The Games To Get The Games

While recently attending one of the country’s biggest sporting events, my colleagues and I discussed how the event impacts the host city – specifically, an event in which the local professional team doesn’t need to be in the championship. Topping that list is the NFL’s championship game. (The Super Bowl, dare I say it without a signed release?) But, there are many other sporting events that fit the description. From the NCAA Final Four to the World Table Tennis Championships, major events are constantly seeking the best city to showcase their event. Currently, there is hot competition for the right to be the host community.  

If there was a leaderboard for these events, Indianapolis would be in the hunt for the crown. Since 1979, Indianapolis has hosted more than 400 national and international sporting events including 17 U.S. Olympic Team Trials and 55 NCAA Championship events, via the Indiana Sports Corporation. The community decided more than 20 years ago to make sports a part of its brand identity and, thanks in large part to the guiding influence of the self-funded, quasi-governmental entity known as Indiana Sports Corporation, it has succeeded. 

So, how does a city create a winning plan? The process has many moving parts, all going simultaneously towards the same goal. It starts with sanctioning bodies providing a list of criteria for would-be hosts, who then make their presentation demonstrating why their city will be best. Both public and private sector influencers (corporations, government, individuals, foundations, etc.) are crucial to producing a successful bid. Seed money is required to identify the right events to pursue and then to assemble the best bid package. There is time and effort required by civic leaders in both sectors. Which brings us to this point – pursuing these events is both expensive and time-consuming, not to mention very competitive.

There are some “musts” before throwing a city’s hat in the ring, including: 

  • Government and industry aligned for the common cause

This is essential to obtain the infrastructure required to successfully host an event. Designing and building elements specifically around enhancing an event ultimately aids in the execution of a successful event. 

  • Focused market

Engaged locals help to boost the festival atmosphere for city visitors. Having a condensed footprint – in which numerous event venue(s), hotels, restaurants, shopping and entertainment are within easy walking distance – creates an immersive, convenient getaway, even for the locals. 

  • Active sponsors

Sponsors seek the goodwill which a positive experience generates. If involved in the process at an early stage, sponsors bring creativity and additional budgets to help create that elusive, festival atmosphere. 

Leagues and event rights holders (NFL for the Super Bowl, etc.) frequently connect their official partners with the host/planning committees which sometimes limits the hosts’ ability to add sponsors.  Integrating sponsoring brands in a non-intrusive way is essential for success. 

Some cities seem to have the process down to a science. Indianapolis’ major sports events typically receive glowing reviews from visiting fans and locals alike. The draw for hosting these events is pretty easy to see, but the most obvious is money. Others will cite civic pride as a valuable bonus, but this is hard to quantify and may be harder to “feel” in large markets with diverse populations. Civic pride varies depending on the scale, popularity of, and media coverage for the event. Brand building for the host city is also a benefit (even though this one again ties back into money).

Debate continues on the economic impact of hosting a major event, i.e., the Super Bowl. Those with the rights to the games combined with eager hosts, present a bright outlook for all to make money. League and city officials’ estimates (a staggering half a billion dollars for the 2012 Super Bowl) are met with skepticism from those less attached to the cause. Some “counter-studies” suggest the actual economic impact of hosting the NFL’s big game is closer to 10%-25% of $500 million, while these studies also claim infrastructure costs can top $200 million. But all this talk about economic impact and fiscal responsibility is really not what hosting a major sporting event is really about.

In its purest sense, hosting a major sporting event is really about having fun. Sports bring out our passions in large doses, often for sustained periods. If so many of us didn’t love this stuff, there would be no money to be made, right? 

During this process it is important to remember that dedicated residents are needed to make the event a true success. How will the local cultures in the community engage with fans who love the sport, the event, the teams, the players? What is the right mix of sanctioned, sponsored, and private extensions of the “main event” to make the event an immersive, fun experience? How best to attract those most likely to attend? What will be left behind from the infrastructure and programs to benefit the community after the event? This is one of the most common ways major sporting events use sport to change lives in many host communities. (Shameless plug time: go to for more information about the power of sport to improve lives around the world.)  

More communities are taking up the challenge forming sports commissions, similar in structure to Indiana Sports Corporation, to attract sporting events (and their fans), with a focus on filling up hotel rooms and restaurants. For evidence of the growth in the sports event hosting enterprise, check out the website of the National Association of Sports Commissions which boasts 576 members from across the U.S. The City of Chicago recently created the Chicago Sports Commission to pursue sports events on behalf of the local tourism trades. With the success of the Indianapolis Super Bowl comes heightened awareness. The stage has been set. The stakes can be high. So, let the games to get the games begin.

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