This story originally appeared on Houston Public Media.
The NCAA Final Four was last played in Houston in 2011. That’s when UConn ended the Cinderella season of eighth-seed Butler.
The first game of this year’s tournament is Saturday at NRG Stadium. It features two-seeds Oklahoma and Villanova. In the second game, tenth-seed Syracuse faces off against top-seed North Carolina. The winners will play for the national championship Monday night.
Houston Interim Police Chief Martha Montalvo says there’s a lot going on behind the scenes.
“The goal is to make sure this is a great event but also a safe event,” says Montalvo.
HPD is coordinating security with help from the Harris County Sheriff’s Department, Metro Police, and the FBI. Montalvo says visitors will see a big uniformed police presence but plainclothes officers will also be in the crowd.
There’s also the issue of traffic control. Considering the amount of cars even before a regular Texans game, fans headed to NRG are strongly encouraged to use mass transit. But if you do choose to drive, Montalvo says you’ll need to plan carefully.
“If necessary choose alternate routes and please come early,” explains Montalvo.
We also discussed the economic impact of the games with Jason Draper, an assistant professor in the University of Houston’s Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management.
Draper says the city has lots of things fans can do when they’re not at the games, like going to museums or trying new restaurants. But to lure more big events in the future, Houston has to make sure that fans have a good experience.
Draper says TV coverage can make a big impact.
“And a lot of times these events will highlight other things to do in the city and show the skyline,” says Draper. “ And that might attract people who are watching it to think that may be a great place to go visit. And that’s additional exposure I think these events bring.”
Experts say greater Houston could see about $300 million in direct and indirect spending as a result of the Final Four.
Over at City Hall, Mayor Sylvester Turner says he’s glad to see people excited about the tournament, considering Houston is hosting a really big event next year,and that’s Super Bowl 51. It’ll bring in even more people for a whole week’s worth of activities.
“When it comes to moving people from point A to point B, we are in a better position now than we have ever been,” says Turner. “And quite frankly the preparation for the Super Bowl has already started, so this is a warm-up for the Super Bowl.”
But if you’re looking for Final Four tickets, Turner says he probably won’t be able to help.
“People are still emailing me, calling me, texting me for tickets, people that I don’t even know,” laughs Turner. “I mean I’m looking at texts and I don’t even recognize these people.”
And there are a few of those phone numbers that Turner says he does recognize.
“Some of my colleagues, former colleagues in the legislature, they need to stop calling me,” adds Turner. “Because I don’t know why they think I’ve got the hookup, I don’t have that many tickets.”