Yates said the organization and decision-making skills he uses in his legal work also help him coordinate the Final Four.
He has interpreted the NCAA's contract for the event to explain what types of advertising are allowed, what uses of the Final Four logo are permitted, and what trademark restrictions are in place. Only sponsors, licensed retailers and select organizations may use the logo, which celebrates the tournament's 75th anniversary.
"As a lawyer, a lot of what I do, particularly as chair of our technology group, is I'm thinking very analytically and along the lines of decision trees and decision analysis. I'm always thinking about what decision has to be made and what are the outcomes of that," Yates said.
Yates has chaired other organizations and been active on boards, but he's never been in charge of an event on this scale. Last year's Final Four Saturday games in New Orleans generated the event's highest ratings since 2005, with 17 percent of in-use TVs tuned in, according to The Associated Press.
"John is obviously incredibly attentive to detail, and there's no other skill that could be more important," said William Pate, president of the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau. "There are a lot of moving parts to this event and a lot of activities that go on. You have to have an understanding of how to manage a lot of things and pay attention to every little detail."
Yates is a member of the board of directors of the Atlanta Sports Council and the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce. After being named chairman of the Atlanta Basketball Host Committee, Yates tapped Sharon Goldmacher, of the marketing and public relations firm Communications 21, to be the committee's executive director.
"His love of basketball shines through at every meeting we have," said Goldmacher, who handled public relations for the Final Four when it was last held in Atlanta in 2007. "It's challenging in part because people are interested in tickets, and they potentially use his position to elicit information on tickets."
When Pate approached Yates about the job, Yates thought he was going to ask for corporate sponsorship money to support Atlanta's hosting of the Final Four. Instead, Pate said he wanted someone to lead the event.
"I thought about it for a split second, but only a split second, before I said, 'Absolutely. Put me on board,'" Yates said.
Atlanta has hosted the Final Four in 1977, 2002 and 2007. Organizers hope to fill the Georgia Dome with 74,000 fans at each of this year's games.