April showers might bring May flowers, but March Madness will deliver a gift more coveted than any floral arrangement: the Valley’s first Final Four. Debbie Johnson, executive director of Arizona Office of Tourism, is partly to thank. A self-proclaimed “major sports fan,” Johnson has served on the volunteer board for Phoenix’s Final Four committee for a decade and was named its chair last March. “We’re ready,” she says.
Countless corporate partnerships were formed in preparation for this massive event, estimated to attract more than 70,000 ticket holders and thousands of other fans, and she says many local hotels generously provided special rates: “Our community has come together to support this effort because we all win.” Johnson estimates the payoff might mean anywhere from $45 million to $200 million in economic benefit to Arizona, not to mention the enviable bragging rights: “This is a worldwide marketing opportunity we couldn’t even pay for.”
Though she spends most of her time traveling the globe, enticing people to visit the Grand Canyon State (“People still think it’s the Wild West,” she explains), Johnson was born and raised in Wyoming. She moved to the desert in 1986 to attend ASU and stayed. “It sounds cliche, but the people keep me here,” she explains. “They’re so kind.”
Johnson will certainly be among the masses in March when Downtown Phoenix hosts four days of concerts, youth clinics and pep rallies leading up to the games April 1 and 3. We suspect she will be taking copious notes also. “We want to bid for the next Super Bowl, National Championship and Final Four,” she says. Spoken like a true Arizona advocate.
Sunrise and sunset hikes, Spinato’s sausage and fennel pizza, Johnny Cash, travel
Thunder and lightning, delayed flights, rude people
Originally published in the March issue of Scottsdale