Destination Detroit: Titans prove to be outstanding NCAA host

Destination Detroit: Titans prove to be outstanding NCAA host

Crowds gathered at Little Caesars Arena.

For University of Detroit Mercy, receiving a phone call from the NCAA to be the host of a national tournament or championship has become a norm of late in athletics.

After all, with the latest announcement in mid-October that Detroit Mercy would once again serve as host to the NCAA Division I men’s basketball regional championship and the women’s bowling championship in 2024, the Titans have now seen their name called 12 times to be the host in the governing body’s championship model, including six times in the last seven years.

Those events have included:

  • NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship Regional – 1988, 1991, 2008, 2024
  • NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Final Four – 2009
  • NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball First & Second Rounds – 2018
  • NCAA Division I Women’s Bowling Championship -2009, 2011, 2013, 2020, 2024
  • NCAA Division I Men’s & Women’s Fencing Championship – 2020

“This is a tremendous honor to once again have the opportunity and privilege to host the NCAA men’s basketball tournament for the city of Detroit,” said Detroit Mercy Director of Athletics Robert C. Vowels, Jr. “The University has a proud history of hosting a number of NCAA Championships at some outstanding venues in the Silverdome, Ford Field and the state-of-the-art Little Caesars Arena, and we look forward to teaming with Oakland University, the Detroit Sports Commission and Olympia Entertainment once again to put on a great show for the Motor City.”

But what exactly goes into hosting a championship and why serve as host?

The Bid

An overhead photograph of the NCAA 2009 Final Four center court logo.In the latest NCAA announcement, 86 of 90 annual championships, including preliminary and regional competitions, in 24 sports were up for bid from the fall of 2022 through the spring of 2026. The entire process is about the best overall selection to meet the needs of the championship and provide all the student-athletes a positive experience, one that they will never forget.

With all of that in mind, the bidding process includes such factors as:

  • Minimum seating capacity required for a specific championship
  • The number of teams/participants for each site
  • The hotel block size (room nights, peak nights)
  • Practice facilities
  • Fan experience

Championships sometimes have co-hosts — as is the case this year with the men’s basketball first and second round as well as the 2024 regionals, with Oakland University teaming up — and all of the schools work with their local organizing committee and host venue to help present a plan to the NCAA. Just like in the past, the Titans worked closely with the Detroit Sports Commission and Olympia Entertainment.

In September of 2019, the NCAA hosted a championship bidding seminar with over 250 individuals representing sports commissions and local organizing committees, as well as member schools and conferences from around the country in attendance, where more information was provided on bidding for future events, with all bids due in February of 2020. When the bids came out, the Detroit Sports Commission and Little Caesars Arena saw their name in conjunction with Detroit Mercy and Oakland on some of the marquee events.

“We are grateful to be selected by the NCAA to host the 2024 Men’s Basketball Regionals,” said Dave Beachnau, Detroit Sports Commission senior vice president. “We’re focused on working together to deliver an unforgettable experience for all of the student-athletes and fans.”

“As Detroit’s premier live entertainment company, 313 Presents, in partnership with the Detroit Sports Commission and host institutions – University of Detroit Mercy and Oakland University – could not be more excited for Little Caesars Arena to be selected to host the 2024 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament Regionals,” said 313 President Howard Handler. “Bringing this elite event to our guests from near and far is the epitome of our mission – to provide access to amazing entertainment and alive moments inspired by the soul of Detroit. We look forward to showcasing the best in collegiate athletics at our world-class venue and creating memorable experiences for the student-athletes, coaches and fans.”

The Planning

There is a reason why the bids are done about 4-5 years before the event hits town: The planning for a perfect championship takes time and effort and everyone needs to get on the same page. Some events have more involvement than others, but no event is too small when the end goal is giving the student-athletes and the fans a spectacular moment that defines what a championship is all about.

The tournament manager is at the top of the planning for the event, working hand-in-hand with the local organizing committee and the venue. That individual is responsible to ensure the policies of the sport committee and NCAA are implemented and followed in the administration of the tournament and includes the direction and supervision of competition venue arrangements, development of participant information, security, lodging, transportation, marketing, financial administration, securing a diverse staff and adherence to policies outlined in the NCAA tournament manual.

“We work in collaboration with the Detroit Sports Commission, Little Caesars Arena and Olympia Entertainment,” said Teri Kromrei ’03, Detroit Mercy’s associate athletic director, who served as the tournament manager for the 2018 men’s basketball event. “The planning that goes into every detail is tremendous from hotels, transportation to spirit squad and teams needs. Everyone has their own responsibilities, but we all have to work together and it’s been a great partnership.”

The planning includes rounding up volunteers, lodging assignments, ticketing, marketing and communication plans, general staff and game day responsibilities.

