All-Star Weekend organizers promise fan-friendly vibes

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Most of the 125,000-plus fans who are expected downtown for the NBA All-Star Weekend Feb. 15-18 won’t be at the big game. But local residents and others without game tickets will still have plenty of opportunities to get in on the action.

From lead-up events with affordable ticket prices to expanded volunteer opportunities to programs that bring local businesses into the mix, members of the local All-Star host committee have taken pains to include as many people as possible in Indianapolis’ All-Star activities.

Chris Gahl

It’s a “deliberate approach by Pacers Sports & Entertainment and our community to ensure … that there are entry points for visitors who might not be clutching a game ticket and residents who want to come downtown to be part of the action,” said host committee member Chris Gahl, who is also the chief marketing officer at Visit Indy.

That inclusivity is important, organizers say, because the weekend’s main event—the Feb. 18 All-Star Game at Gainbridge Fieldhouse—is an exclusive affair.

The game typically draws lots of celebrities and corporate bigwigs. According to USA Today, celebrity chef Guy Fieri, filmmaker Spike Lee, singer and actress Janelle Monae, rapper Fat Joe, retired NBA great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and a host of other athletes from various sports were in the audience at the 2023 All-Star Game in Salt Lake City.

Tickets for the game have sold out, and those available for resale are priced way out of range for the average fan. As of Tuesday, the cheapest tickets on the secondary market via Ticketmaster cost $1,994; most were priced between $2,300 and $8,700.

The host committee hasn’t publicly released details for many of the weekend’s accessible fan activities, but organizers promise a festive atmosphere.

Danny Lopez

“We say downtown’s the home court and the fan is the all-star,” said Danny Lopez, the vice president of external relations and corporate communications for Pacers Sports & Entertainment and a member of the All-Star organizing committee.

Lopez said downtown will be decked out with special lighting, interactive art installations and pop-up events, creating All-Star energy throughout the Mile Square.

“What we’re telling folks is, even if you don’t have a ticket or you’re not a sports fan and you’re not really interested in coming to the All-Star Game, get yourself downtown because you’re going to know you’re in All-Star [land]. It’s going to be, essentially, four days of a party,” Lopez said.

The local events are being funded by the Indy Championships Fund, which was created in 2017 to raise $25 million for three major sporting events: the 2021 NCAA Tournament; the College Football Playoffs Championship, which was in Indianapolis in January 2022; and the NBA All-Star Game.

(Indianapolis was to have hosted the All-Star Game in 2021. Because of COVID-19, the game was moved to Atlanta and played in a mostly empty stadium. Indianapolis had its turn as host rescheduled for this year.)

Here’s a look at the ways organizers hope to draw in fans, volunteers and local businesses for All-Star Weekend.

Local organizers asked Hoosiers to write “love letters to basketball” as a way of celebrating Indiana’s connection to the game. The postcards will be distributed to All-Star Weekend visitors. (Photo courtesy of Pacers Sports & Entertainment)

Affordability

Ticketing and venue selection for the weekend’s ancillary events were part of the host committee’s strategy.

The All-Star celebrity game on Feb. 16, which features musicians, actors and pro athletes from various sports, and All-Star Saturday Night on Feb. 17, which includes a skills challenge and slam-dunk and 3-point contest, will both take place at Lucas Oil Stadium rather than Gainbridge Fieldhouse.

The football stadium will be configured with 35,000 seats for each of those events, making it possible for organizers to sell double the number of tickets than would have been available at Gainbridge—and at more affordable prices, Lopez said.

“To be able to move [All-Star Saturday Night] to a separate venue the size of Lucas Oil is not easy,” he said. “But it’s important for everybody because it allows us to bring more folks that otherwise would never be able to catch in person an event like that.”

In July, organizers put 10,500 All-Star Saturday Night tickets on sale at prices ranging from $24 to $79, and Indiana residents got the first chance to buy those tickets. They sold out in 20 minutes, Lopez said. The host committee also purchased 2,400 tickets that it is distributing for free to community organizations around the state.

Another fan-friendly component will be NBA Crossover, Feb. 16-18 at the Indiana Convention Center. It includes NBA player appearances, interactive experiences and more. NBA Crossover has also been part of previous years’ All-Star weekends.

Tickets are $35 for adults and $20 for kids for one-day admission. Three-day access, which includes admission to concerts featuring yet-to-be-named performers, costs $300.

Corey Wilson

The Crossover activities on Feb. 17 will include youth-focused activities, said host committee member Corey Wilson, who also serves as vice president of community engagement for Pacers Sports & Entertainment. “We have over 1,000 young people from schools across the state that will come to the convention center to learn about basketball in clinics.”

In another show of accessibility, both the IndyGo bus system and the Indianapolis Cultural Trail’s Pacers Bike Share will offer fare-free service Feb. 15-18.

Bringing in businesses

A program called NBA Rewards is helping local businesses take advantage of the influx of visitors.

