For basketball fans, this time of year means one thing: March Madness. Without a doubt, there will be plenty of underdogs looking to gnaw their way into the Final Four; but it all comes down to the games in Dallas on April 5 and 7. Out-of-town fans and workers are expected to spend nearly $276 million during the exciting weekend, so you can imagine there are tons of activities going on in the Big D in early April. Whether you’ve snagged tickets in hopes of your favorite team making a run for it or you’re planning to take advantage of all the surrounding events and watch the games in the comfort of a hotel bar, we’ve got the inside scoop on what to know, what to do and where to stay in Dallas.
What to Know
The 2014 Final Four weekend in Dallas runs April 4-7, marking the second time the men’s NCAA Division I basketball championship has landed in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Seats for Saturday’s semifinal games and Monday’s championship at AT&T Stadium in Arlington are still available through the official NCAA Ticket Exchange, which has packages including tickets and hospitality as well as individual tickets. As the weekend gets closer, you can expect the prices to rise; but when we checked, you could still snag an upper-level seat for all three games for $210.
Even if you haven’t scored a pair of tickets, you can still reap the benefits of the Final Four—and catch some hoops while you’re at it. There are tons of activities spread throughout the Metroplex, including a three-day music festival. Another thing to note is that the Bud Light Hotel (the same concept that was such a hit at Super Bowl) is heading to Dallas for the Final Four; but it’s exclusive to guests of the brand and contest winners.
What to Do
The teams will be practicing at the swanky AT&T Stadium (home of the Dallas Cowboys) on Friday as part of Reese’s Final Four Friday. Post-practice, there’s the Reese’s College All-Star Game at 4:30 p.m. with coaches Mark Turgeon (University of Maryland) and Johnny Dawkins (Stanford University) leading the teams. All of the Reese’s Final Four Friday activities are free and open to the public. April 4; AT&T Stadium, Arlington; free.
If you’ve brought along the whole gang, you’ll definitely want to hit up Bracket Town at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in Downtown Dallas. There will be 350,000 square feet of family-friendly fun, including autograph sessions with legendary coaches and former college stars, the opportunity to play other sports such as lacrosse and hockey, and the Final Four Pep Rally featuring the bands and cheerleaders from the schools playing in the semifinals. April 4-7; Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center, Dallas; $10 for adults, $5 for kids.
Aside from seeing the adrenaline-pumping games in person, ticket-holders are also privy to attending the Tip-Off Tailgate before heading into the stadium to cheer on the teams. Though it’s free and open to the public on Friday as part of Reese’s Final Four Friday (see above), the ultimate tailgate is exclusive to those actually attending the games on Saturday and Monday. Concerts, pep rallies and coaches’ appearances, plus plenty of interactive basketball activities, are just a few things to look forward to before watching your team hit the court. Though the bands haven’t been announced yet, we can assure you that any live music adds that much more to a tailgate. April 4-5, 7; AT&T Stadium, Arlington; free and open to the public on Friday; free with game ticket on Saturday and Monday.
Maybe you aren’t playing 40-plus minutes of back-and-forth basketball, but you can still be active. On Saturday morning, make your way to Fair Park in Dallas for the Northwestern Mutual Road to the Final Four 5K. The 3.1-mile race, which runs around the park and past the historic Cotton Bowl, benefits the Coaches vs. Cancer program. Proceeds will support pediatric cancer research and other initiatives. April 5; 8:30 a.m.; Fair Park, Dallas; pre-registration: $20 untimed, $25 timed; on-site registration: $25 untimed, $30 timed.
Basketball fan or not, everyone enjoys an outdoor concert—especially when it’s free and open to the public. For three days, the March Madness Music Festival will take over Reunion Park (the site of the 1986 Final Four) in Downtown Dallas. Though the full lineup hasn’t been announced, there are already some top names filling the schedule: Jason Aldean headlines the AT&T Block Party on Friday; Tim McGraw and The Killers are just a couple of the acts at the Coke Zero Countdown on Saturday; and Sunday’s Capital One JamFest includes fun. and Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. We highly suggest you get there early; even though it’s free, it’s on a first-come, first-served basis. April 4-6; Reunion Park, Dallas; free.
Where to Stay
Although the actual games are played in Arlington, you’ll definitely want to stay in Dallas. While many hotels are sold out, there are still a handful of luxe rooms available. Fresh off a two-year renovation, Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star The Joule is no doubt one of the hottest hotels in the city. With interiors by Forbes Travel Guide Tastemaker Adam D. Tihany, the only ESPA-branded spa in Texas, stellar cuisine at CBD Provisions and a show-stopping rooftop pool, this downtown gem makes for a great home base, whether you have tickets to the Final Four or not.
About a half-mile from The Joule sits Fairmont Dallas in the heart of the Arts District. This is where you want to check in if you’re a fan of the fine arts—the Dallas Museum of Art, Nasher Sculpture Center and the Trammell and Margaret Crow Collection of Asian Art are all within walking distance. The recently renovated rooms are chic and comfortable with accents such as pop art with a touch of Texas flair.
Across the way in Uptown, you’ll find the intimate Forbes Travel Guide Recommended Hôtel St. Germain. Housed in a converted 1906 Victorian mansion, the seven-room hotel offers lavishly appointed suites and delectable French fare at its eponymous Forbes Travel Guide Recommended restaurant. When we checked, there were just a couple of rooms left, so be sure to book as soon as possible.
Photos Courtesy of AT&T Stadium and Eric Laignel