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This year's Final Four will have a maroon and gold tint

ASU students from a variety of disciplines will work the event in Glendale


Three students sit in front of a laptop

From left: Third-year ASU student Aaron Rothman, fourth-year student Denisse Anne Cargado and fourth-year student Hogan Miller look over their notes in ASU's MKT 494: Final Four Experience class, on Feb. 14 on the West Valley campus. The marketing course enables students to work as volunteers in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament’s Final Four, which will be held in State Farm Stadium in Glendale on April 6 and April 8. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

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February 27, 2024

Denisse Anne Cargado describes herself as a hands-on person.

So, when Cargado, a fourth-year student at Arizona State University majoring in sports business with an emphasis on digital marketing, saw a post for an online course called the Final Four Experience, she immediately knew she wanted to take the class.

The course, taught by Ryan Kota, a clinical assistant professor in ASU's W. P. Carey School of Business, enables students to work as volunteers in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament’s Final Four, which will be held at State Farm Stadium in Glendale on April 6 and April 8.

“It’s a really big deal,” Cargado said, “and I wanted to be part of that really insane event.”

Students from across ASU — from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication to the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions to the Pat Tillman Veterans Center — will be part of the Final Four, as ASU is the host school for the event.

They’ll carry the colors of the teams, work in the lounge at the media hotel, help out at the Fan Fest inside the Phoenix Convention Center, cover the games themselves and aid the Phoenix Final Four Local Organizing Committee in a variety of ways.

“There’s a reason why this campus attracts the type of talent that it does from a communications standpoint,” said John Nicoletti, executive director of the Cronkite Agency, a communications agency in which students serve real clients with public relations, digital marketing, brand content and bilingual engagement work. “It’s because we give students the opportunity to go out and be a part of these major events and get real-world experience.”

The Final Four Experience class — Marketing 494 — was designed by Kota and Joe Bertoletti, a professor of practice in the W. P. Carey School of Business.

“What the course does is it talks about how do you get from the bidding phase of the Final Four to the organizing phase into the actual execution phase of the event, and who and what stakeholders are involved,” Bertoletti said. “What has to happen, how it has to happen, the flow of things, the difference between the NCAA, the local organizing committee, then the stadium and the execution of it.

“It also constitutes for students the ability to see all these different opportunities in sports and jobs that they could really be interested in. They can learn about how to put on a mega event. They can learn about the finances. They can learn about what the populace does from an engineering and architecture perspective and what they do for the Final Four. The class was designed with all those elements in mind.”

Kota has brought in speakers from the NCAA and the local organizing committee to speak to the class. The students are working on projects tied to the Final Four — one example is maximizing the brand ambassadors’ presence — and at the end of the semester will present their findings to the Phoenix Final Four Local Organizing Committee and the NCAA, with the hope that their information will be applied to future Final Fours.

ASU professor Ryan Kota teaches a Final Four class
Clinical Assistant Professor Ryan Kota leads a discussion in the MKT 494: Final Four Experience class, on Feb. 14 at the West Valley campus. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

Then, of course, they’ll be part of the actual event.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” said Noah Fuls, a fourth-year student majoring in sports business. “It’s not often you get a chance to learn about a mega sporting event like the Final Four and serve your community.”

Fuls, who has signed up to work the Fan Fest and the Final Four Dribble (participants under the age of 18 dribble through a one-mile course in downtown Phoenix) and greet the teams when they arrive at Sky Harbor Airport, said it’s a unique chance to network with leaders in athletics, business and marketing.

“With this class, I’ve already met people that have positions in the future roles that I’m interested in,” added Cargado, who would like to work in digital marketing for a professional sports team. “And they’re very happy to help you out and give tips on what they did when they were younger.”

Paola Boivin, director of the Cronkite News Phoenix Sports Bureau, said six students will receive credentials to cover the Final Four. In addition, 30 students from the Cronkite Agency will be stationed at the lounge at the media hotel, the Renaissance Phoenix Glendale Hotel & Spa.

“From a student’s perspective, just being a part of that event is fantastic,” Nicoletti said. “The exposure, the networking. You’re going to have (press) credentialed from all over the country.”

About 30 student veterans will carry flags representing the four teams before the semifinals on April 6, said Michelle Loposky, director of development and strategic partnerships for the Pat Tillman Veterans Center. The veterans also can bring a family member or another veteran with them.

“We wanted to make it very military family-ish,” Loposky said. “Everyone who is going to be on that floor is ASU and military connected in some way.”

The Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions will be represented by 50 to 75 students who will be involved with the Final Four in a variety of ways, said Erin Schneiderman, a clinical assistant professor in the School of Community Resources and Development.

Schneiderman directs the school’s event management program, which is offered as a minor and a certificate.

Twenty-seven of the students have applied to work logistics at Fan Fest for M Group Scenic Studios, a local production company. Others will work retail at Fan Fest, and students from PRM 494: Special Topics Arizona Cardinals Rotational Program will work the event in various capacities.

“We’re sending our students behind the scenes, which is something that they’re not able to do on their own or every day,” Schneiderman said. “And I think they’ll see things that will solidify their career path.

“Maybe they want to go into sports, they want to go into live music or they really gravitate toward the nonprofit side. For us, that’s everything, because it’s career exposure that we can’t teach them in the classroom. They have to be able to see it for themselves.”

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