Jim Shella: Indianapolis knows how to host an event. Watch.

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Jim Shella“It’s been a terrific site.”

That was the quote in IBJ from Mike Greenberg of ESPN following the Super Bowl Indianapolis hosted in 2012.

The NBA All-Star Game is just about here, and you can expect Indianapolis will once again impress with its ability to host a major sporting event. It’s why this city keeps getting the opportunity to be the home to Final Fours, Big Ten Tournaments, a College Football Playoff National Championship and more.

It’s a reputation that started with the National Sports Festival in 1982, got a big boost with the 1987 Pan Am Games, then was cemented with the Super Bowl. It’s not about the facilities, although they play a role. It’s about the organizing and the volunteers, a combination that makes visitors feel welcome.

Perhaps the best way to explain that is to tell you how others fare in similar circumstances.

I have covered 14 national political conventions, events similar in scope to a Super Bowl, and have seen how some do it right and some don’t.

The worst was Denver in 2008. That city was clearly unprepared for the Democratic National Convention. My colleagues and I found out when we went searching for media credentials so we could get into our workspace. The address we were given turned out to be in the middle of downtown. Convention volunteers in uniform polos didn’t know where it was. Neither did police.

After too much searching, we learned it was a too-small basement room in an unmarked office building. It was as if the city had staged a scavenger hunt. By comparison, when Atlanta hosted, the credentials were in a hotel ballroom with Earth, Wind and Fire performing.

As the week went on, our biggest frustration was getting cab service. (There is no parking at these events, and the only way to get TV equipment in and out is by cab or ride sharing.) We stayed in the Indiana delegation hotel and, generally, cabs are staged, waiting outside a delegation hotel. Not in Denver. We had to call ahead and wait a half hour. At least. Then the cab driver, without fail, had no idea where to drop us off in order to get to the arena. For security reasons, the drop-off is changed every day, and the cabs are to be notified. They didn’t have a clue.

Also, Denver didn’t have enough cabs, so some were brought in from Salt Lake City. The drivers didn’t know their way around.

By now, this might sound whiny to some of you, but understand, these events are staged to attract the media, and host committees have a mission of catering to the media.

And that gets me to Denver’s biggest failure. On the final night of the 2008 convention, Barack Obama delivered his acceptance speech at the football stadium rather than the basketball arena. It’s only one mile away, but the security and congestion—along with the need to carry TV gear—meant the only way to get there was on a charter bus. It took an hour. And the bus never returned. We walked back to our workspace at midnight, carrying our gear. Hiring an off-duty police officer to ride the bus would have insured quicker delivery and a return trip, but no one was told.

You don’t hear stories like those after events in Indianapolis because the Indiana Sports Corp. has its act together, and the entire city embraces the moment.

NBA players, fans and the media are about to find out.•

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Shella hosted WFYI’s “Indiana Week in Review” for 25 years and covered Indiana politics for WISH-TV for more than three decades. Send comments to ibjedit@ibj.com.


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