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Sports Business

Super Bowl guru now looking to score Olympic gold for Indy

January 9, 2013
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The Indiana Sports Corp. is making a bold bid to host the 2016 U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials inside the cavernous Lucas Oil Stadium.

Sports Corp. officials submitted their bid to USA Swimming on Dec. 21 and should find out in May if they are granted the event. Other top contenders for the trials are Jacksonville, Fla.; Louisville, Ky.; Omaha, Neb.; San Antonio, Texas; and St. Louis, say sources within the sport.

If Indianapolis wins the bid, it will mark the first time the event is held in an NFL stadium, making it potentially the biggest, most lucrative Olympic Swimming Trials ever.

Indianapolis is no stranger to hosting the trials. The 4,200-seat IUPUI Natatorium hosted the event in 1984, ’92, ’96 and 2000. But a recent USA Swimming ruling that the swimming trials venue must seat at least 14,000 took the Natatorium out of Olympic competition.

Bankers Life Fieldhouse, which hosted the 2004 Short Course World Swimming Championships, doesn’t have floor space for two Olympic-sized swimming pools and 100,000 square feet for an interactive fan attraction required by USA Swimming.

Allison Melangton, ISC’s new president, was undaunted. She promises that Lucas Oil Stadium has the floor space, site lines and flexibility to be one of the best Olympic Swimming Trials venues ever. She has no fear the event will drown in the 63,000-seat stadium.

USA Swimming board member and former ISC President Dale Neuburger said, “It’s an ambitious effort. But they have the people within [ISC] to pull it off.”

Sports Corp. officials are confident they can top attendance of the 2012 Olympic Trials in Omaha, which hit 164,585 for the eight-day meet. The per-session average was 10,972, with three of 15 sessions selling out.

Ticket sales revenue will be key in covering the projected 2016 event budget of $5 million

Ambitious and aggressive are good words to describe the ISC under the leadership of Melangton, who took over in September for Susan Williams, who retired.

After hosting no Olympic Trials in 2012—partly because the city hosted the Super Bowl—Melangton has her sites firmly focused on 2016.

Despite hosting the NFL’s big game last year, some sports fans and business owners were disgruntled at the city’s inability to land at least one 2012 Olympic trials event.

Re-emerging as an Olympic host powerhouse is one of Melangton’s primary objectives for 2013, when 2016 bids are due.

In addition to the swimming trials, ISC officials also are considering bids for gymnastics, track and field, diving and wrestling. Melangton concedes that Indianapolis probably couldn’t host two of the three biggest trials (swimming, gymnastics and track and field) in the same year.

But one way or another she’s bent on a big score.

“Olympic trials are where we cut our teeth,” said Melangton, who was CEO of the 2012 Super Bowl Host Committee. “It’s part of our mission and our community has an affinity for Olympic trials.”

The economic prize of winning one of the major Olympic trials is considerable. The economic impact for any of the three major trials would be $20 million to $35 million, and $8 million to $12 million for a wrestling or diving qualifier.

In addition to direct visitor spending, the swimming, gymnastics, and track and field events would draw a sizable television audience. In 2012, NBC broadcast eight nights live of the swimming trials in Omaha. Visit Indy officials estimate the value of that exposure at near $10 million for the host city.

Melangton’s efforts don’t stop with trying to win Olympic trials. The 51-year-old is also working on a four-year strategic plan she will present to the ISC board in March.

One of her biggest immediate challenges—outside the Olympic bids—is identifying ISC’s competition for events and how the competitive landscape has changed in the last five years, Melangton said.

Melangton has launched a study of all the U.S. sports commissions. It’s the first such study for the ISC. The study is part of an effort “to stay ahead of the pack,” Melangton said, adding that she and her staff spent eight hours at a recent retreat discussing that topic.

“Sports is big business, and there are a lot of organizations out there trying to capitalize on that,” Melangton said. “There are 500 sports commissions and corporations nationwide. We need to understand where we are in the market. We need to know if we’re still the leading sports commission in the nation, and what does that mean?”

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