The NBA All-Star Game could be making a long-awaited return to Indianapolis in the near future.
Representatives from Pacers Sports & Entertainment, the Indiana Sports Corp, and Visit Indy traveled to New Orleans for the 2017 All-Star Weekend to gather information for a possible bid for Indianapolis to host the All-Star Game in 2021.
Pacers owner Herb Simon has expressed strong interest in bringing the All-Star Game back to the city, which last hosted the event in 1985 at the Hoosier Dome.
"We have a great building, we're in our 18th year at Bankers Life Fieldhouse," said Rick Fuson, Pacers Sports & Entertainment President and COO. "It's time to bring the NBA world back to Indianapolis."
The NBA is currently accepting bids for both the 2020 and 2021 All-Star Games. The Pacers' bid would be for 2021, as that year is the best fit for the city when considering future convention commitments. It is also the next year that the city is scheduled to host the men's Final Four, meaning that the Circle City could possibly host the two biggest single-city annual basketball events in the world in the span of six weeks.
In preparation for a possible bid, a number of high-ranking officials made the trip to New Orleans. That group includes Fuson and Senior Vice President of Facilities Operations Mel Raines; Indiana Sports Corp President Ryan Vaughn and Senior Vice President Susan Baughman; and Visit Indy President Leonard Hoops, Vice President Susie Townsend, and Frank Short. A similar contingent also traveled to Toronto for last year's All-Star Game.
That group has been diligently researching everything it takes to pull off a successful All-Star Weekend. From the marquee events like the Rising Stars Challenge and All-Star Saturday Night all the way down to the minutiae of coordinating transportation schedules and plotting out the distribution of signage across the city, the Indianapolis representatives have been documenting it all for a possible bid.
"I think we learned how big it is," Fuson said. "Because it is big. And not only all the official events, but the 'unoffical events,' whether it be parties or sponsors who do things. Thinking about looking at all the different places that you'll have to find for all these folks and partners coming (to the city), it's a big task."
Given the scale of the event, it was particularly important that the Pacers have support from the rest of the city before they began the process of exploring making a bid.
"We can't do it without them," Raines said. "It's absolutely a partnership...Visit Indy and the Indiana Sports Corp and the CIB and the governor and the mayor, all of those partners, we can't be successful in hosting these kind of events without everybody being in 150 percent."
One of the strongest components of an Indianapolis bid would be the city's long and highly successful history in hosting large events, from the 1987 Pan American Games to the 2012 Super Bowl to numerous Finals Fours. Each of those events involved citywide collaboration and cooperation, something that Indianapolis prides itself on.
"There's a lot of good cities in the country, but I don't think there's a better event city than Indianapolis," Fuson said.
In addition, Simon has a strong relationship with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. When the Pacers played in the 2017 NBA Global Games in London, Silver expressed his admiration and respect for Simon — the league's longest tenured owner, having bought the team with his brother Melvin in 1983 — and told the media that Indianapolis "should be on the top of list" to host a future All-Star Game if Simon and the franchise chose to submit a bid.
Still, Indianapolis is far from the only city in the running for the 2021 All-Star Game. About a dozen teams have expressed interest in hosting All-Star Weekend in 2020 and/or 2021. For that reason, Fuson said that the Pacers would need to be "competitive" in their bid.
The number of teams interested in hosting the All-Star Game is growing, and for good reason.
"The economic development, the impact — just walking around here the last couple of days, it's massive," Raines said. "The restaurants are full, the hotels are full, people are shopping, sponsors are doing big events. It's really a great thing to go after and if it wasn't, so many teams wouldn't be bidding for it."
Fuson added that data shows that the economic impact of the weekend for the host city is estimated around $100 million.
The deadline to submit a bid to the league is in the spring. The host cities for both 2020 and 2021 could be announced before the start of the 2017-18 regular season.
The Pacers have not submitted a bid yet, but there is substantial enthusiasm about the possibility of bringing the event back to Indianapolis in 2021.