Pacers execs, local officials flock to Chicago to scout for 2021 All-Star weekend

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A contingent of 35 local officials is descending on Chicago this weekend to study the behind-the-scenes preparations and best practices for hosting the NBA All-Star Game, ahead of Indianapolis hosting the event next year.

The group—comprised of members of the Indianapolis host committee, Pacers Sports & Entertainment, sports and tourism groups, and various government entities—began arriving in Chicago on Thursday. Most plan to stay in town throughout the weekend as they examine every part of the massive, four-day event.

“(We) are looking at it from a broad perspective, about how we can continue to enhance what the NBA already does and really put an Indianapolis spin on it and make it better than it’s ever been,” said Mel Raines, a Pacers executive who also serves as president of the local organizing committee for the 2021 All-Star event.

In addition to meetings with NBA representatives and officials with the Chicago host committee throughout the weekend, members of the delegation will attend most of the events associated with All-Star Game weekend.

In doing so, they’ll be taking what Raines described as a “divide and conquer” approach to understanding the ins and outs of how the weekend should unfold.

The contingent’s stops will include the Rising Stars and Celebrity games on Friday night, media day and practice on Saturday, along with the skills, three-point and dunk contests that evening; the All-Star game on Sunday; and the NBA Crossover festival at Navy Pier and Equality Lounge seminar series at the Gwen Hotel throughout the weekend. The group also plans to attend various breakfasts, private gatherings and community events surrounding the All-Star Game.

The officials will take copious notes during their time in Chicago, with plans to discuss their experiences upon returning to Indianapolis.

“We’ll just be kind of spread out,” said Raines. “We’ll take thousands of pictures. … Some people may never go in the buildings because they’ll be [focused on] what’s happening outside.”

The contingent includes representatives with the city’s Department of Public Works, police and fire departments, as well as representatives of the city’s Capital Improvement Board, Indiana Sports Corp and Visit Indy.

Local organizing committees often make trips to other host cities in the years leading up to their own turn as host, to better understand the logistics of putting on major events.

Members of the Indianapolis host committee have been attending All-Star weekend in an official capacity since 2018, visiting Los Angeles and Charlotte in 2018 and 2019, respectively. Pacers officials also attended games in Toronto and New Orleans in years prior, ahead of being selected in late 2017 to host the 2021 event.

Similarly, the 2022 College Football Playoff host committee attended this year’s event in New Orleans and will do the same next year, when the game is played in Miami, Florida.

“We just go to learn and then we’re going to put on the best one ever,” said Rick Fuson, founding chair of the host committee and president of Pacers Sports.

David Lewis, president of the Indy Championships Fund—which is fundraising for the All-Star Game, the College Football Playoff and the 2021 NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four—has said it will cost roughly $10 million to $12 million to put on the 2021 NBA All-Star festivities.

The fund in late January said it had raised about $20.5 million of an overall $25 million goal. On Jan. 24, it received a pledge of up to $1 million from the Indiana Economic Development Corp.

Dianna Boyce, a spokesperson for the 2021 NBA All-Star Game, said the trip to Chicago will be paid for differently, depending on the individual. Some, including Gov. Eric Holcomb and host committee officials, will have their expenses paid through the Indy Championships Fund, while others are paying their own way.

In 2021, major events, including the Rising Stars game, All-Star Saturday night, and the actual All-Star game, will be held at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, while Lucas Oil Stadium and the Indiana Convention Center will host the celebrity game, media day, and practices, along with other, smaller events.

In addition to the group spending the weekend in Chicago, a separate group of Fieldhouse employees—about 50 people—took a bus up to Chicago on Thursday for a walk-through of the United Center, the Chicago Bulls’ arena where marquee events in this year’s All-Star weekend will be held.

The group, which returned to Indianapolis late Thursday, included personnel from facilities, information technology, game operations, security and catering, all of whom will be involved in next year’s All-Star events at Bankers Life Fieldhouse next year.

Raines said it’s “really important” for Fieldhouse staff to see behind-the-scenes components associated with the All-Star events, because they’re different from events the Fieldhouse typically hosts.

NBA All-Star events “involve a lot more theatrical production, in addition to an NBA basketball environment,” she said. “So, marrying those together—we’re excited to be able to expose a lot more [staff members] to that a year in advance.”

This year’s festivities in Chicago will also include a private reception hosted by the Herb Simon family—which owns the Pacers—and Visit Indy, to kick off Indianapolis’ turn hosting All-Star weekend in 2021.

Fuson said the party is meant to stir excitement about the event, which hasn’t been to Indianapolis since 1985, and will bring together league and team executives, sponsors and others who will be involved in All-Star events.

The event, scheduled for Saturday, is closed to the media.

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