INDIANAPOLIS — When the final books are balanced in the next sixty days, it’s estimated that Georgia and Alabama fans and college football followers will have left behind an estimated $150 million economic impact on Central Indiana as a result of this month’s College Football Playoffs Championship game.
Not bad for a cold weekend in the Midwest two weeks after the Christmas rush as the local economy still recovers from the impact of pandemic recession of the last two years.
“Hosting the College Football Playoff Championship in January is a great way to kick off the new year, just a great way to say, ‘We’re still here, we’re still alive and we’re able to pull off citywide events in a great way,’” said Chris Gahl of Visit Indy.
“The College Football Playoff Championship marked the 255th event we’ve hosted since the pandemic, safely welcoming now more than a million attendees through the Convention Center and Lucas Oil Stadium. We believe still that we’re the city that has hosted more live events than any other city in the nation.”
As lucrative as the sports tourism and convention and visitors business is to Indianapolis, Gahl said the impact could be even greater if local organizers, such as Visit Indy and Indiana Sports Corporation, had a pool of public money to draw on to sweeten the pot any time they go out to lure an event to Indiana.
“Over the last few years, alongside the Indiana Sports Corp, we’ve tracked an emergence of city and states putting in place bid funds and they’re successfully taking away major sporting events and conventions from Indianapolis, Indiana,” said Gahl. “We feel in this case we’re playing from a little bit behind. Other states, other municipalities are winning on this front and found a way to establish this bid fund and really start using it and utilizing it to draw economic activity.”
Republican Senator Kyle Walker of Lawrence has sponsored SB 245 which would funnel public funds through Indiana Sports Corp for distribution across the state. This would then encourage sports organizers to bring their tournaments and events to Indiana.
“I look at this as an investment rather than an expense,” said Walker. “Indiana Sports Corp, through their efforts statewide, had an economic impact of over $76 million just last year which also amounted to over five million dollars in local taxes and five million dollars in state taxes.”
Walker cited one bid for a national swimming event that failed as local hosts couldn’t raise the funds to entice organizers to come to Indiana. “They simply couldn’t bid on the event because it was essentially a $1.5 million licensing fee and they didn’t have the funds to bid,” he said. “We lost out on $80 million of economic impact and all of the tax dollars associated with that.”
The legislation mandates that Indiana Sports Corp would set aside at least 25% of its funding to support the lure of sporting events outside of Marion County which pleases Andy Cook, mayor of Westfield. Westfield is home to Grand Park Sports Campus and responsible for $1.2 billion in economic spinoff since opening in 2014.
“In Westfield we deal in youth sports which has become a $15 billion industry,” said Cook. “We kind of set the trend about six or eight years ago and now it is picking up steam all over the country as these facilities for youth sports pop up and, as a result, it does become, even at our youth sports level, a very competitive industry across the country.”
“It becomes very competitive and these tournaments, they want more and more for nothing, so to speak, and, of course, our funds here locally are extremely limited in how we could compete with a state backed incentive program for a given tournament…if we have to compete with Round Rock, Texas, for a soccer tournament, now Indiana could be more competitive, and we would welcome that greatly.”
Walker estimates a $5 million state investment in bid packages seed money would result in stronger bids by Indiana event organizers. SB 245 now goes to the Senate where, even if passed this year, full funding would have to wait until the General Assembly’s 2023 state budget writing session.