Planning the NCAA Final Four

April 5, 2013


Part of the beauty of America’s largest sporting events is that, completely unbeknownst to fans, hundreds of elements are being coordinated while they sit back and enjoy. Planning a large-scale event comes with complexities and numerous difficulties. There are long days that become late nights. There are temporary facilities to be put in place, operations planning to be completed, design work to finish, credentialing to manage and signage to create. But there is no greater reward than watching a much-anticipated event unfold that is seen by thousands in the stadium and millions worldwide.

So what really goes on behind the scenes when preparing for one of the country’s most high-profile events? Here’s an inside look at what our event practice accomplishes in the busy days leading up to the big event. There are three areas that occupy our time and energy, and much of it represents the behind-the-scenes work that ensures that the biggest event in college basketball runs smoothly.

Planning and Design

The Final Four planning and design work entails converting a football stadium into the largest basketball arena in the world! This isn’t a process that is easily completed; it takes hundreds of individuals and weeks of planning. The major element of the temporary design, planning, and construction revolves around configuring a seating system and basketball court into the football stadium’s lower levels. This system brings the fans down to the edge of the basketball court while placing the athletes center stage for all spectators. Above the court, one of the largest temporary video board clusters you will ever see – 8 boards in total – will be installed to allow all 70,000+ spectators a clear view of video replays, entertainment and game information. In addition to planning and design work, we are deeply involved with the site and event operations associated with the actual game day activities.



Design of a successful event must include a plan for managing the access program for teams, staff, media, broadcast and spectators. All Populous events integrate a zoning plan to clearly define who can go into which areas of the venues we plan and manage. For the Final Four, this is particularly important and can be quite complex, as it includes managing a significant number of individuals, including athletes and coaching staff. We design the credential badges to clearly show the access each person has to make it easy for the venue security to make quick decisions on who can pass into each area. Our registration and badge production systems provide a streamlined way for all credential recipients to apply, verify and receive their credentials which then allow them to get on with their work and help to produce a great tournament. In the 2013 Final Four, we produced over 22,000 credentials.

Signage and Way finding

As part of an integrated design for a venue, the signage and wayfinding plan must be prepared to get fans, athletes, staff and volunteers to where they need to be, assuming they know little or nothing about the venue. The signage and wayfinding package must cater to all groups working or attending the Final Four and as such, is designed far ahead of time.  For the Final Four, many who never worked or visited the site will be attempting to navigate the venue alongside thousands of fans. The signage and wayfinding package is designed to ensure people can get from any point on the site to any of our venues or events without having to go to a central point for information. Having our team plan the venues, signage and wayfinding ensures a consistent use of venue names, event titles and terminology across the entire site for the Final Four.

Planning for the Final Four is not without its complexities, but with thorough preparation and an approach that carefully considers how fans will navigate and experience the game, our team can help ensure that the event is a success.


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