Interview: ASM Global’s Doug Thornton on March Madness, Super Bowls and more

This weekend, the ASM Global-operated Caesars Superdome, home of the NFL’s New Orleans Saints, will host the Final Four of the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship, also known as March Madness.

Saturday will see the Villanova Wildcats take on the Kansas Jayhawks before the rival clash between the Duke Blue Devils and the North Carolina Tar Heels. The winners of each game will then meet on Monday.

Primarily an American football venue, the Superdome has undergone a transformation ahead of hosting college basketball’s showpiece event. A capacity crowd is expected and ASM Global is anticipating an exciting weekend of action.

In an interview with TheStadiumBusiness.com, Doug Thornton, executive vice-president of stadiums, arenas and theatres at ASM Global, discusses March Madness, upcoming Super Bowls and the ongoing renovation project at the Superdome.

March Madness

TheStadiumBusiness.com: What opportunities does hosting the Final Four at the Caesars Superdome present?

Doug Thornton: It’s a wonderful opportunity for ASM Global to showcase why it’s the largest producer of live entertainment in the world. New Orleans and the Superdome embody everything we stand for: Global expertise and knowledge with the ability to elevate and integrate the best of each community where we do business.

Our resources help provide a much-needed financial boost for businesses that have suffered through Hurricane Ida, the COVID-19 pandemic and other related challenges. The Final Four will generate an estimated economic impact of over $200m (£152m/€180m) for the community.

There is a reason why ASM has provided the expertise for so many national championships and major events. As we do in cities throughout the world, we offer great facilities. In New Orleans those facilities are located within a short walk from over 30,000 downtown hotel rooms, and it’s a place that people associate with fun, authenticity, and revelry.

TSB: What kind of attendance are you anticipating for the event?

DT: We are set up for 74,000 and we expect a sellout. We have the ‘Mount Rushmore’ of basketball programmes here for the event this year and there has been tremendous demand, especially with the Duke-North Carolina rivalry and this being Coach K’s (Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski’s) last season.

TSB: What has the stadium learned from the last time it hosted March Madness, back in 2012?

DT: Of course, each year is a little different than the previous one but the ASM Global team’s experience is unparalleled and invaluable to events of this nature. Our knowledge from hosting may Final Fours has benefited us this year in so many ways. For example, we relied on previous designs we’ve executed – so our set up was much more efficient.

The expanded lower bowl seating configuration is the same design used in 2012, so the build-out and set-up was much more efficient. Also, adding over 4,000 lower bowl seats puts a lot of pressure on the circulation patterns, concession areas and restrooms. Our ASM guest services staff has awareness of this unique set-up and is prepared for it.

To make sure the guest experience is maximised, we’ve paid special attention to the activation of pre-game tailgating activities in Champions Square and the impact that it has on the ingress patterns for the crowd.

The size and layout of the media compound, which is massive and something comparable to a Super Bowl, gets tremendous attention. Our ASM Global staff have worked closely with the NCAA officials now for over three years to plan this event, and it certainly helps that our team has a great deal of experience with past Final Fours.

Superdome renovation

TSB: How is the renovation project at the Superdome progressing?

DT: It’s going well, and so far on schedule. We have completed the first two phases of the $450m, four-phase renovation. Renovating an active facility like the Superdome around major events and the NFL schedule is no easy task.

ASM has been at the forefront of the planning and coordination effort to make sure we hit all the milestones, and at the same time, generate needed cash flow to support operations. The most transformative aspects of the renovation are still to come – the new entry lobbies, completion of the new sideline club lounges, premium spaces and expansion of the concourse – will all be completed before the 2024 NFL season. Approximately $235m will be spent over the next two years.

TSB: Are there any plans to host other non-NFL events at the stadium in the coming months/years?

DT: Our dramatically expanded ASM booking team is working on a number of newsworthy major concerts to be played in the stadium in the fall of 2022 and summer of 2023.

Our next big event in the Superdome will be Essence Music Festival over the July 4 weekend, which is an event we have hosted annually for 25 years until COVID-19. This will be their first time back in the facility since 2019 and we are expecting over 125,000 fans over the three-day period. In addition to the annual All-State Sugar Bowl, we are also hosting an LSU v Florida State football game on September 4, 2022, to kick off the college season. And, of course, we will host the NFL Super Bowl again in 2025.

Upcoming Super Bowls

TSB: The next three Super Bowls will take place at ASM Global-operated stadiums: State Farm Stadium, Allegiant Stadium and the Superdome. What opportunities does this present from an organising perspective?

DT: There is no doubt hosting the next three Super Bowls in ASM-operated facilities is a tremendous benefit on many levels. First, it provides our ASM stadium personnel with an opportunity to share information, knowledge and creative ideas with one another in real time as things develop.

It provides an opportunity for our staff to work in an ASM-operated facility during an upcoming Super Bowl, and to see how our internal stadium management systems are applied. It also allows our ASM personnel a chance to interact closely with the NFL’s special event team during the multi-year planning process, which is helpful in understanding the complexities of the event.

TSB: What have you learned from hosting Super Bowls in recent years?

DT: What they say in many sports we also say at ASM: “You play how you practice.” Add planning to that equation and that’s the key. Every detail has to be covered with preciseness. The event is so large and complex, problems can arise quickly and reveal weaknesses if not properly thought out in advance.

TSB: After the end of the next Super Bowl cycle in 2025, ASM Global will have hosted a record 14 Super Bowls in its stadiums. What are your hopes for the next cycle?

DT: As the operator of seven NFL stadiums, ASM has its own ‘super’ team that, between its members, has worked nearly 10 times that of anyone else in the industry. That’s a big plus. ASM’s history of hosting Super Bowl can be traced back to 1978 when Super Bowl XII was first played at the Superdome in New Orleans.

Since then, we have enjoyed a great relationship with the NFL and have been with them as the game has grown into one of the largest events on the planet. I am incredibly proud of our record it’s a record no other management firm can come close to matching. Even as competition among cities for Super Bowl continues to increase, I like our chances of getting to host again in the future.

Fans are craving live-event experiences more than ever. The activities I’ve discussed here are being produced at the pre-eminent stadiums, arenas and theatres by ASM practically daily. No one has the breadth of events, venues, tenant partners and boots on the ground like ASM. At a full run, there are 164 million people coming through our venues. That’s more than the four major US professional sports leagues combined. We are very excited to show off what we’re planning.

Image: Nwill21/CC BY-SA 3.0/Edited for size