The host school, local organizing committee and the NCAA visit all possible hotels to ensure that they are ready for the commitment to host. It is not just about the quality of rooms and appearance, but banquet and meeting facilities and the proximity to the competition venue.

“It is a huge undertaking when you think about putting on an event of that magnitude, all while still working at the University and doing our normal jobs for our student-athletes, coaches and staff. I am very proud of the way we handled everything back in 2018 as there was a lot put on our plate, but nothing we couldn’t handle with our dedicated staff,” said Vowels.

The marketing side has the host school and the local organizing committee designing and executing plans for ticket sales at the beginning and then the fan experience during the games. Everything you see from entering the venue, giveaways, merchandise and video board presentation all go into a long planning process.

The communications aspect handles all media requests, postgame press conferences, interviews, video, photography and the production and distribution of numerous items throughout the event. When game day came, all the statistical information was also a huge part of that assignment.

“We had over 50 volunteers that worked with communications alone at the 2018 men’s basketball tournament,” said P.J. Gradowski, Detroit Mercy’s director of athletic communications. “There are certain rules and regulations for everyone and you need to have a good communications team in place to make sure everyone is abiding by them. Photographers can only be in certain areas and locations, video can only be filmed or live at certain times and locker room access is limited. Those are just some items that need to be addressed with all the workers.”

The Titans have had a number of opportunities to host and a few more on the way, which is a sign that they not only get the job done, but put in that extra effort to help convince others that they can be trusted for a true championship experience.

“I think hosting a tournament is great for the school and for the city,” said Kromrei. “We want to give everyone the best experience possible, from student-athletes, schools, families, fans, just everyone that is involved. It is great to be the only Division I school in the state and to help display all the positives that this great city has to offer.”

“It increases our brand and gives us the opportunity to work closely with the city, the Detroit Sports Commission, Olympia Entertainment and Little Caesers Arena,” said Clifford Sims, Detroit Mercy’s assistant athletic director and tournament manager for the 2021 men’s basketball tournament. “This year, we are also working with Oakland which is going to help even make it more of a great event and it’s an honor to be able to help and work with the NCAA.”

Top-down fan view of a basketball game at Little Caesars Arena.

The Execution

With all the planning that goes into every event, when the show is set to go on, there is little room for mistakes. But Detroit Mercy along with the Detroit Sports Commission have proved time and time again that when an event comes to the Motor City, the result is usually a resounding success.

The 2009 NCAA Final Four — which was voted the Best Collegiate Sports Event for 2009 by SportsTravel magazine — earned high praise from all around and was a record-setting event at the time:

  • The highest attended national semifinal games in Final Four history (72,456)
  • The highest attended national championship game in Final Four history (72,922)
  • Highest total Final Four attendance (145,378)
  • Record attendance at Hoop City (more than 75,000 over four days) which was held at the TCF Center (formerly known as Cobo Hall)
  • Record attendance over three days at the Big Dance, a series of free concerts along the Riverfront in Detroit (estimated at 300,000 fans)

“This has been a remarkable week in the Motor City. The friendliness of everyone in Detroit was wonderful. We felt the warmth of your friendship and the gratitude of the city that the Final Four was here. Everyone wanted to show that Detroit is a great city with great people, and they did,” said former SEC commissioner Mike Slive, chair of the NCAA Division I men’s basketball committee in 2009.

In 2018, 10,000 tickets were sold in presale about a year before the event was set to tip-off and another 3,000 went in a sale in September, some six months before the tournament came into town. When it was finished, the tournament generated more than six million dollars in direct spending in the city with over 65,000 people coming to town.

“It’s always been a great sports venue, always a great sports town — as much sports tradition as any city in the country with great universities around it. So that part was easy,” said current NCAA President Mark Emmert at the 2018 NCAA men’s basketball tournament first & second round. “You need a great facility. You need a great local host institution and Detroit Mercy is doing a wonderful job, the conference is doing a great job, and having a local organizing committee, people that are accustomed to putting on big events and Detroit has hosted so many of them over the decades. People who have been there and done it really make it easier for us to put on events. You also need a supportive local community.”

The trend was in the direction of another great NCAA host this past year, when the Titans were slated to host the women’s bowling championship and the men’s and women’s fencing championship, but unfortunately, the pandemic canceled those events and another chance at Detroit Mercy, the Detroit Sports Commission and the city to once again have that one shining moment on a national stage.

“It was extremely disappointing to see those events canceled and not get the chance to put on a great event for all those deserving student-athletes,” said Vowels. “It was the best decision for the safety and health of everyone, but the opportunity to see those dedicated student-athletes win a national championship and see all the planning and execution of my staff and everyone involved is just an amazing thing to witness.”

— Original story by Detroit Mercy Athletic Communications. Follow Detroit Mercy on FacebookTwitter and Instagram. Have a story idea? Let us know by submitting your idea.