When Mayor Bart Peterson announced in December plans to build a new stadium for the Indianapolis Colts, he mentioned as a side note the $600 million facility would help retain the National Football League Scouting Combine.
The mayor's pronouncement is no side note to Clarian Health Partners, the hospital system that handles all the athlete medical testing for the four-day Combine, which runs this year through March 1.
"We were told by Clarian officials this event adds $1 million to their bottom line," said Indianapolis Deputy Mayor Steve Campbell. "From an economic impact standpoint, this is an event that absolutely flies under the radar."
When the roaming Combine-which started in 1977-finished its stint in New Orleans and rolled into Indianapolis in 1987, few people thought it would have much impact or stay long.
While the city's central location, covered dome and hotel connectivity were initial attractors, Clarian's ability to handle a growing volume of testing in a short time frame was critical to the Combine's extended stay.
"We clearly wouldn't have repeated trips here if it didn't work," said NFL spokesman Steve Alic. "Having the ability of pulling all this testing together on all these players at one place at one time is a big reason why this Combine makes a lot of sense."
While the $2.8 million city businesses pocket during the Combine is relatively small compared to the take during the likes of an NCAA Final Four, Clarian rakes in millions more in revenue from hundreds of physicals and thousands of tests, including MRIs, X-rays, CAT scans and bone scans. In 2004 alone, Clarian took more than 12,000 X-ray pictures and 350 MRIs. The hospital system devotes more than 300 of its 1,200 employees to Combine work.
"Those are big numbers," said Ed Abel, director in charge of health care services for Blue & Co. "When you look at the cost of each one of those procedures, that really starts to add up. And when the client is the NFL and its teams, you know they're going to pay for each one of those services."
Clarian and the NFL would not divulge financial details of their deal, but Abel said the profits would be substantial because there is far less paperwork than for insurance or Medicare coverage. Charges for each X-ray, Abel said, are likely $200 to $300 and each MRI could run three times that much. Revenue from X-rays, MRIs, CAT scans and bone scans alone could easily top $3 million, industry observers said.
Oddly, there isn't much talk of this work in the local medical community, Abel said, but if it were advertised and put up for bid, he thinks there would be plenty of competition.
Outbidding Clarian at this point could be difficult, said Colts trainer Hunter Smith.
"They've made a lot of upgrades technologically to handle this," Smith said. "[Clarian] has been a big part of the success of this event here."
Included in that investment-which Clarian officials said totals tens of millions of dollars-is a Picture Archive Communication System, which allows Clarian technicians to relay test results in a matter of seconds to remote locations. The PAC system sends thousands of images to kiosklike stations set up for team coaches, doctors and trainers at the RCA Dome and Convention Center. The system is also used to relay the information later to a team's doctor or trainer in another city.
Health Imaging & IT, a Rhode Islandbased industry publication, ranked Clarian among the top 15 electronically connected hospital networks nationally based on the digital imaging and informationtechnology-related work it does.
"We're at the forefront of this technology," said John R. Dickey, Clarian's manager of diagnostic radiology. "That's a big reason the Combine keeps coming back."
Until recently, the NFL has sought to keep the spotlight off the Combine, shunning reporters and outsiders. For just the second year, part of the 2005 event will appear on television, on the NFL's own cable network, and league sources are more willing to talk about it.
They've also considered rotating the Combine again.
"There has been talk of moving the event to a location with nicer weather or a bigger city, mainly from marketing and public relations concerns," said Colts President Bill Polian. "Those of us who know what we're doing want to keep it right here in Indianapolis. The services that are provided here are difficult to match. We're not here for a vacation."
The players certainly aren't on vacation. Every draft prospect is subject to a battery of tests the likes of which he's never seen before, including an extensive psychological examination that asks players, among other things, "Would you rather be a dog or a cat?"
Despite such questions, Combine testing is no laughing matter. Polian, a part of the NFL's competition committee that determines where the Combine is held, said the medical testing is more important than an athlete's performance on the much-hyped skills drills.
"It's serious business for the teams that will invest millions of dollars in these young men, and is even more important in this day and age of the salary cap," said Milton Thompson, an athlete agent and president of Grand Slam Cos., a locally based sports marketing consultancy. "Teams can't afford to waste money or a draft choice."
It's also serious for the prospective players, who are invited by a coalition including team executives, NFL officials and scouting firm representatives. A move a few spots up or down the draft can mean a difference of millions of dollars in compensation.
The Colts, like most NFL teams, will have about 30 coaches, trainers and other team officials at the Combine. Teams will interview and examine most of the players there. Tests can be ordered by any of a number of people ranging from Clarian officials handling front-line and general exams to team personnel doing detailed follow-up studies. NFL doctors have been known to order CAT scans and other tests due to something as subjective as poor flexibility.
"A lot of this testing is done as a precautionary measure," said NFL's Alic. "There are few stones that are left unturned."
"We look at absolutely everything," Clarian's Dickey said. "If a player broke his finger when he was 5 years old, they'll order a test on that, too."