Big Ten tournament attendance, economic impact up

Indianapolis may have gotten a boost in its bid to retain the Big Ten Conference’s men’s basketball tournament, with attendance for the event that concluded Sunday reaching its highest level since 2006.

Indianapolis has a five-year contract to host the tournament through 2012, but other potential hosts, including Chicago, are likely to bid on the event for 2013 and beyond.

This year, the four-day tournament drew 86,767 to Conseco Fieldhouse, surpassing last year’s total of 81,625. This year marks the second straight year of increased attendance. Last year’s crowd was up nearly 20 percent over 2009.

Perhaps most impressive about this year’s bounce, according to Indiana Sports Corp. officials, is that the attendance increase happened despite the elimination of state schools Indiana University and Purdue University in their opening games.

“That’s the first time that’s happened in a while,” said Indiana Sports Corp. spokesman John Dedman. “Obviously, the economy is rebounding a bit, and that has helped. Also, we’ve added some events, things like the career expo and 5-K run, and that’s helped create a nice weekend for people to come to Indianapolis.”

Friday night’s quarterfinal session featuring Purdue was a standing-room-only sellout of 18,381 and Saturday’s semifinals session also was a standing-room-only sellout of 18,377. Conseco Fieldhouse typically seats 18,165.

Sunday’s final pitting nationally top-ranked Ohio State against Penn State drew 15,770, the largest crowd to watch a Big Ten final since 2007.

Downtown hotels and restaurants also enjoyed a strong four days, according to Indiana Sports Corp. and Indianapolis Convention and Visitors Association officials.

“There was a lot of buzz downtown,” Dedman said. “Thursday and Friday were [near] sellouts in terms of hotel rooms downtown, and on Saturday, everything was completely sold out downtown.”

With the addition of the 1,005-room JW Marriott, which opened in February, there are 7,100 hotel rooms downtown.

"The fact that our hotel rooms were a virtual sellout for three consecutive nights, especially given the addition of the rooms with the JW Marriott, is a very strong sign," said ICVA spokesman Chris Gahl.

Thursday night hotel and restaurant business also got a boost from the Work Truck Show held March 7-10 in the Indiana Convention Center, Gahl said. The convention drew a record 10,020 attendees this year.

The ICVA estimates that visitors to the men's Big Ten tournament spend $8 million during the four-day span in Indianapolis. The women’s Big Ten tournament—also held in Indianapolis—adds another $2 million in visitor spending to the city, according to the ICVA.

The Big Ten launched its men’s basketball tournament in 1998 in Chicago, where it was held through 2001. In 2002, it moved to Indianapolis. Chicago and Indianapolis held the tournament on alternate years through 2007 until conference officials signed the five-year deal with Indianapolis.

Chicago is expected to be a strong competitor to win back the Big Ten tournament when bidding is opened.

The Windy City may have one advantage: While the tournament attendance has reached as high as 94,402 in Indianapolis (in 2002), the all-time record came in 2005 in Chicago, when 109,250 fans poured into the United Center.

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