This year’s men’s Final Four is full of surprising entrants and new faces—no team is seeded higher than fourth and three of the schools are making their first appearance on the Big Dance’s most exclusive stage. But behind the scenes, there is at least one returnee with plenty of experience in Houston: facilities management behemoth ASM Global.
The company in charge of preparing NRG Stadium for more than 70,000 fans this weekend also manages New Orleans’ Superdome, last year’s Final Four site. Next year, the tourney concludes in Arizona’s State Farm Stadium, another ASM Global-managed venue, which hosted the Super Bowl this year. ASM will play a hand in next year’s Super Bowl as well, when it heads to Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas. Once the Superdome hosts the 2025 Super Bowl, ASM says its venues will have hosted more editions of sports’ biggest event than any other company.
As currently constituted, ASM’s not that old. It’s the result of a merger between SMG and AEG Facilities that was completed in October 2019, not long before COVID-19 disrupted the entire industry (and a lot more). Following more recent deals, the company is now responsible for more than 2.7 million seats across 300+ locations.
For a major event such as the Final Four, ASM handles staffing for any temporary construction needed ahead of time, as well as hiring up to 4,000 workers for game day who assist in everything from security and bathroom cleanliness to trash pickup and concession restocking. “You have all the same elements that you would have if you were running a small city,” Doug Thornton, ASM EVP of stadiums, arenas and theaters, said in an interview. “Our job is to make sure that we’re prepared for that.”
Leagues and governing bodies—this week, that means the NCAA—decide what the event looks and feels like. “Our job is to help them carry that out,” Thornton said.
The biggest benefit of handling so many marquee events across venues, Thornton said, is that stadium personnel are able to share information and ideas from one year to the next. Staff members responsible for future events are often present at the previous year’s Super Bowl or Final Four, picking up first-hand knowledge of how to operate as smoothly as possible.
Houston hosted the Final Four in 2016, but the event has changed since then, especially outside the venue, as companies such as On Location build experiential offerings into their weekend packages. NRG Stadium also hosted the Super Bowl in 2017, but there are differences there too—Thornton said—with the NFL event generally attracting a more corporate crowd.
The events aren’t significant to ASM’s bottom line as a venue management company, “but what it does do,” Thornton said, “is give us a significant presence with … the sports leagues, the NGBs, that is immeasurable.” He believes that familiarity and the growing resume then helps ASM compete for management rights at additional venues, offering the possibility of hosting even more of sports’ biggest shows.