‘Sports clearly has led the way’: Indy area businesses hope for sports-fueled period of economic recovery

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INDIANAPOLIS — As the sun rises Saturday morning the day has finally arrived and the stage is set for the Big Ten Football Championship.

The game kicks off at Lucas Oil Stadium Saturday evening just after 7 p.m. where tens of thousands of fans – most visitors from out of state, to watch the Big Ten West Division Champion Iowa Hawkeyes take on the Big Ten East Division Champion Michigan Wolverines.

The city of Indianapolis has been ramping up to this moment all year long, with the return of conventions and in-person attendance at Colts games. The city hopes Saturdays event serves as not only a renewed opportunity to show off the city but also as a practice run for the National Championship game which will also be played at Lucas Oil Stadium in just over a months time. 

Indianapolis is widely regarded as the convention capital of the country, one of the best places to host a sporting event and with its seemingly endless amenities, restaurants, hotels and proximity to the airport it’s easy to see why the city has earned it’s reputation. 

But all of that was called into question when COVID-19 took it away during the pandemic which halted the speed of sport and cancelled gatherings small and large alike. 

All of that appears over now – the events which first gave the city a spot on the map and legs to stand on, are now helping the city stand on its own two feet again during a period of post-pandemic recovery… fueled by sport.

“Sports clearly has lead the way,” Indianapolis Restaurant & Lodging Association President & CEO Patrick Tamm said. “It’ll continue to lead the way to really helping the hospitality industry and vice-versa in terms of leading ourselves into some positive economic recovery city wide.”

Forward down the field; the success of the Big Ten Football Championship and other events like it, will lead to other shared successes beyond the confines of the stadium. 

Tamm says these events, Indy playing host, helps lead most everyone involved and nearby, in an upward trajectory. 

“The Big Ten Football Championship historically has been a great weekend for hotels restaurants and frankly most importantly for our servers, our chefs, our sous chefs, our bartenders, our housekeeping, front desk associates and so forth,” Tamm said. “A lot of our businesses in the core downtown, while we have less open, tragically; but the ones that are in business are seeing some positive sales figures now.”

Without marquee events in play, spots like the relatively ‘new to the scene’ Goodwood Brewing along Illinois Street, mere blocks from the action – have struggled. 

“I personally would like to go back to you know, the pre-pandemic… the numbers that we were… downtown was doing,” Goodwood Brewing General Manager Arshad Zafar said. “But at the same time I think the city has done a phenomenal job of bringing conventions back and sporting events too. This weekend is the Big 10. Right after that, you know, the next weekend we have PRI, performance racing, and that’s 60,000 people downtown. That’s going to be a phenomenal event for us… then right after that, you have January 11th which if I’m not wrong is the National Championship game. I can’t wait for that, we’re in a really great place.”

Staffing, shortages and lack of supplies have all taken their toll on the taproom, but they’re ready for visitors all the same. 

Their business – and others in similar situations downtown – depend on it. 

“So we’re doing OK on the shortages part of it. Our companies are working with us and getting us… they can’t get us the exact product, they’re getting something very similar for us,” Zafar said. “The staffing issues are… we’re all in the same boat we’re all in the same boat. But we are starting to see more and more people realizing that downtown Indy is a great place to work.”

The people – the Hoosiers who serve up hospitality is, according to Tamm, what sets Indy apart.

“You give us a chance… you come to Indianapolis… while we don’t have an ocean… we do have our people and they really make the difference here,” Tamm said. “That’s what sells the city of Indianapolis. They’re who sell Hoosier Hospitality, and we’ll continue that.”

So whether you plan on rooting for Iowa or Michigan… Tamm says either is fine as long as you’re having fun downtown supporting local business recovery.

“Personally, as someone being born in Michigan, I’m grateful to see Michigan there and not Ohio State… personally, fan favorite of that action… and Iowa’s fans were here a couple years ago – they’re crazy – we love ’em,” Tamm said. “We love having these folks in town.”

Amid concerns of the new Omicron variant; Tamm and others in the hospitality industry again stress that guests get vaccinated for their own safety and the safety of others. 

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