Leonard Hoops, president and CEO of Visit Indy, got a call from the College Football Playoff committee. It wanted Indianapolis to be the first city outside of the West or South to host the national championship game. The catch: Indy hadn’t bid on the marquee event.
“It was an awesome opportunity because the CFP reached out to us. How could we not bid on this?” says Hoops.
Late last year, Visit Indy and Indiana Sports Corp. got the word that they will indeed host the big game in January 2022. More remarkable than the city marking a departure for the CFP is the lineup preceding the college football bonanza.
If you start the calendar in December 2020, Indy will host two Big Ten Football Championships, the NBA All-Star Game, the NCAA Men’s Final Four and the CFP finale.
“Oh, by the way, there is an Indy 500 in there—the world’s biggest single-day sporting event,” adds Hoops.
Whether or not Indianapolis officials may secretly wish some of those marquee events were spread out over several years is irrelevant. The reality is it’s an open secret that Indy is up to the task.
“The city was literally built for hosting major events,” says Ryan Vaughn, CEO of Indiana Sports Corp. “It’s at the core of the city identity.”
Those are not just words. Dating back to the 1970s, city planners deliberately marked off downtown for a convention center, arenas and hotels to not only be within walking distance of one another, but connected in most cases via skywalk. Indy now has up to 12 hotels and 4,700 rooms connected to Indiana Convention Center. Two new hotels, expected to be Hilton-affiliated brands, will bring that total to 14 hotels and 6,100 rooms by the big year.
Kings of Innovation
The walkable blueprint, along with Lucas Oil Stadium, was enough to attract no less than the NFL for the 2012 Super Bowl. The idea of hosting the biggest of the big games in a cold-weather city remains rare (a fact that probably prohibits a return visit anytime soon). But Indianapolis took the ball and ran with it.
The idea of a Super Bowl village originated in Indianapolis. Now, it’s part of the NFL’s RFP.
“With every premier event, we try to add some element of innovation,” says Vaughn, who at least has years to brainstorm—particularly for hosting the big college football game for the first time.
“The event is already at a premier level,” Vaughn says of the College Football Playoff National Championship. “It will be enormous by the time it gets here. Our challenge will be even greater about what we're contributing that’s meaningful to the CFP committee and our community.”
Hoops notes the home of the Indy 500 has a knack for rolling with the times. For instance, the first race held at venerable Indianapolis Motor Speedway was a hot air balloon contest on June 5, 1909. A few months later, on Aug. 19, 1909, 15,000 fans caught the venue’s first car race.
“The city is a symbol of evolution and innovation more than anything else,” Hoops says.
Countdown to Kickoff
In some respects, Indianapolis is the last place you’d expect to find a college football championship. Indiana University and Purdue University are basketball powerhouses, but not even Drew Brees could bring a title home to the Hoosier State.
As such, it’s almost a given two out-of-state schools will be playing at Lucas Oil Stadium in 2022. That may play to Visit Indy’s advantage. Consider this year’s game between Alabama and Georgia at Mercedes-Benz Stadium amounted to almost a regional game because of the schools’ close proximity to Atlanta.
But what Indianapolis lacks in college football dynasties it makes up for in a legacy of hosting major events. It is the only city to host the Big Ten Football Championship. NGBs based in Indy include USA Gymnastics, USA Football and USA Diving.
That experience allowed the city to rush into action when the CFP called for an RFP. “I don’t know if another city could have put together the kind of bid we did in six weeks,” says Hoops.
But that’s in the past. For Vaughn, there’s just one relevant question: What’s next?