We lost. Now what?

May 23, 2014

Well, we did not get it. The NFL picked the other “apolis.” It was a great effort by the bid committee and countless local companies that pledged their financial support to help lure the Super Bowl back to Indianapolis. The decision stings a little still, and it is okay to feel disappointed. But Indianapolis has a lot to be thankful for and proud of, including a hot Pacers team in the playoffs, the greatest spectacle in racing this weekend at the Indy 500, unbelievable amenities like the cultural trail with rental bikes and soon to be rental EV cars, and a variety of collaborations of public and private leaders who are always planning for the future of our city. We are very fortunate to have progressive thinkers at Indy Chamber, Indianapolis Downtown, Inc., Indy Hub, Visit Indy, CICP, CICF, city government and at most major employers that can set aside political differences and unite to create a new initiative that benefits all of the residents of our great city.

So, what if we got over the heart break of not being selected by the NFL and utilized some portion of the effort for the Super Bowl Bid to create another event that would have similar economic impact and community interest and involvement. Why let this tremendous effort go to waste? The committee was able to raise $30 million dollars in pledges from local companies. How many of them would be willing to keep half of it in for another citywide event that attracted visitors from out of town, local residents to gather and rally by the thousands like they did for Super Bowl XLVI. The streets were filled with fans for several days and there was entertainment, food and beverages all over downtown streets that were closed to vehicular traffic. And there was a legacy that lasted well after the game with improvements to infrastructure and community investment. Why can’t we recreate that feeling of excitement and volunteerism for a different event (even if it is only half as big as the Super Bowl)?

When you look at other cities our size, they have been able to create signature events that have grown organically and they have much greater control over what happens compared to the level of involvement and restrictions from the NFL. Events like SXSW (Austin, TX), SummerFest (Milwaukee, WI), and the Sundance Film Festival (Park City, UT), all attract significant tourism dollars and help build a lasting brand impression for their respective cities. They are independent cultural events that have grown over time into something huge. SXSW, a five day music and interactive festival that started with 800 visitors in 1987, has grown to over 20,000 ticket buyers last year. Austin is on the cutting edge of both music and technology in part due to this event. What signature, multi-day festival or event can Indianapolis add to its annual calendar and improve our brand image?

Remember Summer Fest on the Circle in the early 80’s or the Pan Am Games in 1987 or any of the NCAA Final Fours? We have done large events like these before the Super Bowl, so why not develop our own event? And we can plan it for a warm weather month rather than the February timing of the big game. Georgia Street is a nice addition to downtown and the convention center, but it is not big enough on its own to host any sizable event. We need to create a destination or village and add stages and hospitality to several streets in the downtown to attract local and non-resident tourists to this new event. Perhaps it is tied to racing, or we blow out the Heartland Film Festival and bring it back downtown, or it is a Midwest Microbrew Fest that combines music and food for a week-long event. Since Indianapolis is on the leading edge of electric vehicle adoption, perhaps we create a million dollar prize (like the X Prize competition) for EV or alternative fuel vehicles and host a week long symposium and various races all around our city. This could tie into racing, technology, and higher education with events hosted by Purdue, Ivy Tech, Butler or U Indy. Vehicles could be on display on the Circle downtown with kick off parties and events that will add color and excitement to the week.

There are smarter people than me who can come up with the right event. But if it benefits many residents through economic impact, civic involvement, corporate sponsorship, and the perception of Indianapolis as a brand, I believe we could get past the loss of the Super Bowl bid and refocus our efforts on another event that can happen by 2018.

So let’s put our heads together. Start talking with your friends, neighbors, colleagues about the type of event you’d like to see, and how we can make it happen. And tweet your ideas using the hashtag #2018IndyEvent. You can find me on Twitter at @IndyAdMan.