Indy should cheer for Jets and Bears, Badgers and Huskers

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Gauging the economic impact of any sporting event is tricky.

When it’s uncertain who the teams will be, it’s even trickier.

Most economists and sports business experts would agree the economic impact of the Super Bowl and Big Ten Football Championship will be considerable.

Estimates peg the economic impact of the Big Ten Championship at $17 million to $20 million. The Super Bowl is much larger, with an economic impact of $300 million to $450 million.

The more savvy sports business followers will tell you that the teams that play in those games will have a major impact on the visitor spending those events bring to the host city.

Lucas Oil Stadium will host the Big Ten Championship in December and the Super Bowl in February. In this week’s IBJ print edition, Robert Tuchman, whose New York-based company has handled corporate entertainment at scores of Super Bowls, estimated that the economic impact on Indianapolis could swing more than 30 percent depending on the teams that play.

Most sports business experts surveyed by IBJ agreed that the best teams to make it from the NFC would be the Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys.

The Bears and Lions are ideal due to their proximity to Indianapolis. Detroit also is good because it has never played in a Super Bowl, and the theory is that many Lions fans would come to Indianapolis just to experience the atmosphere even if they couldn’t get tickets. And as Tuchman pointed out, they eat in Indy’s restaurants, shop in our stores and sleep in our hotels whether they go to the game or not.

Mark Rosentraub, a dean at the University of Michigan, said that if the Lions make the Super Bowl, half the state of Michigan would drive down to Indianapolis.

The Bears and Cowboys would be good teams because they have national followings. Also, the Cowboys haven’t been to a Super Bowl since 1996, and Big D is hungry for a winner.

Demographics, too, are key, and there are plenty of wealthy people in Chicago and Dallas. That element probably hurts Detroit a bit with the auto industry fallout.

The AFC is a little trickier.

The consensus is the New York Jets would be the best team. First, because New York is so big, the Jets have a huge following. There’s also lots of money in New York, and on top of that, the Jets haven’t been to the Super Bowl since 1969.

While there’s money in New England, Patriots fans spoiled by four Super Bowls in the last decade simply don’t travel like fans for other AFC hopefuls, and people in that New England region aren’t likely to come to Indy in February—certainly not without tickets just to enjoy the atmosphere.

Baltimore fans traveled in droves to Tampa when the Ravens made the Super Bowl in 2001. But there’s still a big question about whether Ravens fans would to travel to Indy, the city that stole its beloved Colts. Most sports business experts think Ravens fans would overlook the Colts history for a shot to see the Ravens in the big game again.

As witnessed Sunday night, Pittsburgh fans have no hesitation to make the drive to Indy for a football game, and the Steelers have a national following. But since the Steelers made the Super Bowl last year, that takes a little polish off that possibility.

So if Indianapolis’ tourism and hospitality industry were rooting for Super Bowl contenders based merely on economic impact, everyone from bar managers to bell hops might be decked out in green and white or blue and orange.

As for the Big Ten Championship game, one local tourism official told me red might be the color to cheer for.

A match-up between Wisconsin and Nebraska has a lot of people in Indianapolis pretty excited right now—from an economic impact perspective.

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