Health Care

NOTIONS: How to use Colts euphoria to enhance a community

January 29, 2007

After the Indianapolis Colts beat the New England Patriots to win a trip to Super Bowl XLI, my fiancée and I jumped up and down in the living room and pumped our fists in the air. The cat, who was scared out of his wits, escaped up the stairs.

After a celebratory phone call from my son Zach in Fort Wayne, we threw on our coats and jogged the six blocks from our downtown home to the RCA Dome, where the game had just reached its dramatic conclusion. While we hadn't been sufficiently blessed (or gone sufficiently in debt) to have tickets, we wanted to experience the euphoria.

Our neighbors were emerging from their houses, too. So we exchanged "woohoos" and high fives as we headed out. The woohoo/high-five combo was repeated with complete strangers from all walks of life as we bounded down Capitol Avenue, across Maryland Street, up Illinois, across Market, up Meridian, around Monument Circle and most of the way back home.

En route, we saw fans brandishing hotoff-the-press newspapers with bold-faced victory headlines, vendors peddling AFCChampions logo wear, and restaurants and bars packed with blue-bedecked revelers.

I've seen folks in this town fill the grandstands for 500 Festival parades. I've milled with Circle City Classic pre-game crowds. I've walked through bustling streets before NCAA basketball championships. And I've joined the throng for Pacers/Knicks NBA playoff classics.

But never has this metropolis felt more energized than it was last Sunday night after Manning and Co. finally knocked out the Brady Bunch in the 15th round of a title fight.

Our Republican governor, who watched the game with our Democratic mayor, said: "The best thing is how it brings people together from all walks of life. Everybody will be talking about this. I love the way it brings about some unity."

And so it does.

This week, I talked with fellow CEOs about the Colts. I talked with a maintenance guy at IUPUI about the Colts. I talked with people on the elevator about the Colts. Heck, friends and relatives from all over the country called me to talk about the Colts.

"It's a huge moment that we're going to be able to ride for a long time," said our Democratic mayor, who hugged our Republican governor when a Colts interception sealed the deal.

But here's the $500 million question: Is the unity, the "everybody's-talking" and the wonderful ride worth the public cost of a new stadium so we can host such events in industry-standard style?

Those who promote such facilities and lobby for their funding often brandish complex projections showing their anticipated economic impact.

Those who oppose such facilities and lobby against their funding often argue that we should use such funds to address more pressing needs.

For my money (and it is), you can't measure emotional return on investment. You can't quantify what those 60,000 Colts fans felt as they rushed out onto Capitol Avenue. You can't quantify the instilling of pride in a state known for humility. You can't quantify what Indy-envy is worth around the world.

But I know for sure there isn't enough cash on the planet to buy such emotional impact and magically direct it toward suffering schools, escalating crime, needy social services or any of the other good causes for which stadium-bashers would rather spend the money.

What can happen, however, if we're smart about this, is that we'll bottle, bundle or otherwise package our new-found swagger and apply it to the obstacles that continually hinder us from a better life in this community.

It's a human foible, I suppose, that we pull together-like the Colts in a do-ordie fourth-quarter drive-only when circumstances are most dire. We won't raise taxes for preventive health care, but we'll find the money when an epidemic strikes. We won't build up the dikes by the river, but we'll throw sandbags when the flood hits. We won't reintegrate ex-cons into our community, but we'll hire more cops, build more prisons and lock them up longer when they resort to the only way they know to survive.

I heard a story once about Mrs. Bob Knight. Fed up with the coach's relentless ranting over something, she put a sign up in the house that said, "That horse is dead, Bob, get off it."

So how 'bout this? Let's put a moratorium on stadium whining. We're not going to stop the thing in mid-construction. We wouldn't have the team without it. And no one would have approved the funding for everyday issues, anyway.

Instead, let's capitalize on that new stadium and pay tribute to the champions who compete there by taking a little lesson from their playbook: Let's not panic (though the circumstances are dire); let's pull together as a team and let's use every weapon in our collective arsenal to overcome the nemeses that have stood in our way for years.

Something tells me that would be worth a lot more than $500 million.



Hetrick is chairman and CEO of Hetrick Communications Inc., an Indianapolis-based public relations and marketing communications firm. His column appears weekly. To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to bhetrick@ibj.com.
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