Fieldhouse promoters have high hopes for first tennis event

Pacers Sports & Entertainment is preparing to host its first tennis match inside the 12-year-old venue now known as Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Jan. 29.

PS&E and local tennis officials are hopeful the exhibition featuring well-known pros Pete Sampras and Todd Martin is a springboard to much bigger tennis events in downtown Indianapolis.

 “Ultimately we’d like to get a Davis Cup match,” said Rick Fuson, PS&E vice president and director of Bankers Life Fieldhouse. “We’ve talked about hosting a tennis match inside the fieldhouse for a long time, and we think the community is really going to embrace the event.”

The event, called “Match For a Cure,” was put together by PS&E, California-based Live Nation Entertainment Inc. and Michigan-based BP Sports and Entertainment. Although organizers wouldn’t discuss financial details, they said at least 25 percent of the proceeds will go to organizations dealing with cancer research and treatment, said BP Sports spokesman Todd Schimpf.

Part of the proceeds will go to the Miracle Match Foundation, which was founded by leukemia survivor and tennis professional Bill Przybysz.

The economic impact for the Jan. 29 event will be relatively modest compared to a mega-event like the Super Bowl. Sports business experts pegged it at $1 million to $3 million. But a Davis Cup match could carry an economic impact of more than $5 million.

“If you throw in TV and other media exposure, an event like that can have an easy eight-figure payoff for the host city,” said sports economist Andrew Zimbalist.

Przybysz started the Match For a Cure concept in 1999 by challenging John McEnroe to an exhibition challenge to raise money for cancer. Przybysz is expected to also take part in the on-court action at the Indianapolis event.

The event, which will feature several matches including Sampras and Martin playing singles as well as doubles with two local celebrities, is expected to draw 10,000 to 12,000 spectators, Schimpf said. Organizers hope people coming in town for the Feb. 5 Super Bowl at Lucas Oil Stadium will help grow attendance for the tennis match.

Club level tickets for the event are $27, lower-level tickets are $47 and $67, and courtside tickets—which include a meet-and-greet with the players—cost $150.

“We think a lot of people who live here as well as visitors that happen to be here will want to come downtown to watch some high-level tennis in a good venue,” Fuson said.

Tickets went on sale Dec. 27 and sales have been brisk, Schimpf said, adding that an advertising campaign including web, print and radio ads will be launched after Jan. 1.

“We think there’s going to be a real buzz around the city and we think that will feed into this event,” Schimpf said.

Fuson is confident the same attributes that make Bankers Life Fieldhouse one of the nation’s most highly rated basketball venues also will translate to tennis.
David Morton, an Indianapolis sports marketer who has a long history of involvement with the U.S. Tennis Association, agrees.

“The sight lines in the Fieldhouse will be fantastic,” said Morton, president of Sunrise Sports Group. “It’s so intimate in there, and people will be so close to the action, it’s going to be a great venue for tennis.”

If the event next month goes well, Morton thinks the Fieldhouse could lure a Davis Cup match in two to five years, and possibly a Federation Cup match, the women’s version of the Davis Cup, sooner than that.

“A lot of cities want to host a Fed Cup or Davis Cup match, so you have to work hard to get in the rotation,” Morton said. “But this city has a very deep history in tennis and a very broad commitment to the sport. And it’s very positive to have an organization like Pacers Sports & Entertainment that wants to be involved.”

Fuson said setting up a tennis court inside the Fieldhouse wouldn’t pose a major challenge for the PS&E staff.

“We’ve held a lot of events in that facility,” Fuson said. “We’ve moved swimming pools in and out of that facility, so I don’t think we’ll have any problem hosting this event and others we have planned for the week of the Super Bowl.”


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