How this will affect Indianapolis, its relationship with the NCAA
At the end of 2020, recognizing the challenges imposed by COVID to host an NCAA Tournament the following spring, but knowing that his organization could not endure another year without one, Mark Emmert called the governor.
Emmert, the NCAA president, wanted to build on a longstanding and unshakeable relationship between his organization and the city and state he called home. He needed Governor Eric Holcomb’s support for an all-in-one, once-in-a-lifetime March Madness, staged entirely in Indiana and almost entirely in Marion County.
“It didn’t take a nanosecond,” Holcomb told reporters later, saying yes.
The NCAA wanted Indianapolis not just because the two are former partners, but because the city — and by extension its state — has built a solid reputation as one of the top hosts over nearly half a century. civics of major events in the country.
This street goes both ways, of course. It’s through an ongoing partnership with the NCAA, dating back to the first Indianapolis Final Four in 1980, that the city has built its reputation. The association has hosted men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, a myriad of Olympic sporting events, and countless conventions and summits in Indy, where it moved its headquarters at the turn of the century.
This all begs a question, as issues like name, image and likeness, conference realignment, and the rise of the college football playoffs have college athletics leaders openly questioning a future. without too much NCAA oversight:
How would Indianapolis, and by extension Indiana, feel about this blow?
“There’s no state that does it better than Indiana,” Kyle Walker (R-Fishers) told IndyStar. “We’ve proven time and time again that we can do great events, do them very well, and it’s also been proven that the economic impact on any return we make is exponential on our investment.”
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Tourism is a vital industry for Indianapolis and the state at large. According to figures produced by the Indiana Destination Development Corporation, in 2019 Indiana visitors spent what was then a record $13.2 billion in the state. The IDDC report indicates that tourism contributed $9.3 billion to Indiana’s gross state product, with visitor spending, innkeeper tax collection and tourism-related employment being all up from the previous year.
The COVID-19 pandemic will obviously have hit those industries hard in 2020 and 2021, but the 2021 men’s tournament, the 2022 college football playoff national championship game, and several Big Ten basketball tournaments over the past two years are as much evidence as the sport’s return to business, they’re also eagerly returning to Indianapolis.
This is crucial, given their impact on the aforementioned numbers.
According to a 2020 IUPUI study on the impact of COVID-19 on sport tourism, this specific segment of the wider industry generates approximately $3.4 billion per year for the local economy of the center of Indiana. This takes the form of direct dollars spent by visitors on such things as hotel rooms, meals, and local attractions, as well as hospitality-related taxes arising from their visits. IDDC reported $1.4 billion generated in overall tourism-related tax revenue in 2019.
Indiana and its capital have spent decades building the infrastructure and civic engagement necessary to establish a reputation as a trustworthy host of major events. Sports played a central role in this development, especially college sports. If the ground keeps moving under college athletics, it will also keep moving under Indianapolis.
But this infrastructure also exists, and it does so outside of any relationship or set of relationships.
“Indianapolis has spent a lot of time investing in relationships at all levels,” a major event organizer told IndyStar, speaking on condition of anonymity. “I can’t imagine that would be forgotten.”
Partnerships with individual conferences, namely the Big Ten, could be important in the future, if (as some expect) what we call the Power Five conferences continue to consolidate power and influence.
Even if the NCAA is downplayed in any way, the conferences seem likely to remain influential. On the contrary, they are the group most likely to fill such a void.
“Conferences will continue to play a very important role in the future of college athletics,” a person familiar with the relationship between college sports and the city of Indianapolis told IndyStar, citing one prominent example. “The relationship with the Big Ten has been very strong for many years.”
Indiana Sports Corp, created around this Final Four of 1980, is anchored in the ecosystem of sports tourism in the region in the broad sense. City and state facilities have been built and renovated to meet the needs of major events at all levels, including the Final Fours, Olympic Trials, Big Ten football championship game, and a Super Bowl. City leaders have strong relationships with event organizers.
And the state government is investing more in the process of securing these events, through the creation of a bidding fund approved in the last legislative session.
Authored by three Republicans but co-authored or sponsored by multiple members of both parties, SB 245 established state-sponsored financial support “to provide funding for the purpose of organizing and holding sporting and tourism events in Indiana”. It was passed in the last legislative session and will be funded in the next budget session.
IDDC will administer the fund, while Sports Corp will handle the grant application process used to secure funding. Walker said the publicly discussed credit was $5 million, although nothing is set in stone at this time.
The fund is intended to help organizations large and small, and at least 30% of it must be dispersed outside of Marion County. Cities like Fort Wayne, Evansville, Bloomington and West Lafayette have all hosted or helped host big one-time sporting events in recent years, and Walker said the fund could filter even further into local communities than that.
“The intent is really to have a statewide impact, and in some cases it can be a relatively small investment that has a big impact on a community,” Walker said, co-author of SB 245. “It may be a rental of land. This may be a small license fee required to secure or maintain an event. Either way, it will be meaningful and have a huge impact on the community it hosts.
The underlying intention is the same.
Indiana and its capital have earned a solid reputation as capable hosts for major sporting events. Over the past half-century, this commitment has translated into broad civic and economic growth. Even though – to extend a sporting metaphor – the players and the pitch are changing, there is strong belief in their ability to remain at the forefront of that conversation in the future.
“Indianapolis has really proven to be a very attractive option for really big sporting events and events of all kinds,” Walker said. “If there are any changes as a result of NIL or anything else in the structure of organizations, I think it really changes who our event organizers talk to, who we bid against, and that also illustrates the need, value and importance of having a bidding fund, to ensure that we stay in that upper echelon (of potential host cities).
Follow IndyStar reporter Zach Osterman on Twitter: @ZachOsterman.