Indy's non-pursuit of NBA all-star game remains mystery

February 5, 2013
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The lease agreement the Indiana Pacers and Capital Improvement Board finalized in 1999 for the newly built Conseco Fieldhouse could not have been clearer.

Both sides badly wanted to land an NBA All-Star Game. It is right there in the lease between the Pacers and CIB that locals would go after this high-profile event.

So what happened?

After reading a column penned by IBJ Managing Editor Greg Andrews for this week’s print edition, the answer to that question is as mystifying and elusive as ever. And I’ve covered the business of sports here at IBJ for nearly 15 years.

The last serious effort to net the NBA All-Star Game was spearheaded by Don Welsh when he was president of the Indianapolis Convention and Visitors Association (now Visit Indy). In 2010, he led a recon mission to Dallas—that year’s host city—to see what it would take for Indianapolis to host the glitzy event.

Welsh’s effort, for unknown reasons, went cold quickly. Then Welsh departed for Chicago the following year and the effort has not been revived.

Fourteen years after the Pacers-CIB agreement for the Fieldhouse, the 1985 NBA All-Star Game, held at the newly built Hoosier Dome, remains the only all-star game the league has held in this city—a curious omission given Indianapolis’ propensity for landing big-time events.

Odder still, no one locally can give a good reason why Indianapolis hasn’t landed the game or isn’t going after it.

The NBA’s All-Star Weekend starts Friday and features a variety of events, including slam-dunk and three-point-shooting contests, leading up to Sunday’s game. A study commissioned by the Orlando Magic found that last year’s festivities in Orlando had an economic impact of $95 million, including $56 million in direct spending.

An estimated 37,000 visitors from outside the county spent an average of $1,020 during their visits, and NBA players alone dropped $440,000, according to the study.

Those are big numbers. And big numbers need to be put in perspective. Direct visitor spending for the 2012 Super Bowl in Indianapolis was $175 million, according to a study commissioned by the local host committee. A Final Four delivers $40 million in direct visitor spending to Indianapolis, according to Visit Indy.

Did you catch that? An NBA All-Star Game could deliver $16 million more in direct visitor spending than a Final Four.

Visit Indy and CIB officials seem to be at a loss for why this event hasn’t been pursued more aggressively. Pacers President Jim Morris said the Pacers would love to host it, but Bankers Life Fieldhouse’s schedule is simply packed.

Really? Too crowded for an event with this type of economic impact?

Apparently, it’s not just the Fieldhouse schedule that’s crowded.

“Sometimes, even when we might be available, hotel rooms might not be available” because of sporting events or conventions held elsewhere downtown," said Rick Fuson, the Pacers chief operating officer.

I’m guessing that’s a problem Welsh’s replacement at Visit Indy, Leonard Hoops, would like to wrestle with. February isn’t one of Indianapolis’ busiest convention months.

Despite competition from other cities, if Indianapolis throws its hat in the ring, it surely will be able to work its way into the hosting schedule, said David Morton, president of locally based Sunrise Sports Group. He sees Lucas Oil Stadium, which proved its mettle as a basketball venue when it staged the 2010 NCAA men’s Final Four, as the ideal location.

The NBA has gone both big and small with past venues. The 2010 game was in Cowboys Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys, while this year’s game is at Toyota Center, home of the Houston Rockets.

There’s one consideration Pacers officials aren’t likely to address publicly. In recent years, some NBA all-star games have been marred by violence and other mayhem. So the security costs would be considerable.

But this seems surmountable for a city that has become known as one of the most creative nationwide for hosting sporting events.

Fuson—who as a new Pacers employee helped ready the Hoosier Dome for the 1985 game—fondly recalls that event. He said larger isn’t necessarily better. He called Bankers Life Fieldhouse the best basketball venue in the country. And he said its appeal has only grown with the installation this season of a massive high-definition scoreboard.

“Our new scoreboard makes a significant difference about the NBA wanting to be there, too,” Fuson said.

So again, I ask, what are we waiting on?

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  • You'd be surprised
    Can't say definitively that hotel room availability is the roadblock, but February has actually been one of the busier convention months in recent years here in Indy - not even counting the SB year.
    • ?
      I am very skeptical that an NBA allstar game would bring in more money to our city than a Final Four. VERY. It doesn't make sense. It ain't what it used to be, in terms of popularity.
      • smells bad
        BLF schedule is packed? Really? So did I miss something in all the reporting about how the CIB needed to give $10m to support BLF? I thought then the article said Pacer games, the circus and a few concerts just weren't enough to sustain BLF? Is there a place where these financial statements are available?
      • but why not have both
        Johnnyb: I wont argue your point. maybe Final Four is better, but why not have both? they would not conflict.
      • NBA Allstar game music world
        The game cannot come to Indy no more because the city of Indianapolis and state is on the blacklist in theusic game. The power structure does not want no shone on the Indianapolis local music scene.

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      1. So much for Eric Holder's conversation about race. If white people have got something to say, they get sued over it. Bottom line: white people have un-freer speech than others as a consequence of the misnamed "Civil rights laws."

      2. I agree, having seen three shows, that I was less than wowed. Disappointing!!

      3. Start drilling, start fracking, and start using our own energy. Other states have enriched their citizens and nearly elminated unemployment by using these resources that are on private land. If you are against the 'low prices' of discount stores, the best way to allow shoppers more choice is to empower them with better earnings. NOT through manipulated gov mandated min wage hikes, but better jobs and higher competitive pay. This would be direct result of using our own energy resources, yet Obama knows that Americans who arent dependent of gov welfare are much less likely to vote Dem, so he looks for ways to ensure America's decline and keep its citizens dependent of gov.

      4. Say It Loud, I'm Black and Ashamed: It's too bad that with certain "black" entertainment events, it seems violence and thuggery follows and the collateral damage that it leaves behinds continues to be a strain on the city in terms of people getting hurt, killed or becoming victims of crimes and/or stretching city resources. I remember shopping in the Meadows area years ago until violence and crime ended make most of the business pack you and leave as did with Lafayette Square and Washington Square. Over the past 10 to 12 years, I remember going to the Indiana Black Expo Soul Picnic in Washington Park. Violence, gang fights and homicides ended that. My great grandmother still bears the scares on her leg from when she was trampled by a group of thugs running from gun fire from a rival gang. With hundreds of police offices downtown still multiple shootings, people getting shot downtown during Black Expo. A number of people getting shots or murdered at black clubs around the city like Club Six on the west side, The Industry downtown, Jamal Tinsley's shot out in front of the Conrad, multiple fights and shootings at the skating rinks, shootings at Circle Center Mall and shooting and robberies and car jackings at Lafayette Mall. Shootings and gang violence and the State Fair. I can go on and on and on. Now Broad Ripple. (Shaking head side to side) Say It Loud, I'm Black and I'm Ashamed.

      5. Ballard Administration. Too funny. This is the least fiscally responsive administration I have ever seen. One thing this article failed to mention, is that the Hoosier State line delivers rail cars to the Amtrak Beech Grove maintenance facility for refurbishment. That's an economic development issue. And the jobs there are high-paying. That alone is worth the City's investment.

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