Any Indiana business with a physical location can sign up to be part of the program. Fans who have downloaded the NBA Events app on their phones can visit participating businesses to earn points they can redeem for prizes.

NBA Rewards debuted at All-Star Weekend a few years ago, Lopez said, but this year’s program is the largest yet.

As of late December, Lopez said, the program had already enrolled close to 300 businesses, about 75% of which are woman-, veteran- or minority-led. In comparison, Lopez said, the 2023 program included about 200 Utah businesses.

All-Star Weekend also includes a pitch contest specifically aimed at diverse-led Hoosier startups—those led by women and/or someone who is Black, indigenous or a person of color. The event, called the All-Star Pitch Competition, is presented by the NBA, the NBA Foundation, Pacers Sports & Entertainment and Indianapolis-based Elevate Ventures, Sixty8 Capital and the Be Nimble Foundation.

On Feb. 17 at the Indiana Convention Center, six selected Indiana-based startups will get a chance to pitch their companies, with winners receiving a total of $150,000 in cash grants.

The All-Star Pitch Contest debuted during last year’s All-Star Weekend in Salt Lake City, although that one was a nationwide contest for Black-led startups.

Volunteer opportunities

Indianapolis organizers have also amped up the volunteer opportunities typically associated with All-Star Weekend.

The NBA’s community service initiative, NBA Cares, is usually represented during All-Star Weekend in the form of a community service project that takes a couple of hours to complete.

This year, the All-Star Day of Service will be a 24-hour meal-packing marathon held in conjunction with the Indianapolis-based not-for-profit Million Meal Movement. From 4 p.m. Feb. 15 to 4 p.m. Feb. 16, an estimated 6,000 volunteers will converge on Lucas Oil Stadium to pack 1 million meals for distribution to food pantries around Indiana.

Organizers have also solicited thousands of Hoosiers to write love letters to basketball, which take the form of postcards in which the writers talk about what basketball means to them. The goal is to collect about 8,000 postcards—enough to place one in every downtown hotel room for All-Star visitors.

“This is a personalized welcome,” Wilson said. “If you think of any kind of traveling you’ve done, you know, you get to your hotel room and you just want to kind of decompress. Sometimes it’s a nice touch to get a hand-written note, which we don’t do much of as a society anymore.”

As of last week, he said, about half of the expected 8,000 postcards and half of the 6,000 meal-packing volunteers had been secured.

Wilson said he’s confident the rest will be well in hand by mid-February. “Not only do we love basketball,” he said, “we are so civically minded that approaches like love letters or packing a million meals is not a hard lift.”

Another community-volunteer activity is a holdover from the All-Star Game’s original date in 2021. Organizers had hosted a Nothing But Knit campaign in which fans were asked to create hats in Pacers blue and yellow. When the game was rescheduled to 2024, the hats were kept in storage. Those 7,000-plus hats will be distributed in coming weeks to All-Star 2024 volunteers, hospitality employees, host committee members, All-Star players, coaches and other NBA guests, Lopez said.

Another example of the Hoosier approach, Wilson said, can be seen in the 2024 All-Star legacy project at Christamore House, a community organization at West Michigan and Tremont streets that serves near-west-side residents.

The NBA contributed $100,000 for the project, Wilson said, but the host committee contributed $50,000, and Herb Simon contributed $100,000. That $250,000 was enough to refurbish Christamore House’s basketball gym and add a fitness center and a learning center for science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, activities.

“What was originally scheduled to be a $100,000 project has become a $250,000 project, due to Herb [Simon] and others’ benevolence in making this a success,” Wilson said. “So I think that’s a significant example of how people have come together and really pushed to make this an even bigger and better All-Stars.”

The Christamore House project is part of a legacy project for the 2021 game that provided grants of up to $50,000 each to 21 youth-focused organizations across Indiana for health and wellness or educational initiatives. When Indianapolis’ hosting duties were rescheduled, organizers added three more organizations to bring the total to 24. One of those additional organizations was Christamore House, which was singled out for a larger investment.

A well-used playbook

Turning large athletics competitions into community events with a larger impact is a signature play for Indianapolis.

Allison Melangton

Allison Melangton, a member of the NBA All-Star 2024 board and a senior vice president at Penske Entertainment, said the strategy goes all the way back to 1979 with the creation of the Indiana Sports Corp., a not-for-profit that works to attract sports events to Indianapolis and leverage them as a means of economic development.

“Our philosophy that stood up then and made us a differentiator as a city is the same thing that’s differentiating us now,” Melangton said. “And so when you have a good plan and you execute it really well, and are world-famous for it, let’s stick with the plan.”

Earlier in her career, Melangton served as president of the Indiana Sports Corp. She was also president of the 2012 Super Bowl host committee. Since 1979, Indianapolis has hosted more than 450 national and international sporting events, including the 2012 Super Bowl, 18 U.S. Olympic Team Trials and numerous NCAA championship events.•

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