(INDIANAPOLIS) – In the last six weeks, Indy has hosted college football’s Big Ten and national championships. Tourism groups say state money could help the city and state land more events like them.
A Senate committee will vote next week on a bill to create a state bid fund to back up the pursuit of sports events, conventions and trade shows. At least 15 states have similar funds.
Visit Indy senior vice president Chris Gahl boasts Indianapolis has hosted 255 conventions and events since the pandemic, more than any other city. But he says Indiana is increasingly at a competitive disadvantage as more states create bid funds to put muscle behind their bids, and more organizers ask about state support before making their choice. He says Indiana recently lost out to Texas and Florida for a high school robotics competition and conventions of software engineers and IT professionals, events he says would have pumped millions of dollars into the economy. He cites those states’ bid funds as a key factor.
Indiana Sports Corporation president Ryan Vaughn says the organization typically rounds up private donations to support events like this week’s College Football Playoff or the 2012 Super Bowl. He warns that’s not a bottomless well, and says donors will be more willing to pledge support if they know the state is providing support.
Vaughn says a state bid fund wouldn’t just help Indiana compete with other states, but would allow Indiana to host events it currently can’t. He says the organization had to pass on opportunities to host international swimming, rugby, and track and field championships, because it didn’t have the money for the logistical support that would be needed.
Indianapolis Senator Kyle Walker’s (R) bill would put the Sports Corporation in charge of managing the fund, though the money could be spent on non-sports events. The bill would require at least a quarter of the money be spent outside Indianapolis. Westfield, Fort Wayne, Evansville, LaPorte and other cities have established sports complexes, and Hamilton County Tourism vice president Karen Radcliff says they’re facing the same competition issues as Indianapolis. She says the county lost a gymnastics tournament just this week to Grand Rapids, Michigan, because the money wasn’t available to rent a floor for the event.
The bill doesn’t specify how much money to spend on the fund. Walker says his goal is to establish the structure this year, then decide during next year’s budget-writing session how much money to set aside. Vaughn says a five-million-dollar fund would be “extraordinary.”