Irsay clears air, says Super Bowl could return by 2016

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Everybody, hold your horses.

There’s no need to get yourself in a lather over demands being made by Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay concerning a new downtown hotel. That’s because he isn’t making any.

Nor is he saying that Indianapolis didn’t do a great job hosting this year’s Super Bowl or that the city is inherently deficient.

Irsay called IBJ Tuesday afternoon to clear the air.

Earlier Tuesday, I pointed out on this blog that Irsay relayed feedback on this year’s Super Bowl in Indianapolis, and part of the message was that another large, downtown hotel would help Indianapolis’ chances of landing the game.

“I want to emphasize we got a great review from everyone in the NFL,” Irsay told me Tuesday. “The hotel element is just one aspect. That was a comment that came down. The message was if we increase our hotel rooms we increase our chances of landing another Super Bowl. It’s not saying we can’t get another [Super Bowl] if we don’t increase hotel space.”

Irsay went on to say Indianapolis could land another Super Bowl as early as 2016 or 2017. The 2016 Super Bowl would be the NFL’s 50th, and though competition for that game would be fierce, Irsay thinks Indianapolis would have a solid chance.

“We may have a bid not too far into the future,” Irsay said, adding that discussions have already taken place with city and state officials about pursuing another Super Bowl.

I don’t think Irsay is demanding a downtown hotel, nor do I think he is trying to twist arms to get his way. I think he, like a lot of people here, wants another Super Bowl and is relaying the best information he has to make sure the city has the best shot at getting it.

For those who say he should finance a new hotel if he wants it, remember, Irsay isn’t a developer or angel investor. He owns an NFL team. As such he has better access to the people who vote on where Super Bowls are played than the rest of us. So he simply relayed what he knows to local leaders and took a quiver full of arrows for his effort.

Could he have been a little more diplomatic in his tweeting? I’ll leave that up to the reader—and the tweeter.

Nevertheless, it’s my assertion after talking to various NFL sources that without another large, downtown hotel, the city will not get another Super Bowl.

Naturally, Irsay himself would vote to have another Super Bowl here in a flash.

And not because he benefits financially. Irsay doesn’t make any more money whether the Super Bowl is here or not. It’s easy to be cynical, especially in my line of work. Has Irsay done everything he can, including negotiate a favorable stadium lease deal, to assure his company maximizes its profit? Yes. But what executive hasn’t done the same?

Irsay has been a solid community booster, as well, including contributing money to bring events like the Super Bowl and Big Ten football championship to Indianapolis.

Irsay has only one of 32 votes on the Super Bowl location, and the downtown hotel concern has been labeled “major” by several NFL sponsors. The team owners have heard the message and they’re apt to be strongly influenced by the folks paying the freight.

In our phone conversation Tuesday, Irsay acknowledged that some sponsors have concerns about Indianapolis’ hotel room availability. He couched that by saying, “Overall the response from everyone has just been outstanding.”

Simply put, NFL big-wigs and sponsors loved the Super Bowl in Indianapolis. But some of the league’s best sponsors didn’t enjoy being stuck in suburban outposts.

No offense to fans, but it’s one thing to stick someone paying a few thousands dollars in a hotel in Greenwood. But sponsors paying hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars to be a part of the league and its crown jewel event want to be at the heart of it.

One point I made yesterday was that places like Dallas and Miami are spread out and don’t have a centralized Super Bowl district like Indianapolis and that hotels are spread out much farther than in Indianapolis. I was told by one NFL corporate sponsor that as long as you have a downtown hot spot like Indy does, the league’s biggest sponsors are going to want to have their entire entourage there. In cities where the venues and happenings are more spread out, that’s simply not as big of an issue.

As this issue is being debated, Indianapolis took what I would call a minor hit. University Place Conference Center & Hotel at IUPUI is closing. Poof, there go 278 rooms. While it’s true that the hotel housed the AFC Championship team during the 2012 Super Bowl, it’s not the type of hotel folks gathering for a downtown event would want.

It’s also true that there will be 209 “luxury business hotel rooms” in the new CityWay development on the southeast edge of downtown. That helps, but more will be needed if Indianapolis is going to attract another Super Bowl and the type of citywide conventions the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association is aiming for.

If Don Welsh were still leading the ICVA, we’d be headed for a more forceful debate on this topic. Welsh’s replacement, Leonard Hoops, is more conservative and will lead a more gentle discussion about the need for another large, downtown hotel.

Hoops said year-round downtown hotel occupancy needs to be 70 percent for a long time before considering another hotel. The city is about four percentage points short of that right now.

Put your bows and arrows away. I’m not taking a position on whether another downtown hotel should be constructed in the near term. And neither is Irsay.

I can only speculate that the Colts owner is thinking what I’m saying.

No new downtown hotel. No Super Bowl.

And if you’re not growing? Then what?

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