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Gen Con organizers seek shorter-term extension with city

November 11, 2016

Visit Indy will have to stay on its toes to keep one of its most prized possessions far into the future.

The city’s tourism marketing arm has agreed to submit a one-year contract extension offer to organizers of the massive gaming convention, Gen Con, to keep the event in Indianapolis beyond 2020, Visit Indy CEO Leonard Hoops told the city’s Capital Improvement Board at its monthly meeting Friday morning.

The massive event—which has taken place in Indianapolis since 2003—has previously signed multiyear deals with the city.

This year, Gen Con drew about 61,000 to the city. It's one of the city’s biggest conventions, with an estimated economic impact of $70 million. Restaurant and hotel operators rave that Gen Con attendees are liberal spenders and well-behaved guests.

Hoops hopes to hear if the one-year deal for 2021—which was submitted to Gen Con this week—is accepted by year’s end.

Visit Indy currently has a deal to host the massive event for the next four years. Early this year, Gen Con requested bids for a five-year deal for the years 2021 through 2025.

Within the last month, however, Hoops said Visit Indy and Gen Con began discussing a one-year extension. Hoops told IBJ after Friday’s meeting that he isn’t sure if other cities are submitting competing one-year bids to host Gen Con.

Gen Con officials could not be reached for comment Friday morning.

Hoops said the city will work to retain the event beyond 2020 with or without a long-term extension.

“If the option is to consider a one-year deal or see it go someplace else for five years, we’ll take one year,” he said.

While the short-term deal Gen Con is asking for doesn’t offer the city as much security as its current agreement, it’s not a totally unusual request.

Visit Indy does one-year deals with some of its biggest clients, including the Do it Best Corp. show and the Fire Department Instructors Conference. Those one-year deals are also negotiated several years before the show.

There’s a lot at stake for Hoops, his staff and the city’s hospitality industry, which relies heavily on events such as Gen Con.

Hoops said Visit Indy could potentially sign a one-year extension with Gen Con every year following its late summer show, if that's the way organizers prefer it.

“With a group as big as Gen Con, you need considerable lead time to make sure you have the facility space and hotel inventory available,” Hoops said.

Hospitality experts say a short-term deal gives Gen Con more power and flexibility to make demands—of hoteliers as well as the Convention Center operators—on an annual basis.

Visit Indy does not disclose financial terms of its deals, Hoops said, for competitive reasons.

“One factor is they want to assure that Indianapolis can continue to offer sufficient space to grow the event,” Hoops said.

It’s no secret that Chicago and other cities with more space have been after Gen Con.

Gen Con this year moved part of the event into Lucas Oil Stadium for the first time and event officials said they were pleased with the outcome. Hoops said they still have room to grow there. But some Gen Con attendees did express concern about the distance between exhibits in the Indiana Convention Center and Lucas Oil Stadium.

Gen Con officials said they will work to make better use of the indoor walkway between the two venues by adding more attractions.

“We were very happy with the attendee experience in Lucas Oil Stadium,” Jake Theis, Gen Con LLC senior marketing manager, told IBJ after this year’s event in August. “In retrospect, adding an arcade experience through the pedestrian connector and anime and open gaming in Lucas Oil’s hall spaces created a great artery for connecting the convention experience to the stadium experience.”

Debbie Locklear, president of Meeting Services Unlimited, said Gen Con must have some "compelling reasons" for considering a short-term extension.

“One reason an organization wants a shorter term deal is because they want to evaluate their own changing demographics and see if it would be better to have the show in a different part of the country,” Locklear said.

Overall, Hoops said, Gen Con officials are “very happy” with the show here.

“But we can’t take that for granted,” Hoops said. “That was my point to the CIB today.”

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