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Indianapolis hopeful it can retain Big Ten tournaments

March 7, 2011

Indianapolis officials should know by early summer whether the city will continue hosting Big Ten men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, according to a top executive of the suburban-Chicago-based conference.

The current contract between Indianapolis and the Big Ten expires in 2012, and officials of the conference’s 11 universities are beginning the selection process now. University presidents and chancellors serve as Big Ten directors and recommend their selections to the conference.

Big Ten Deputy Commissioner Brad Traviolia declined to divulge how many cities might be pursuing the tournaments. But he acknowledged Indianapolis will be difficult to unseat.

“We’ve had nothing but a good experience with the city,” he said. “[It’s] done a tremendous job.”

The men’s tournament, which this year tips off Thursday, typically attracts more than 18,000 overnight visitors to Indianapolis over the four-day event and generates $8 million in direct visitor spending. Those numbers jump to 25,000 overnight visitors and $10 million in spending when including the women’s tournament, which this year concluded on Sunday, according to the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association.

Losing the events would be a major blow for Indianapolis’ hospitality industry, but ICVA spokesman Chris Gahl said he is hopeful the city can retain the tournaments.

“These pieces of business are extremely valuable to us in driving tourism,” he said. “We’re a state that fully embraces basketball, and we feel there’s no better place than Conseco Fieldhouse to host tournaments like this.”

Ticket sales likely will play a key role in whether the city maintains its grip on the games.

Combined attendance for this year’s women’s games was 30,957, down nearly 9 percent from last year’s total, according to the Indiana Sports Corp. Attendance for the title game pitting Ohio State University against Penn State University also dipped nearly 9 percent—to 6,227.

Local favorites Indiana University and Purdue University lost in the early rounds of the tournament, which may have dampened attendance.

The Sports Corp. hopes the men’s tournament, however, can build on momentum achieved last year. Ticket sales were 81,625, a nearly 20-percent increase from 2009 and the highest total since Indianapolis began hosting the event on an annual basis in 2008.

A stronger effort to sell tickets involved additional promotions to season-ticket holders at each university, and a new program that offered discounted tickets to students that could be purchased at each campus. Previously, students had to buy tickets at the normal rate through outlets available to the general public.

The men’s tournament had alternated sites between Indianapolis and Chicago beginning in 2002 before Indianapolis won the bid in 2008 to host it outright on an annual basis. Women’s games have been played in the city every year since the tournament started in 1995.

Traviolia at the Big Ten said the conference awarded Indianapolis the men’s tournament in an attempt to grow it at one location. Though the Big Ten remains pleased with the decision, “all options are open at this point,” he said.

The Sports Corp. has not been formally contacted yet by the Big Ten regarding the bid process, spokesman John Dedman said. But he doubted Indianapolis will do anything different than it has in the past to keep the tournaments in the city.

“The best way we can campaign to host these events in the future is to be a good partner and to show them what we’re capable of doing the next few weeks,” he said before the women’s tournament started.

What will be different with the overall bid process, though, is that interested cities also will be vying to host the Big Ten football championship. The inaugural game will be played at Lucas Oil Stadium Dec. 3.

The Big Ten will expand to 12 schools in the fall when the University of Nebraska becomes a member.
 

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