NEW ORLEANS — For weeks, you’ve seen billboards touting New Orleans as this year’s host of the NCAA men’s Final Four.
Commercials have run and ads have been purchased.
You know about The Big Dance concerts and Bracket Town and, well, even the games themselves.
But that’s just the outer layer of activity.
It’s what you don’t see behind-the-scenes that’s truly astonishing.
“Locally, there’s a small army behind this and there really has to be with all the events,” said Roger Dunaway, the local media coordinator for event and Tulane’s assistant athletic director for athletics communication.
For Dunaway, the past year has meant meetings, conference calls and a different task to take care of on a daily basis.
He’s not alone, however, working alongside people from the Sugar Bowl, the New Orleans Sports Foundation, the Convention and Visitors Bureau, hotels and the mayor’s office.
When the men’s Final Four last was in New Orleans in 2003, the surrounding events weren’t nearly as plentiful.
A decade later and the game is just a small part of the weekend.
And that’s where Dunaway’s job is seemingly at its most difficult – getting word out about The Big Dance, about Bracket Town, about the Final Four Dribble.
Not to mention the various community service events that are sprinkled throughout Final Four weekend.
“We don’t have to worry about selling tickets,” Dunaway said. “Our charge has been trying to get this community aware of all the events going on and to become a part of it. Everybody would like to go to the game but unfortunately you can’t get the whole city in the Superdome.”
Just how crazy has Dunaway’s life been recently?
When asked about how many hours he has put in outside of his normal job with Tulane, he said, “I really don’t want to know. I’ve lost track. There are a lot of different things that come up and this has been going on for a number of years.”
On Friday, the court itself will get a parade, leaving the Convention Center, traveling down Poydras Street before heading into the Superdome for a court-cutting ceremony.
“There must have been 10-15 different individuals from different PR groups on conference calls every Thursday,” Dunaway said. “We talked about the floor and it’s delivery for four or five straight weeks with different PR groups and different companies all just trying to get the floor down here. That’s just one deal.”
But the biggest thing for fans according to Dunaway is Bracket Town, a large-scale operation that includes a 3-on-3 tournament, a legends game and radio row among other interactive activities. Cost of admission is $10 for adults and $6 for children 3-11, senior citizens and military personnel.
While New Orleans isn’t shelling out big money to cover the cost of not only Bracket Town, but events like the Big Dance concert series (sponsors take care of that), it’ll cost the city hours of support.
“That’s how we’ll be judged for future Final Fours here in New Orleans,” Dunaway said. “Obviously we want to do a great job with the game and making sure everything goes accordingly. But we need the community to come out and support these events.”
The Final Four does one other thing for New Orleans – it prepares the city for the Super Bowl, which will roll into town next February.
“This is actually a blessing in disguise to have before an event like the Super Bowl,” Dunaway said, adding, “When you look at major events other than Mardi Gras, the men’s Final Four is probably one of the closest thing you get to the Super Bowl.”