The NCAA Men's Basketball Championship, better known as the Final Four, is the latest of the huge sporting events to come to North Texas since AT&T Stadium opened in 2009. March Madness follows in the footsteps of Super Bowl XLV, the 2010 NBA All-Star Game, an endless amount of college football extravaganzas including the annual AT&T Cotton Bowl, last spring's Sweet 16 and Elite Eight rounds of the NCAA tournament and the upcoming 50th Academy of Country Music Awards in April 2015.
Following its experience in Fort Worth during Super Bowl XLV week, ESPN returned to Sundance Square to set up shop for extensive Final Four coverage. The network selected the site based on the vibrant atmosphere and heavy foot traffic throughout the downtown entertainment district.
"It's a beautiful downtown and some of the best parts for us has been off air when we get to walk around and experience the area," said analyst Jay Bilas, a member of the 1986 Duke Blue Devils team that played in the Final Four at Reunion Arena in Dallas. "Everywhere we go, the people are so friendly and the restaurants are great." Bilas, who was drafted by the Dallas Mavericks in 1986, added that Mi Cocina was his favorite spot he'd visited so far.
The live studio coverage for ESPN is being led by Rece Davis along with SportsCenter anchor John Anderson and analysts Bilas, Dan Dakich, Seth Greenberg, Digger Phelps, Dick Vitale and Jay Williams. Reporters Jeannine Edwards and Andy Katz are also on hand for news and updates.
"The setup for us is as good as we have ever had," Davis said. "Sometimes it can be a challenge to find a location that is vibrant, looks good on TV and gives you the feel of being part of the event. Fort Worth has it all and has been terrific." Davis also mentioned that his favorite restaurant here has been Reata, specifically the tamales. He also said he was looking forward to dining that evening at the Woodshed Smokehouse.
While the college basketball fans are well aware of the ESPN set in the center of the new Sundance Square Plaza, the behind-the-scenes action takes place in the production office located in one of the downtown skyscrapers. The people inside this office with a panoramic view of the city are in charge of the four days of live coverage, including SportsCenter, College GameDay, multiple Tournament Countdown shows and the post-game coverage, which begins the second the game ends.
"Of my 10-plus years of doing College GameDay for football and basketball, this has been the best experience from how helpful all the people have been to the actual location, which has been beautiful both day and night," said senior coordinating producer Lee Fitting. "The proximity of office, set, hotel and foot traffic, I would say it has been a home run." Fitting's favorite food during his time in Fort Worth was the steak at nearby Mercury Chophouse.
The next huge sporting event scheduled for AT&T Stadium is the College Football Playoff national championship game on Jan. 12, 2015. While ESPN is the right's holder to that broadcast, and will undoubtedly have a large studio set up on-site, don't be surprised if the Worldwide Leader in Sports also has a presence back in Sundance Square.
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