Dan Corso said the Atlanta Sports Council followed the NCAA’s lead as the city planned to host the men’s basketball Final Four April 4 and 6 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
But those plans went from holding it there or in another arena that will be nearly empty to cancelling it altogether due to concerns over the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.
“I think the last 12 to 15 hours is a great example (that) things are never really consistent,” said Corso, the council’s president. “Things change and life changes quickly and you have to be ready to adapt and adjust. So, that’s the topic right now.”
Corso spoke March 12 in a fireside chat with moderator Heather Catlin of WSB-TV at the Buckhead Business Association’s weekly breakfast meeting at Maggiano’s Little Italy in Buckhead, when the strategy was to host the Final Four in a nearly empty arena. Just seven hours later, the NCAA changed course to cancelling that event and all other winter and spring sports tournaments due to the virus.
In a statement posted to the NCAA’s website March 11, President Mark Emmert said, “This decision is based on the evolving COVID-19 public health threat, our ability to ensure the events do not contribute to spread of the pandemic and the impracticality of hosting such events at any time during this academic year given ongoing decisions by other entities.”
That decision came the day after President Donald Trump issued a 30-day travel ban for flights from most of Europe to the United States and the NBA suspended its season indefinitely after one of its players, the Utah Jazz’s Rudy Gobert, tested positive for the virus.
March 12, MLB and the NHL announced they were also postponing their seasons, and several state and local governments enacted public-event bans and closed public colleges, including some of the ones that would be hosting the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments. Those decisions drove the NCAA to cancel its winter and spring tourneys because of the virus.
According to the Worldometer website, as of March 12, COVID-19 has claimed the lives of 4,754 individuals and sickened 130,151 worldwide, with 68,672 recovering from it.
Corso was not immediately available for an interview March 13 regarding the NCAA’s decision to cancel the Final Four, but he told the AJC, “I think from the perspective of everything that has transpired nationally with the sports landscape (in the past two days), it certainly makes sense in our mind for this to be added to that. We respect the decision.”
Atlanta was to host the men’s Final Four for the fifth time, and its first one was in 1977, Corso said. But this year’s event is nothing like the previous ones thanks to the coronavirus.
“What I can tell you is we’re kind of in a wait-and-see mode right now,” Corso said. “We’re meeting with the NCAA today and continuing tomorrow and with their partners.”
According to Wallethub.com, the Final Four’s economic impact has been predicted at $106 million prior to the NCAA’s decision to host it in a nearly empty venue or cancel it. In an interview after the meeting, Corso said he didn’t have an estimate yet on how much money the city would lose if the Final Four’s three games were played in an empty arena.
During a Q&A after his chat, he was asked by an association member if Atlanta could bid for the next Final Four available since the city would lose revenue by having no fans in the stands (or having no games at all).
“The next rotation available to us will be 2027-31,” Corso said. “We anticipate (those) to be bid out next year.”
The Final Four is the third major sports event Atlanta has hosted in just over two years, including the NCAA’s College Football Playoff’s championship game in January 2018 and the NFL’s Super Bowl in February 2019. A fourth one, the MLB All-Star Game, is set for July 2021 at Truist Park.
Also, Atlanta is battling several other cities in the U.S., Canada and Mexico to host one or more games in the 2026 men’s soccer FIFA World Cup, which would take place at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
“We’re one of the remaining 17 cities to host matches. We’ll hear in early 2021 about who gets the games,” Corso said. “The 1996 Olympics were huge (for Atlanta), one of the biggest (events ever). The World Cup surpasses it.”
After the meeting Corso said the coronavirus has made the current situation with both the Final Four and life in general surreal.
“It’s the craziest situation,” he said. “I don’t think anybody’s seen anything like this. It’s uncharted waters on a lot of different levels. It’s not just about sports. I think it’s becoming part of our daily lives here in the foreseeable future.”