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Largest NCAA tournament bracket ever adorns hotel in downtown Indianapolis

10:52 AM ET

  • Kelly CohenESPN

Frank Hancock may say the giant NCAA March Madness bracket on the side of the JW Marriott in downtown Indianapolis is “a lot like wallpaper,” but to the average passerby, it’s more than that.

“When I drove past the huge bracket … I thought about how awesome it is that every single one of those games is played in the state of Indiana,” Gary Hulsey, who lives and works in Indianapolis, told ESPN. “We all missed out on March Madness last year, so to have every game for this year’s tournament on Indiana soil is really special.”

Hulsey is talking about the bracket designed and printed by Hancock’s company, Sport Graphics, in collaboration with his Section 127 creative agency. The 800-piece installation that covers nearly 47,000 square feet on the hotel’s exterior proudly proclaims that Indiana — a state where basketball is deeply important — is hosting all the games of the 2021 men’s NCAA tournament.

The text “Indiana: Where Champions Are Crowned” adorns the top of the bracket. This is the first time the tournament is being played in a single state, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) March 2, 2021

It’s the world’s largest bracket, beating the one Section 127 put up during March Madness in 2015.

Despite Hancock’s wallpaper comparison, there’s nothing simple about installing more than 800 pieces of material that are each about 4 feet wide and 2 to 3 feet tall.

“If you get the wrong stuff, the wrong roll, it will line up and it will be very obvious,” Hancock said. “The bracket won’t line up from one column to the next. It’s critical that the rolls are properly identified, marked in production and the installation of each roll is done in the correct sequence.”

The material is thin and has a back that is peeled off — hence its similarity to wallpaper. When the bracket was first put up without the names of the 68 teams that were selected, that part of the installation took about five days with just four workers. Adding the team names themselves was an easier task.

“We had two crews doing one on one side and one on the other, and they’ll move as the bracket does until we got one workstation in the middle,” Hancock told ESPN of the work done Tuesday to add all the team names. It took about 4½ hours.

The bracket will be updated the morning after each night of games — save for right after the title game, when the winning team will be able to exit nearby Lucas Oil Stadium that night and see its name in the spot for the national champion, Hancock said.

But there are challenges that go beyond lining up the different pieces of the bracket.

“Safety will always be your most important challenge for those staff going up on the building and for me who sends them up. They cannot get careless or not be fully engaged in what they are doing,” Hancock told ESPN. That is a “recipe for problems.”

Weather can also be a concern for the assembly crew.

“Winds also hamper putting up the materials on the surface. With the adhesive backing, [a] little wind can cause you to end up with a ball of material and not a name on the surface,” Hancock said.

There’s also the issue of heat. Think of what happens when a plastic water bottle is left in a hot car. It shrivels and melts — just like the brackets could do.

“We have had jobs where installation didn’t start ’til late in the afternoon, allowing for the sun to move behind the building,” Hancock said.

This isn’t the first time Hancock’s company has been involved in decorating Indianapolis for a sporting event, but it might be the most memorable.

“I think the downtown looks as good as it’s ever looked for an event, and we did everything including the Super Bowl,” Hancock said. “This just looks good, but I think because it’s been a long year of not looking good.”

Hancock loves that people get to see all the hard work that he and his company have put into the bracket.

“To be out there and see literally hundreds of people taking pictures of the installation, the bracket and their ‘team’ name going up, the applause for such, is special,” he said. “Other than the games, it’s the center attraction of the entire event. It’s a wow and memory moment for sure.”

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