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Closing Shot: Indy’s Big Score

Known for making hoop dreams come true, Indianapolis now looks forward to crowning a college football champion while making the most of hosting another major event.

By Erik Spanberg
The CFP national championship at Lucas Oil Stadium will be the eighth consecutive time the event has been held in a non-repeating city.Cliff Ritchey / Visit Indy

For more than 40 years, Indianapolis has been a place where college basketball champions are crowned. The NCAA Men’s Final Four was first played in the Hoosier State capital in 1980 and it has returned seven times since 1991, including last season.

 

But college football? Never. Until this week, when Lucas Oil Stadium hosts the College Football Playoff national championship. Not bad for a city without so much as an annual bowl game.

Local organizers and CFP executives said Indianapolis has combined its “Hoosier Hospitality” and compact, pedestrian-friendly downtown area with a knack for effective organizing of major sporting events, including Super Bowl LXVI.

For the CFP, it’s about continuing a push to put the “national” in national championship. When the CFP was created, the organization’s leaders agreed on a “10 in 10” strategy: taking the championship game to 10 different sites in 10 years, starting with AT&T Stadium in North Texas in January 2015.

“This is new for college football,” said Bill Hancock, the CFP’s executive director. “The event has never been held outside the Southern tier of states and it was intentional to go to a Northern-tier city. And Indianapolis was an obvious choice.”

When the ball is kicked off at Lucas Oil Stadium, it will be the eighth consecutive national championship played in a non-repeating city. Los Angeles and Houston will follow in 2023 and 2024, respectively. The CFP has yet to name host sites for 2025 and beyond.

Mark Howell, a retired business executive and head of the Indianapolis organizing committee, said weather would not be a factor. “We’re prepared to handle whatever Mother Nature throws at us,” he said. “In Indiana, we say there’s no such thing as bad weather. There’s just bad clothes.” (January highs are typically in the mid-30s.)

Part of Indy’s appeal is, in some ways, weather-proof already: The downtown SkyWalk network connects the stadium, convention center, major hotels, restaurants and the Circle Centre Mall.

As for college football? The Big Ten’s football championship has been played at Lucas Oil Stadium since its inception in 2011, and Howell said Indianapolis is interested in adding an annual bowl game.

Organizers expect 100,000 visitors and an economic impact of $150 million from the championship. Still, Howell said that hosting the CFP is about more than money. It provides a chance to show the city off to the nation, and both local organizers and the CFP Foundation are involved in various philanthropic projects, including media center makeovers at four Indianapolis schools in underserved communities.

Howell said the most valuable aspect of having the game might be the local excitement and sense of purpose it brings. Despite the pandemic, the local organizing committee met its $15 million private fundraising target.

Beyond that, from locals attending fan fests and free concerts as part of the CFP weekend to 2,000 residents serving as volunteers, Howell saw Indianapolis rally around the football championship.

Hancock expected as much. “Hoosier Hospitality is real,” he said. “It manifests itself with every event that happens there.”

Erik Spanberg writes for the Charlotte Business Journal, an affiliated publication.

 

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