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Big Ten championship sets attendance, rating records

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Despite the cold and snowy weather, thousands of football fans flocked downtown for what turned out to be a record-breaking weekend for the Big Ten championship game.

51,000 fans attended the Big Ten FanFest at the Indiana Convention Center, while 66,000 fans packed Lucas Oil Stadium as another 13.8 million people watched on TV – all Big Ten championship game records.

“From a tourism perspective, we`re ecstatic at this year`s Big Ten championship,” said Chris Gahl, vice president of marketing and communications for Visit Indy. “When you look at last year’s (game) we saw a healthy growth in the amount of people coming to town.”

Hotels, bars and restaurants also felt the impact. Local hotels were at capacity, while bars like the Slippery Noodle Inn were full of football fans.

“Everybody made money, which is great for our servers and our bartenders,” said manager Sara Etherington. “It was bigger than a Colts game, by far… you forget how crazy it can get when Downtown is that popping.”

“There were so many people downtown on Saturday night, and it really did seem like one night of the Super Bowl,” said Indiana Sports Corporation president Allison Melangton, who also serves as chair of the Super Bowl Bid Committee. “We learned a lot from the Super Bowl and one thing we were absolutely ready for was bad weather for the Super Bowl we didn’t have to enact our bad weather plan as much as we did this weekend but DPW did an amazing job they cleared everything as quickly as they could.”

Sports corporation officials said this past weekend can only help make Indy’s case for landing another Super Bowl in 2018. That’s because despite this weekend’s snow and cold, officials say everything went off without a hitch.

“We’re built to host during cold weather and aside from that we know that Big Ten fan bases are cold weather people,” said Gahl.

“This is Michigan State and Ohio (State),” said Etherington. “They know the cold.”

The Big Ten championship will be back in Indianapolis for at least the next two years, 2014 and 2015.

Officials say they’ll be bidding next spring to bring the game back beyond 2015.