Indianapolis is already known as the “Racing Capital of the World” and the “Amateur Sports Capital of the World,” but the time has come to call it what it is: America’s Sports Capital.
Before you slam these pages shut and chalk that statement up as just another bad sports hot take, hear me out.
Indianapolis is home to six professional sports franchises: the Indianapolis Colts, Indiana Pacers, Indiana Fever, Indianapolis Indians, Indy Eleven and the Indy Fuel. We’re also the headquarters of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) hence the “Amateur Sports Capital of the World” title. We’re not only the home of USA Gymnastics, the national governing board for gymnastic events, we’re the home of the reporters who dropped the bombshell abuse scandal reporting on USA Gymnastics.
We’re even the home base of the American College of Sports Medicine, for all the athletes that get hurt playing all these sports.
Sure, some of those teams play in secondary leagues, but Indy has a team and therefore checks the box for each of the five major sports.
But hosting big-name events is where Indianapolis sets itself apart from the competition.
Downtown Indy has played host to a multitude of big name sporting events this decade and they don't plan on stopping anytime soon.
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway has hosted the largest single-day sporting event in the world — the Indianapolis 500 — for more than a century. IMS has also hosted multiple other racing events over the past decade including the Brickyard 400 since 1994, the MotoGP World Championship from 2008-2015, and more recently the Red Bull Air Race since 2016.
The city itself is also branching out to host big events in other sports like basketball and football. Most notably, Indianapolis successfully hosted the Super Bowl in 2012, the Men’s NCAA Final Four in 2010 and 2015 and the Women’s NCAA Final Four in 2011 and 2016.
A main reason why Indy has been able to host so many top sporting events over that time period is because of the work that is being done by Indiana Sports Corp. Founded in 1979 as America’s first sports commission, Indiana Sports Corp seeks out and bids on big-name sporting events like the ones mentioned above.
The not-for-profit’s mission is as follows, “to create positive impact by hosting world-class sporting events which drive economic vitality, facilitate a vibrant community with civic pride, garner national and international media attention and create opportunities for our youth.”
For nearly 40 years Indiana Sports Corp has competed with other major cities throughout the U.S and the world to host the biggest events in sports.
“When you look at event rights holders and what they’re looking for in a city, Indy can really deliver on a high level,” said Indiana Sports Corp President Ryan Vaughn.
“We’ve got outstanding facilities in Bankers Life Fieldhouse and Lucas Oil Stadium. We have a compact and connected downtown that’s walkable. We’ve got great hotel packages downtown,” said Vaughn. “We’ve got the track record of being able to deliver these big events at a high level and being really thoughtful and creative in the way we do so.”
Sports Corp has hosted more than 450 events since its inception in 1979 and volunteers have played a key part in putting on each and every one of them.
“A big part of what we do is creating volunteer opportunities for members of the community to become engaged in what we do and feel like they’re part of it,” said Vaughn. “It’s one of great things that we’re known for as a community within the sports world is that we have this incredible volunteer base of folks that come out and genuinely love putting Hoosier hospitality on display.”
The dedicated volunteer base is one of the main selling points Sports Corp uses when they’re trying to lock down a bid.
“It’s certainly a competitive advantage when we go seek the opportunity to host events because we have that reputation in the sports world of delivering on that civic engagement side,” said Vaughn.
Indy’s future as an event host looks bright with Sports Corp at the helm. In December, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced that Indianapolis would be the host of the 2021 NBA All-Star Game. Pacers Sports & Entertainment partnered with both Indiana Sports Corp and Visit Indy to land the league’s premier event.
It’s an event the Pacers had their eye on for awhile. Back in April, team President Larry Bird delivered the All-Star bid to NBA Headquarters by driving an IndyCar down Fifth Avenue in New York City. (If he had been eating a tenderloin it would’ve been the most Indiana thing that has ever happened.)
“Indianapolis has an enduring love for basketball that creates a special connection to our All-Star Game,” said Commissioner Silver at the announcement in December.
It will be the second time Indianapolis has hosted the game, the first being in 1985 at the now demolished Hoosier Dome.
“No state nurtures and loves the game of basketball more than Indiana, and I am certain that my fellow Hoosiers will embrace the game and related events with uncommon passion and support,” Governor Eric Holcomb said at the December announcement.
Hoosiers can expect a similar Downtown scene to the one they saw when Indy hosted the 2012 Superbowl. Events will take place at Lucas Oil Stadium, the Indiana Convention Center and Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
“Indianapolis’ legacy is one that has truly been enriched by our chase of the next big game, and that story continues thanks to what we hope will be the best NBA All-Star Game and weekend yet,” said Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett.
In November, Sports Corp and Visit Indy announced that Indy had been chosen as the host of the 2022 College Football Playoff Championship. It will be the first time the city has hosted the premier event in college football.
“The pipeline of future sporting events coming to Indy is incredibly strong, which is so valuable to Indy’s tourism community,” said Chris Gahl, VP of Marketing and Communications for Visit Indy. Between the 2021 NBA All-Star Game and the 2022 College Football Championship national playoff game, we’ll see an influx of over 150,000 visitors in Indy, keeping our hotels and restaurants full.”
As Gahl mentions the amount of visitors Indianapolis will see at these events, it’s a good time to take a quick look at the economic impact these large sporting events have on Indy’s economy.
A 2012 study by Rockport Analytics, commissioned by the Indianapolis Super Bowl host Committee found that an additional $176 million of spending was associated to the 2012 Super Bowl. And a study by 2015 Men’s Final Four organizing committee found that it generated around $70 million for the city.
When I bring up economic impact to Vaughn, he’s quick to mention that while its easy to see the economic impact of an event because its backed by numbers, there are other greater, lasting impacts that events can offer a city.
“We typically use every large event to create some sort of opportunity for youth in our community as well,” said Vaughn. “Whether creating programs to tackle childhood obesity or generating equipment that goes to low-income kids to get them engaged in sports, there’s just a lot of opportunity around these special events to have impact.”
Indiana Sports Corp currently has 24 events on their calendar between now and 2022 and show no sign of slowing down anytime soon.
“We’re very pleased with the pipeline we have for the next five years,” said Vaughn.”We’ve got a lot on our plate right now but we’re for sure always looking at something to add to that pipeline.”
Indianapolis will host the NBA All-Star Game, Men’s Final Four and College Football Playoff Championship all within the next five years. And I wouldn’t put it past the city to make another bid to host the Super Bowl, given how well-received the first go-around was.
“Our identity globally is around sports. We’re a brand that is associated with hosting premier sports events,” said Vaughn. “I think we have a strong case for being the premier city in America for sports.”
It’s hard to disagree with him.