Benner/Sports and Opinion

BENNER: 965 days and counting until Super Bowl Sunday 2012

June 15, 2009

"I'm biased," Hizzoner said recently, "but I think Indianapolis winning the Super Bowl bid in 2012 was nothing short of spectacular."

That makes two of us, Mayor Ballard. Both in bias and thought.

It was indeed a spectacular victory for our city on that May day in 2008, capstone of a 30-year effort to use sports as the catalyst for redefining Indianapolis in the eyes of the nation and world. Without question, there have been other triumphs along the way, such as the Pan Am Games, numerous national and international championships, the relocation of the NCAA headquarters, and a secure spot in the rotation for men's and women's Finals Fours.

But the Super Bowl is the big enchilada, even if we do like to trumpet the Indianapolis 500 as the world's largest single-day sporting event, which, of course, it is.

Still, the numbers the Super Bowl attracts are staggering, and Frank Supovitz, the National Football League's senior vice president for events, was more than happy to share them with a local gathering of business and community leaders June 9 at a luncheon in Union Station's Grand Hall.

Even with all the exposure Indianapolis has generated for itself through sports--CBS sportscaster Jim Nantz often remarks that he's done more telecasts from Indy than any other city in the country--the Super Bowl is off the charts.

In an era of declining television ratings across the board, the Super Bowl audience actually has grown: 144.4 million viewers in 2007, 148.3 million viewers in 2008, and 151.6 million viewers this past February. The top 10 ratings producers of the last 10 years all have been Super Bowls.

Worldwide, the game goes to 230 countries, is translated into 34 languages, and draws an audience of 1 billion.

Locally, Supovitz estimates the game could attract as many as 150,000 visitors to the city--more than double the seating capacity of Lucas Oil Stadium--and fill 140,000 hotel room nights. Among those visitors will be nearly 5,000 journalists from 630 media outlets, including 30 international broadcast crews.

Supovitz said the NFL doesn't do economic impact studies but host cities do, and their estimates have been in the range of $300 million to $500 million.

Based on the $25 million in private donations that has been pledged to the Indianapolis host committee, that would figure to be a significant return on investment.

That said, Supovitz did caution those representing the hospitality arena to not count on covering their yearly budgets in one weekend and, "Don't assume fans and sponsors aren't price-sensitive."

In other words, be nice, don't gouge.

There also will be 10 signature events, such as the NFL Experience and the Commissioner's Party; another seven NFL-sanctioned activities; and about 50 unofficial gatherings of varying size and shape.

Will we be up to it? Short of the one thing we can't control--the weather--I have absolutely no doubt.

For starters, the CEO of the Indianapolis effort is Allison Melangton. In the event-management business, there are none better. Her first major hire on a staff that will be built out to 15 was Tony Mason, former executive director of the Circle City Classic. Mason is as cool and competent as they come.

Volunteers will number about 1,000, spread out over seven divisions and 66 committees. Many will arrive with big-event experience gained over the years, but Mark Miles, the non-paid leader of the Indy effort, is hoping to find the "next generation" of volunteers.Best of all will be the leave-behind after the big game leaves town: the building of the practice facility on or near the Tech High School campus that will convert to a community center; the restoration of 300 homes east of downtown; the planting of, yes, 2,012 trees in those neighborhoods, and the hoped-for revitalization of the East 10th Street corridor.

"There's so much need, but there's also so much opportunity," Miles said.

Supovitz offered a compliment when he said he was "in awe of the planning that's already happened here." He also pointed out several times Indy's experience in hosting big events. There's a clear expectation that we'll knock this one out of the park.

The countdown clock in Melangton's Pan Am Plaza office will number 965 days to go as of June 15. Soon, the hard work--the really hard work--begins.

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Benner is director of communications for the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly. Listen to his column via podcast at www.ibj.com. He can be reached at bbenner@ibj.com. Benner also has a blog, www.indyinsights.com.

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