Indy’s sports strategy under fire

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Twenty five years ago, Indianapolis rolled the dice, betting that building this town on sports—amateur and professional—would be a good way to shed the Nap-town image that had dogged the city. The gamble paid off for decades, but now it’s coming up craps.

Mark Rosentraub, a sports economist and author of two books about professional sports business, calls Indianapolis a “broker town,” in a book he will publish this summer.

“The city must constantly broker itself 24/7, and in a flagging economy it doesn’t work,” said Rosentraub a former IUPUI dean. He added that without continued sales and marketing efforts to draw visitors, conventions and other business to the city, the strategy will fail.

In the years since Indianapolis started its growth strategy built on sports, Rosentraub said, there’s been upside and downside.

“Average wages have not increased and the city’s population has stagnated,” Rosentraub said. “But the city has created a vibrant convention business and created one of the best looking and pedestrian-friendly downtowns in the Midwest.”

While there have been quality of life gains, Rosentraub said, the financial justification for deals to build Conseco Fieldhouse and Lucas Oil Stadium are more difficult to come up with.

“The way you answer the question ‘was it worth it?’” Rosentraub said, “is you walk around this city, then take a look at cities like Cleveland, Detroit and St. Louis, all of which are struggling. And ask yourself, ‘do you like the way Indianapolis looks? Do you like the amenities you have here?’ If the answer is ‘yes,’ then the strategy worked. If you’re looking for cold hard cash, you won’t find your justification.”

To read more about the fiscal crisis revolving around the city’s sports venues and the issue of teams vs. taxpayers, click here. To read more about the Indiana Pacers mounting challenges at Conseco Fieldhouse, click here.

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