleyball Championship, setting a new attendance record for that event. Over the last few years we have reorganized and added staff to our Sports Commission, ensuring that we have experts in place year-round to manage these events. We focus on the student athlete experience while working with our incredible community partners at Visit KC and Sprint Center to ensure all fans and visitors feel welcome. In addition, Kansas City is home to numerous women’s organizations, a few of which are specifically sports-focused, such as Women Leaders in College Sports and WIN for KC. These groups have passionate supporters and volunteers ready to cheer on female athletes. Three of the most powerful people in sport in Kansas City are women, and we are passionate about bringing a Women’s Final Four to our city. Kansas City is centrally located so it’s an easy flight or drive for millions of people. Our downtown is walkable to not only the competition arena, but to numerous dining and entertainment options. From award winning chefs to exceptional shopping, sports fans are in for a treat. Pack your tennis shoes and your curiosity, Kansas City will keep you busy.”
Minneapolis, Minnesota: The city that is gearing up to host the Super Bowl can look back on its last Women’s Final Four experience in 1995 – but it has been more than busy in the interim. It will host the NCAA championship events in Men’s Swimming and Diving (2018), Men’s and Women’s Ice Hockey Frozen Four (2018), Women’s Gymnastics Regional (2018), Women’s Volleyball (2018), Wrestling (2020), Men’s Basketball Regional (2021) and the Men’s Gymnastics Championship (2021). In addition, the 2019 Men’s Final Four will play in Minneapolis.
What they’re saying: Kathy McCarthy, director of public relations and communications at Meet Minneapolis, said her team “was thrilled to find out” about the honor. “It’s fantastic news for Minneapolis. To be able to have our Target Center as a showcase venue, is so wonderful. As we continue through the bid process – which of course we hope goes in our favor, we can say we are becoming seen as a true sports destination. In addition to the many, many NCAA sports we have coming up, we have also become known as a volleyball center.”
McCarthy adds that women’s basketball has a built-in fan base I Minneapolis, thanks to the presence of the Minnesota Lynx. “In addition,” she notes, we are hosting the WNBA All-Star Game in July. We are tremendously thrilled at the news about Women’s Final Four, and obviously we’re hoping that when October rolls around, Minneapolis will be a part of everything. We feel we are able to tell a great story to the NCAA about what we can do at the championship level.”
Nashville, Tennessee: Nashville last hosted Women’s Final Four in 2014. This year, it hosts the Men's Basketball Championship First/Second Rounds. The city also plays a role in NCAA women’s basketball this year when it hosts the 2018 Southeastern Conference Women’s Basketball Tournament, the winner of which receives an automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament.
What they’re saying: The Nashville Sports Council’s president and CEO, Scott Ramsey, says hosting Women’s Final Four would be “a real showcase for our downtown. We have a great, very compact campus for people to explore. It’s so walkable, which minimizes the need for transportation. Our downtown continues to be developed at a breakneck speed, and it has really built energy and excitement here.”
Ramsey said Nashville prides itself on what he calls the city’s “legacy component” for women – something that should appeal to NCAA in selecting a site for a women’s championship event. “We are funding women leadership, executive panels for women, high school basketball tournaments for women, and we take that legacy very seriously.”
The city continues to expand its opportunities for all sports, including a new baseball stadium, First Tennessee Park, where the MiLB National Sounds play, and the awarding of a new USL soccer franchise, which begins play this year. The city will also host the Rock ‘n Roll Marathon in late April.
“There’s so much here,” says Ramsey. ” And of course, our core attraction is that we’re Music City – it means people will spend a couple extra days, maybe even seven days, here. There’s a lot to see and do, and we have so much flexibility.”
San Antonio, Texas: San Antonio last saw the Women’s Final Four in 2002 and 2010. It will also host the Men’s Final Four this year. The city has also hosted other sports, including golf (it’s the location of the popular Golf Industry Show as well as the Valero Texas Open) and football, having served as the home of the Youth All American Bowl.
What they’re saying: “We’re excited to show off our city to people from out of town,” says Jenny Carnes, executive director of the San Antonio Local Organizing Committee. “San Antonio looks very, very different, compared to the last time we’ve hosted.”
Visitors will, in fact, see a whole different city. San Antonio, Carnes, points out, has invested $60 million in renovations to the Alamodome, which would serve as the competition venue for Women’s Final Four. In addition, “we’ve expanded the Riverwalk by 10 miles, our airport is fairly new and we just built a consolidated rental car facility. There’s a new entertainment district called The Pearl, and a new park in downtown San Antonio, The Hemisphere – that just opened New Year’s Eve.”
In addition, she notes, the city invested $225 million in an expansion of the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, which could host related events like fan fests. “All these projects in some way would touch the Final Four,” she adds. “We’re a brand-new San Antonio, and we’re really excited to show it off.” In addition, she says, “we’re the only city bidding with a stadium, rather than an arena. We own the all-time attendance record – 29,619 in 2010 – and what we’re really going to be pushing in our presentation to the NCAA is how much you can showcase your event and to how many more people.”
A trivia point is that five of the eight cities (Dallas, Houston, Kansas City, Minneapolis and Nashville) are also on the shortlist to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup.
Next steps include finalist cities submitting final bids by April 27, 2018; NCAA committee and staff conducting site visits to cities in July and August, 2018; finalist cities having a final in-person presentation to members of the committee the week of Sept. 17-21, 2018; formal recommendation and final approval of sites by the Division I Women’s Basketball Oversight Committee and announcement of Women’s Final Four hosts for the years 2021-24 taking place in early Oct. 2018.
In the meantime, these elite eight are tuning up their bid process.
“I don’t envy the NCAA Selection Committee,” said Scott Ramsey, laughing.