It’s never been tougher to win the rights to host big-time sporting events—a reality Indianapolis knows all too well.
In 2004, with plans for what’s now known as Lucas Oil Stadium taking shape, the NCAA agreed to stage the NCAA men’s and women’s Final Fours here every five years. That commitment evolved into more of a good-faith effort, however, and there will be a six-year gap between the 2015 men’s Final Four in Indianapolis and 2021, when the city next hosts.
The city still has a sweet deal, of course, but the altered timetable reflects the reality that cities from coast to coast fight more fiercely than ever for the right to host Final Fours—and the economic windfall that goes with them.
Similarly, for the first 19 years of the Big Ten men’s basketball tournament, Indianapolis and Chicago alternated as hosts. But after the 2016 tournament here, Indianapolis won’t host again until 2020 and 2022.
We offer this history lesson to make this larger point: Indianapolis and the Indiana Pacers should hold nothing back in their quest to land the next sports economic-development prize on the horizon: hosting the 2021 NBA All-Star Game.
We wouldn’t have thought it was a point that needed to be made, given Indianapolis’ long history of fighting to host marquee sporting events and staging them with aplomb. Its list of successes, after all, ranges from the 2012 Super Bowl to the 1985 NBA All-Star Game, played at the then-brand-new Hoosier Dome.
Indianapolis would seem to have more than a fighting chance, given that NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has repeatedly said he is keen on Indianapolis’ hosting.
“We’d love to come back here,” he told IBJ in December 2015.
But oddly, when it comes to taking another run at the NBA All-Star Game, the city’s effort often has seemed meandering.
In the original lease for Conseco Fieldhouse, signed in the late 1990s, the team and city officials committed to use their best efforts to attract an NBA All-Star Game.
Then the years passed with no visible progress. In a 2014 IBJ interview, team owner Herb Simon said: “For some reason, I never really asked for it again, and no one from the city said to me we should get it again. … If that is a priority, I’ll be on the phone and put my name on the list.”
Fortunately, Indiana Pacers President Rick Fuson now seems fully engaged. “It’s time to bring the NBA world back to Indianapolis,” he said last month. Meanwhile, state lawmakers are advancing legislation that would give the NBA certain tax breaks if it stages the game here.
The cost of those breaks would be small compared with the payoff to the host city: visitor spending estimated at more than $60 million and an economic impact of $100 million.
It’s time for the Pacers and Indianapolis’ leadership to seize the opportunity. It’s a chance to both showcase the city on an international stage and pump up our hospitality economy during the winter doldrums.•
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