Tourism officials expect another big impact from Big Ten Football Championship Game

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Local sports and tourism officials this week said they have ramped up advertising as they eye an increase in tourism revenue stemming from this weekend’s Big Ten Football Championship Game.

Tourism bureau Visit Indy said it spent about $60,000 on advertising for fans in Columbus, Ohio, and Chicago over the past two weeks, with the city and business owners seeking to capitalize on an event expected to have an $18.1 million economic impact on Indianapolis.

The digital advertising barrage comes as fans from Northwestern and Ohio State universities are expected to flock to Indianapolis over the next few days to take part in activities related to the game, scheduled for Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium.

While the game had not officially been declared a sellout, no tickets were remaining on Ticketmaster as of Thursday afternoon

A few intriguing factors could bode well for Indianapolis from a tourism aspect, said Chris Gahl, senior vice president of marketing and communications for Visit Indy.

Among them, Ohio State (11-1, 8-1 Big Ten) has a lot on the line. A victory could position the team for a spot in the College Football Playoff, while a loss would mean a lower-profile bowl game. Ohio State has played in the game three times (2013, 2014 and 2017) since its inception in 2011, winning the latter two.

Northwestern (8-4, 8-1), based in the affluent north-Chicago suburb of Evanston, is making its first appearance in the title game—and has generated a tremendous amount of buzz in the sports world as a result. A win would likely catapult the team into the Rose Bowl.

“Based on their proximity to Indianapolis and the hype around this game and these teams, we think that could help bump and surge economic impact and total visitation for the weekend,” Gahl said. “Each and every year we’ve seen steady growth … and in this case, we feel very strong we’ll see another increase in total economic impact.”

Throughout 2018, Visit Indy has spent about $1 million on tourism advertising to people in 10 major markets within a 400-mile radius of Indianapolis. In the past six weeks, Gahl said, about $230,000 has been spent on those markets for the bureau’s holiday blitz.

About $60,000 of the holiday budget was targeted toward Ohio State and Northwestern fans and alumni through a variety of social media platforms and “behavioral marketing” strategies, he said. Advertising in Columbus started after Saturday's decisive win over the University of Michigan, while ads in the Chicago area started two weeks ago.

"You have two fan bases that are generally familiar with Indianapolis for differing reasons, and that's a great thing," Gahl said. "On one hand, you have Columbus fans who have been here for this game in the past and have a good idea of where to go. On the other, you have fans from the Chicago area who may make their way down here a few times per year for leisure and have a good sense of the city from that. It's a great thing for us as a city."

Gahl said the game has been a sellout or near sellout ever since Lucas Oil Stadium began hosted it seven years ago. Indianapolis will host the game at least through 2021.

“People know when they come to Indianapolis for this game and other sporting events, they’re going to have a good time,” he said. “Everybody around here seems to do everything they can to make fans feel welcome and give them a great experience.”

Brett Kramer, public relations manager for the Indiana Sports Corp., said ticket sales for the game and the associated Big Ten Fan Fest, held at the Indiana Convention Center on Friday and Saturday, have gone well. She said each school sold out of their initial allotment of tickets—more than 10,000 per school—within a few days of earning a berth in the game

“We’re right on par with how things have been in the past, if not better,” she said. “There’s a lot of excitement surrounding the game and the numbers reflect that.”

Kramer noted about 3,400 students from Northwestern will attend the game, coming down for the day on 58 buses in a caravan. The trip was paid for by an anonymous donor to the program, according to the school.

While the students will not be spending the night in Indianapolis, they are likely to join tens of thousands of other fans at local bars and restaurants and shops in the hours before the game begins.

Several downtown bars and restaurants have agreed with Indiana Sports Corp. and other organizations to serve as meeting points for college football fans throughout the weekend. Kramer described them as general meeting spots, rather than specific to one team.

The list includes Buffalo Wild Wings,  Burger Study, Champps, Giordano’s, Harry & Izzy’s, High Velocity, Ike & Jonesy’s, Kilroy’s Bar and Grill, Morton’s The Steakhouse, O’Reilly’s Irish Bar & Restaurant, Prime 47, Ram Restaurant & Brewery, Shapiro’s Delicatessen, Slippery Noodle and Yolk.

Both Gahl and Kramer said they expect to see activity at hundreds of restaurants and hotels across Indianapolis throughout the weekend.

"It's one of our favorite events," Kramer said. "It's going to have a massive impact on our area, and it's always a great time for local and out-of-town fans who come in for the game."

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