City mulling bid to host college football championship game

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While much of the city and many sports fans in Big 10 country are focused on the conference’s football championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium on Saturday, Indiana Sports Corp. officials are contemplating another game.

On Jan. 12, ISC President Ryan Vaughn and Senior Vice President Susan Baughman are going to Dallas to watch the first college football national championship game culminating from a playoff. Why? To determine if the Sports Corp. will bid to host the event at Lucas Oil Stadium. One or two ISC board members may also attend the game in Dallas—home of the 2011 Super Bowl.

Landing that event would be no small coup for Vaughn and his staff; the event is projected to score the host city more than $100 million in visitor spending. Some sports business experts say the economic impact approaches the Super Bowl’s.

Glendale, Arizona, hosts the game in 2016 and Tampa in 2017. But 2018 and beyond is up for grabs.

Vaughn has little doubt the city would be a serious contender.

“If we can host the greatest Super Bowl in Super Bowl history, we can host the national college football championship,” Vaughn said.

Clearly, though, competition to host future college football championships will be fierce.

“Obviously it’s a high-profile event, but we’re not afraid of the competition,” Vaughn said. “We’re a sports corporation, we live on competition.”

Oddly, the city’s preoccupation with the Super Bowl is a big reason why the ISC didn’t pursue one of the first three college football championships. The 2015 game was awarded in October 2013 and the 2016 and 2017 games were awarded months later.

Vaughn said pursuing the 2016, 2017 and/or 2018 game would have been extremely difficult while bidding on the 2018 Super Bowl. It would have been impossible, he said, to host both enormous events in close proximity, and much of the ISC’s firepower was tied up in the Super Bowl bidding process.

There are significant challenges with hosting one of the early college football championships.

“It’s just a lot of unknowns,” Vaughn said. “We have to look at it and understand it and see if it makes sense for the community.”

Some of the unknowns include what it would take to put the game on, the size of the crowds for the game and extracurricular events, and the economic impact.

This year, for the first time, four Division I teams are involved in the college football playoff, with the semi-finals being played Jan. 1 and the championship 11 days later. Since so many fans traditionally travel to bowl games—the semis will be the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl—it’s unclear how big the crowd will be for the championship game. Some sports business experts wonder how many college student and alumni fans could mobilize to attend the championship game just 11 days after the far-flung semi-final games.

It’s also unclear how much corporate activity will surround the college football championship game. At a typical Super Bowl, corporate activity, events and parties drive a lot of the economic impact. Corporate entities also account for a big chunk of Super Bowl ticket sales.

Dallas officials aren’t too concerned about lack of attendance at the 2015 college football championship. They expect 80,000 fans at AT&T Stadium—home of the Dallas Cowboys.

It’s also unclear how much city manpower would be needed to put on the event, including security, traffic control, trash hauling and other services; and what demands the event would put on the city’s hotels, restaurants and catering, and flights and other transportation.

For now, local tourism officials are letting the ISC take the lead on evaluating the event.

One thing is certain. The event would have a much bigger economic impact than the Big Ten championship this weekend. And that game—with a projected $17 million impact—is no small prize.

Vaughn hasn’t given up on hosting another Super Bowl, either, despite the city’s losing its bid for 2018.

“We will re-evaluate it on an annual basis,” he said. “We have to consider first what year would be right for the city and what year would be right for the NFL.”

With the Super Bowl being played in Minneapolis in 2018 and the NFL likely avoiding another cold-weather game for a couple years after that, the first year Indianapolis could bid for would be 2021. But with the city hosting a men’s NCAA basketball Final Four that year, 2022 seems more likely.

Of course, whatever the city decides to do about pursuing a college national championship game could alter those game plans.

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