Events facing higher costs at Lucas Oil Stadium: Venue managers also bracing for additional expenses

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Local big-draw events are itchy to make their first-ever runs in the $675 million Lucas Oil Stadium, in hopes the roomier venue will let them draw more attendees who want to kick the tires and enjoy the new stadium smell.

But there’s a trade-off-a bigger price tag to cover security guards, ushers and cleanup. And at least one event is weighing higher ticket prices as a result.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt [Lucas Oil Stadium] will cost more based on the sheer number of people needed to [staff] the facility,” said Blake Ress, commissioner of the Indiana High School Athletics Association.

The IHSAA is slated to hold its state football championships in the stadium Nov. 28 and 29. It spent $275,000 on the two-day event last year, with a little more than half the budget paying for rent and fees at the soon-to-be-demolished RCA Dome. It expects stadium costs to increase 25 percent to 33 percent this year.

“We’re going to need to raise our ticket prices some” from the current $10 to offset the increase, Ress said, though board members are still debating the size of the hike. The association also is considering whether to start recruiting corporate sponsors for championships, a move it hasn’t embraced in the past.

Likewise, the Circle City Classic, a fall football game that raises money for Indiana Black Expo scholarships, is facing nearly $40,000 in estimated increased stadium costs.

The difference is a fraction of last year’s $1.8 million budget, but it still could be significant given the tight economy that has made corporate donors cautious-and fund raising more difficult.

Classic Executive Director Tony Mason is excited about this year’s matchup between Alabama A&M University and Tuskegee University and thinks the game could draw 7,000 more fans than the 43,000 who showed up last year. But concern over the higher costs made officials drop talk of hosting a doubleheader.

“This year’s experience will allow us to understand how to use the new venue” for future growth, Mason said.

Indiana Black Expo gets an annual $150,000 grant from the county’s Capital Improvement Board to help support its events. Leaders asked the board for an extra $50,000 this year, but the request was declined.

CIB, which owns and operates the city’s public sports facilities and the Indiana Convention Center, is flat-lining all grants this year and will review the amounts for next year’s budget. Its expenses also are expected to rise when the new stadium opens this fall.

Board President Bob Grand invited grant recipients-including Indiana Sports Corp., Indiana Black Expo, Arts Council of Indianapolis and the Indianapolis Cultural Development Commission-to make presentations explaining how the grants fit the board’s mission of filling the stadium, convention center and Conseco Fieldhouse.

He’s said everything in the board’s $74 million annual operating budget will be under tight review since it will need to come up with extra money to keep the lights on and the heat and air-conditioning running at the larger venue.

“With taking over and operating Lucas Oil Stadium, we need to be looking at these dollars and what drives revenues to our venues,” Grand said.

Just how much more it will cost the board to run the stadium compared with the RCA Dome remains to be seen. In 2007, board leaders estimated operating costs would increase $10 million a year. But CIB Executive Director Barney Levengood said staff won’t really know that number until the new stadium’s been operational a while.

“As we get in the building, we’ll get more information,” he said.

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