I first met Frank Viverito when I was playing basketball at UMSL—the days when the shorts were too short, and the socks were too high. Viverito was the university’s sports information director, so he was responsible for marking down all of my turnovers. He had to be very good at math. But I never thought then we were taking bus trips together to thriving cosmopolitan cities like Rolla, Kirksville and Warrensburg that he would end up being one of the top sports figures in our town.
Viverito is now the president of the St. Louis Sports Commission. Since he took over in 1995, the city has landed the NCAA Men’s and Women’s Final Fours, the NCAA Wrestling Championships six times, the Frozen Four, the U.S. Figure Skating Championships and the U.S. Diving Olympic Trials.
Viverito is not finished. He is trying to bring back another Final Four to St. Louis. But the stakes have changed: The event transcends sports. In 2005, the economic impact for our Final Four here was $50 to $60 million. The city of Dallas estimates that they will have an economic impact of $276 million at its Final Four this year. Viverito knows the city has things working against it for landing this event: few direct flights, an older building, and not as many hotel rooms. However, he believes next fall, St. Louis—one of the eight cities in contention—will be one of the four cities to get the event.
As successful as Viverito has been in the St. Louis sports scene, he is still plays second banana in the house. His wife, Patty, is the associate commissioner of the Missouri Valley Conference and was recently enshrined into the Missouri Sports Hall of fame. We recently sat down in his office:
Why do you think you can bring the Final Four to St. Louis?
We have experience. We have passion. We have an understanding of the event and a good relationship with the NCAA. We are in it to win it. We are going to take our best shot. We don’t have to finish first, but we do have to finish fourth. I like our chances, but it won’t be easy.
What is your strategy?
Our perspective on the Final Four is to bring back that old Cardinals slogan, Baseball like it ought to be. The Final Four like it ought to be: compact, energetic, walkable, a traditional basketball experience.
Who is the sports figure that you can’t believe that you have gotten to know?
Jackie Joyner Kersee. She was our board chairman from 1997 to 2000. To be friends with JJK is a true privilege.
Best sporting event you have seen in person?
Game 6 of the 2011 World Series—I don’t know how it could be any better than that. I did like seeing my school, Rutgers, make it to the 1976 Final Four.
Which famous person in town has called for tickets to one of your big events?
At our regional this year, Ozzie Smith called. He is an alum of Cal Poly. It was such a thrill to hook Ozzie with the team and also get him tickets.
5 Things I Think:
1. The best stat of the SLU season: five seniors and five degrees, and one of them has his Masters. It would have been nice to shoot the ball better against Louisville, but I will take 27 wins and the winningest senior class of all time any time!
2. A true sign to just how deep the Blues are is the MVP debate: You could honestly make a case for five different players winning the award for the team. The Blues may not have a Hall-of-Famer on the roster, but just a great deal of really good players.
3. I went to the Ranken Jordan gala a short time ago. Mike Matheny was the speaker, and he was incredibly dynamic and charismatic. I think when he talks to the media after the game, he is intentionally rather uneventful. He doesn’t want to give up too much.
4. I am convinced Stan Kroenke is the smartest businessman I know and the least-savvy public relations person I have encountered. You own a business and you do nothing to make your customers happy. Just tell us you would like to make it work here one time.
5. My favorite two words in life: all-inclusive. My four favorite words in life: all you can eat. I have eating issues. Gosh, I love food!
Frank Cusumano is a 15-time Emmy Award winner on KSDK-TV, and also has been a radio commentator for 20 years. Follow Frank on Twitter @Frank_Cusumano.