Fans arrive to the Alamodome.
The Alamodome will host the women's NCAA Final Four tournament in 2021. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Two months after awarding San Antonio the men’s basketball Final Four in 2025, the NCAA on Monday selected the city to host the 2021 women’s Final Four.

While the women’s event doesn’t have the economic impact the men’s Final Four delivers to a city, the news marked another success for the San Antonio Local Organizing Committee and its partners.

In fact, the Alamo City made a bit of history with Monday’s news. This is the first time in at least the past two decades that a city has hosted a Final Four in the same year in which it earned bids for two more future Final Fours.

“First and foremost, San Antonio as a destination is a place where [NCAA] fans and their constituents want to be,” SALOC Executive Director Jenny Carnes said, explaining why she believes her group was successful in winning another bid. “I think there is a hunger there to come back to San Antonio.

“… I think another big selling point for us was the success we had this year coming off the men’s Final Four.”

The NCAA flew at least one staffer dedicated to selecting future women’s host cities to San Antonio last spring for the championship game of this year’s Final Four, Carnes said. That staffer was able to see firsthand how the city and the host facility functioned during the tournament.

“The way that we handled such a large event like the men’s Final Four really played to our advantage in being able to host and bid on both the men’s and women’s Final Fours in the same year,” Carnes said.

San Antonio previously hosted women’s Final Fours in 2002 and 2010. It also has hosted four Final Fours in men’s basketball, including this year and in 1998, 2004, and 2008.

Part of San Antonio’s successful bid for the 2025 men’s Final Four was offering the NCAA $1 million, which SALOC already has raised, to offset the organization’s hosting expenses. Carnes said SALOC and the NCAA are still in negotiations over what a successful event will look like in 2021 and what the revenue-sharing model will be.

“The model is different from the men’s,” Carnes said. “We had to be more aggressive on the men’s side. It’s a different event, a different economic impact to the city. It’s a different setup.”

She said based on San Antonio’s previous experience hosting the women’s Final Four and numbers that have been reported from recent Final Fours held in Columbus, Ohio, and Dallas, the economic impact of the event in 2021 likely will fall somewhere between $30 million and $40 million.

Organizers of the Final Four in Columbus earlier this year said the event attracted 20,000 visitors to that city, accounting for 32,000 hotel-room nights. The fact that the 2021 Final Four falls on Easter weekend will make hotel operators and downtown businesses happy, because it’s often a slower weekend than others in the spring.

Carnes said numerous women in leadership positions around the city worked to help bring the women’s Final Four to town in 2021 in addition to lobbying efforts by Carnes and Mary Ullmann Japhet, senior vice president of San Antonio Sports.

NCAA representatives met with City Manager Sheryl Sculley, Visit San Antonio President and CEO Casandra Matej, philanthropist Rosemary Kowalski, Assistant City Manager Lori Houston, Director of Convention and Sports Facilities Patricia Muzquiz Cantour, President of the Hotel and Lodging Association Liza Barratachea, and members of the City Council when they came to town to see what San Antonio had to offer.

“We were able to show them the City of San Antonio is really run by some very strong women and their event would fit perfectly here,” Carnes said.

All of the previous Final Fours in San Antonio took place at the Alamodome, which underwent $65.5 million in renovations in the past two years in preparation for the 2018 Final Four. The building will need another facelift prior to hosting the 2025 men’s Final Four.

The only commitment SALOC made to the NCAA for the women’s Final Four relating to upgrades to the Alamodome was to rent a new center-hung scoreboard with more modern capabilities, Carnes said.

The women’s event uses only half of the Alamodome in a configuration similar to what the building looked like when the San Antonio Spurs used to call the facility home in the 1990s. Carnes said her team showed the NCAA three different versions of how the building could be configured with capacity crowds set around 19,000, 26,000, and 30,000 for the different seating arrangments.

Carnes said the NCAA seemed intrigued by the possibility of attracting larger crowds. The version with the smallest attendance San Antonio proposed has been in the range of recent women’s Final Fours.

“That has kind of been their sweet spot,” Carnes said. “… We have three very good choices for them to use, and as we go along and sell tickets and push San Antonio, we’ll see where we land. Our ultimate goal is to get to 30,000.”

One way in which SALOC believes it could help push attendance toward 30,000 in 2021 is enlisting community organizations, particularly those that work with kids. Carnes and her team envisions filling 5,000 seats for the semifinals and championship game with children from San Antonio schools, scout packs, youth sports leagues, and other clubs.

There is no music fest that comes to town with the women’s Final Four, but there is a fan festival that likely will be housed in the Henry B. González Convention Center, as it was in 2010.

“This is fantastic news,” San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said. “The Alamodome will be even better in 2021 than it was the last two times we hosted the women’s Final Four.

“Kudos to the San Antonio Local Organizing Committee. We have gained momentum as a host for premier basketball events. San Antonio is on a roll.”

Kyle Ringo

Kyle Ringo is a freelance journalist based in San Antonio. He has covered business, college athletics, the NBA, NFL and Major League Baseball for numerous publications and websites.