Indy should cheer for Giants, Broncos, Pats or Packers

In September, I wrote about the best Super Bowl match-up for Indianapolis in terms of economic impact.

Sports economists believe that certain NFL teams’ fans travel better to and spend more at a big event like the Super Bowl. Teams’ proximity to the Super Bowl host city and how long it’s been since a team has made a championship run also play a role in determining which teams bring the biggest payoff.

The ideal match-up can mean $10 million to $15 million in additional cash flowing into the host city.

Unfortunately, some of the dream teams have been eliminated. Gone are the Chicago Bears, Dallas Cowboys, Detroit Lions and New York Jets, all of which have rabid fan bases, large metropolitan populations and are a relatively easy drive—or flight—to Indianapolis.

Thanks to Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow, gone, too, are the Pittsburgh Steelers, which has as strong a national following as any NFL team.

That doesn’t mean all is lost in terms of a super match-up. Far from it.

In fact, the unpredictability that is the NFL has brought about some scenarios that look pretty savory.

Though it’s a long shot, a very long shot, no one can deny the value Tebow would bring to the Super Bowl. Not only are Broncos fans rabid and likely to turn out in Indianapolis in big numbers, I think it’s safe to say Tebow’s appearance in the Super Bowl would likely drive the highest television viewer numbers any game has ever seen.

Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association CEO Leonard Hoops thinks the TV exposure the city gets during the Super Bowl—and the run-up to it—is at least as valuable as the dollars that pour into local merchants coffers during the week of Feb. 5.

Of the four AFC teams remaining—Denver, New England, Houston and Baltimore—there’s no arguing that the Broncos would be ideal in terms of economic impact.

But consider New England. There is plenty of wealth in the Boston area, but Pats fans haven’t always been the best traveling fan base. Throw in the fact that they’ve been to four Super Bowls since 2002, and their impact is anything but certain.

There’s one thing that might cause Patriots fans to come out of the woodwork—and travel to Indy and tune in on TV in huge numbers: a rematch against the New York Giants.

Remember, New York ended New England’s perfect season in the 2008 Super Bowl. You can bet Patriots followers haven’t forgotten. Sure, some of the players have changed from that 2008 game. But enough characters in this drama remain—namely quarterbacks Eli Manning and Tom Brady and coaches Tom Coughlin and Bill Belichick—to ratchet up the TV ratings in a big way.

The Giants would be the ideal NFC team for another reason. New York’s huge fan base loves to travel, and they’re a relatively short distance from Indianapolis. The last time the Giants played the Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium in 2010, I saw a large downtown restaurant a day before the game half-filled during lunch with New York City firefighters. They were far from alone in coming to cheer their team—and that was for a regular season game.

The New Orleans Saints and San Francisco 49ers, the other two remaining NFC teams, also offer intriguing story lines, though I’m not sure they’d bring the sizzle of the Giants or Green Bay Packers.

The 49ers are the NFL’s comeback team of the year under new coach Jim Harbaugh, but the distance from there to here might be a problem, especially in drawing fans who might not be able to get tickets but just might come for the atmosphere. The high-octane Saints are always entertaining, but leaving New Orleans for a party in Indianapolis might not sound so grand in February for the team’s followers.

So who should local merchants and tourism officials cheer for? It’s a tough call. Visitor spending isn’t likely to fall too far below $200 million no matter which teams make it.

But I’d say the absolute best in terms of maximizing visitor spending and TV viewing would be Broncos and Giants.

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