A group of officials from Indianapolis who spent the weekend at the NBA All-Star Game returned from Toronto with an overwhelmingly positive impression of the event and its potential economic impact. But whether the city will bid on a future game is still up in the air.
Hosting the NBA All-Star Game weekend “would be a big undertaking involving many aspects of our community,” Pacers Sports & Entertainment President Rick Fuson said. “As I figured it would be, it’s a monumental deal. It’s a big-, big-time deal with a lot of sponsors and other events, parties and meetings on top of the game itself.”
Fuson and executives from the Indiana Sports Corp. and Visit Indy traveled to Toronto to scout the event for a potential Indianapolis bid. It’s the most serious local officials have been about going after the event since the city hosted it at the Hoosier Dome in 1985.
The sheer size of the event doesn’t scare Fuson.
“I absolutely believe we can host this event in our city,” Fuson said. “We have a great plan for these types of events.”
That doesn’t mean the city is ready to make a bid—yet. That decision, Fuson said, will come after further study.
“The economic impact really impressed me,” Fuson said of his weekend in Toronto. “It was beyond what I thought in terms of the attendees and all the sponsors and all the people from the league that were there. There was a tremendous amount of spending in terms of the parties, at the hotels and retail from a multitude of sources.”
Recent host cities have estimated the economic impact of the four-day weekend at $70 million to $100 million.
In addition to the headline event—which is usually held Sunday night—the all-star weekend includes an NBA D-League All-Star Game, a game featuring top NBA rookies and second-year players, a celebrity game, a three-point-shooting contest and a slam dunk contest. It also features a Fan Fest featuring games and other attractions for hoops fans of all ages.
The event is “exponentially bigger” than it was in 1985, Fuson said.
More than 1,000 media members were there to cover the event. Fuson said the publicity from hosting the NBA All-Star Game would be worth more to Indianapolis than the considerable dollars spent during the four-day weekend at local businesses.
“The media coverage of the event is unbelievable,” Fuson said. “You’ve got media there from every NBA city, every NBA D-League city and media outlets from every major city there covering the event.”
Local officials weren’t the only ones learning during NBA all-star weekend. Members of the Indianapolis contingent—who met on multiple occasions with NBA officials—said the league also gained insights about Indianapolis.
“Going into it, the NBA was questioning if the city had sufficient downtown hotel inventory, especially near Bankers Life Fieldhouse,” said Visit Indy CEO Leonard Hoops, who was part of the Toronto delegation. “I felt we helped NBA officials better understand our hotel package, and it was significantly better than they recalled.”
The recollection of many NBA officials could be traced back to what the city offered when Indianapolis hosted the 1994 NBA draft, Hoops said.
“They hadn’t realized how much Indianapolis has changed and grown. For the all-star game, the NBA wants 5,500 downtown hotel rooms, and we can definitely meet that,” Hoops said.
Indianapolis has more than 7,300 downtown hotel rooms.
Local delegation members have little doubt that Indianapolis “could host a world-class NBA All-Star Game weekend,” Hoops said.
Hoops and Fuson said the city will decide whether to move forward with a proposal after the league issues bid requirements later this summer.
One big question for city officials is whether they can clear enough room on the downtown calendar—that means having few or no overlapping conventions—to accommodate the festivities. In addition to blocking out four days for the event itself, hosting it would require reserving several days on the front end for setup and on the back end for tear down.
“Coming to a decision on bidding for this will come down to the city, Capital Improvement Board, Indiana Sports Corp., Pacers and Visit Indy sitting down and seeing if this is the best use of our resources,” Hoops said. “That will require further studies and discussions.”
The 2017 NBA All-Star Game will be in Charlotte, North Carolina, and though the location for the 2018 game has not yet been announced, it is believed that the league is close to picking a city. A handful of cities likely will bid for the 2019 and 2020 All-Star Game weekend.
The Indianapolis delegation hasn’t yet calculated a potential budget for the event, but Fuson said the city and NBA would each pay part of the cost. The event would require multiple venues and cost millions of dollars. Local and national sponsors would be counted on to cover some expenses.
In December, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver told IBJ that he endorses the idea of bringing the event to Indianapolis.
Unlike the Super Bowl, which is determined by the team owners, the NBA commissioner and his staff have a much bigger say in where the NBA All-Star Game is staged.
The idea of hosting the NBA All-Star Game in Indianapolis has “been received very well by me,” Silver said.
“What would make Indianapolis a great place for the NBA All-Star Game are the same things that made it a great place for the NCAA championships and a Super Bowl,” Silver said. “People think of Indianapolis as a world-class sports town.”