Industry Leaders Weigh Pros and Cons of Proposed Final Four Merger

Combining the men's and women's Final Four events poses intriguing possibilities and risks.

Industry Leaders Weigh Pros and Cons of Proposed Final Four Merger

A recent recommendation that the NCAA combine the men’s and women’s basketball Final Fours into one mega event raises questions regarding how to mesh gender equality and the business of sports tourism.

On one hand, putting all the national semifinals under one roof over four days (plus the pre- and post-event festivities) has the potential to increase the attendance, attention and advertising dollars for both competitions. Another consideration is the need to organize and promote games so that they are, in fact, on level footing. There is a danger that the men’s competitions could overshadow the women’s action, which traditionally draws fewer fans and earns less revenue.

Yet another factor, perhaps closest to the hearts and minds of CVB and sports commission leaders, is the move would remove a large-scale event from potential host destinations. In some cases, any DMO that has previously hosted the Women’s Final Four, like Atlanta, Dallas, Indianapolis and New Orleans, could find itself in contention to host the combined event.

But there is a reality that some proven Final Four hosts would be relegated to earlier round action.

“I can understand the benefits of joining the championships, however, it would take a lot of great cities out of the running to host a final four championship if the men’s and women’s were to combine,” notes Marissa Werner, director of sports development at SportsMilwaukee.

Above and Beyond

While any March Madness action is meaningful and impactful, there is nothing quite like a Final Four, says Greater Columbus (Ohio) Sports Commission Executive Director Linda Logan.

Logan and company earned rave reviews when the Women’s Final Four came to Columbus in 2018. The community literally rolled out the red carpet for the teams and developed bus wraps, among other nice touches. Logan jokingly also takes credit for the perfect weather and exciting games too.

“I think arguably you could say it was one of the best [Women’s Final Fours] ever,” she says. “We were able to elevate the championship and provide the student athletes with a really awesome experience.”

Such is the advantage of being a figurative big fish in not so quite a large pond. Going above and beyond is nothing new for Columbus. The destination, in large part due to Logan, is a proven winner hosting events of all sizes. Just last year, it hosted The Basketball Tournament’s bubble, a nod to the region’s professionalism and hospitality.

Yet, for all of its attributes, including being home to The Ohio State University, Columbus does not have the scale of what the NCAA is accustomed to for the men’s championship rounds. As a result, it would be an uphill climb to host the women’s final rounds going forward.

“It would be disappointing to not have another opportunity like that for our community,” says Logan, who says the NCAA may want to consider merging the Final Fours every four years as a way to leave the door open for more destinations.

Achieving Equality

When Connect Sports conducted a poll on LinkedIn, 60% of respondents favored a combined Final Four, which, in theory, should elevate the status of the women’s national semifinals and final. This would help fend off criticism that has grown in the past year regarding the training facilities and other amenities offered to women athletes compared to their male counterparts.

The critiques are particularly poignant as women have grown in stature across the sports world, as evidenced by the Summer Games achievements of Katie Ledecky, Suni Lee, Allyson Felix, Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi, the final two who first came to prominence on NCAA basketball courts.

While one combined Final Four would be a momentous change, the idea behind it is not new. In fact, the Dallas Sports Commission pitched the idea to the NCAA during the 2023-2026 cycle. Dallas Sports Commission’s executive director, Monica Paul, liked the idea then and still does.

“We continue to stand in full support of a combined tournament to help grow the women’s game and build on current momentum to achieve gender equality,” says Paul.

Beyond gender, a merged event would benefit the entire sport, speculated Snohomish County Sports Commission Executive Director Tammy Dunn.

“The opportunity to have the Women’s Final Four at the same location as the Men’s Final Four could be a great opportunity and beneficial to the sport of women’s basketball,” she says. “People would be coming to watch basketball, not women’s or men’s basketball. This opportunity would be beneficial for the corporate sponsors, for the growth of basketball and for the fan base. [It is] a very exciting opportunity!”

Werner sums up the challenges: “For it to be successful, it will come down to the execution of the event in order to ensure that the women’s fanfare does not get lost in the shuffle of a combined Final Four.”