Stagnant state or innovation nation?
by Mark D. Miles and James Taylor
Debates have raged over the years on whether hosting large sporting events, such as a Super Bowl, provides the host city a net benefit over the cost borne by local groups in holding these events. More often than not, the argument tug-of-war is whether the economic impact to the local economy outweighs the cost locally. Each side of the argument has different ways of answering this question, and thus the answer depends on whose finger is tipping that economic scale. One report, commissioned by the North Texas Host Committee prior to Super Bowl XLV, suggested the economic impact would be $611 million, while another for South Florida for Super Bowl XLI suggested only $153 million.
Maybe that is the wrong question in the first place or only a partial answer at best. Perhaps a better method is to assess the long-term economic and social benefit for the host community, and not just take a 10-day measure of how much visitors spend when they come to town. There is growing evidence that host cities are using large sporting events—such as Super Bowl XLVI, which Indianapolis is hosting in February 2012—to advance civic goals beyond the event itself. According to one journal:
Increasingly organizing (host) committees, nonprofit organizations, and local government in cities that are awarded the game use the event as a catalyst to address pressing social issues.
Another report published in 2010 notes:
The positive socioeconomic impact that stems from hosting a major sporting event is not just fringe benefits or happy side effects; they are the main reason for hosting the event in the first place. Decision-makers might spend a lot of time quoting numbers from a detailed impact analysis. But often that is simply a way to appease people who might be critical of spending taxpayer dollars on something perceived as frivolous entertainment.
Hosting a major event gives a city or country permission to move quickly and decisively on a wide range of issues and activities that would normally be mired in endless debates and bureaucracy. It provides a common focal point for people to rally around. It provides a rigid deadline that accelerates infrastructure development and other large-scale improvement activities that might otherwise take decades to complete. And with the whole world watching, it provides a strong incentive to do things right. 
The Super Bowl Legacy Project on the Near Eastside of Indianapolis might be the most ambitious effort undertaken by a local organizing event ever. No need for an estimated economic impact: By fall of 2011, six months before Super Bowl XLVI, more than $154 million had already been leveraged and invested in various neighborhood efforts and organizations to further this community’s own plan. You could argue a significant amount of this investment would have likely occurred anyway, which is a credit to the work of the various neighborhood groups and volunteers. Fair enough, but clearly the determination of residents to make the Near Eastside a community of choice, and the civic rallying cry and firm deadline of Super Bowl XLVI, accelerated the efforts of the neighborhood.
While the concept of leveraging the lasting social and economic value of sports might be dawning on the rest of the nation, Indianapolis has known this secret since the early 1970s. Hosting sporting events is a powerful catalyst to advancing broader civic goals, many of which have absolutely nothing to do with the event itself.
Some 40 years ago in downtown Indianapolis, there were about 500 hotel rooms, no market-rate housing, no sporting venues, and the cultural amenities there were increasingly in disrepair. The area that Indiana University Purdue University at Indianapolis (IUPUI) now calls home had suffered from decades of neglect and urban decay. Major retail department stores brought people downtown and provided jobs besides office work, but they were under enormous pressure from emerging suburban shopping malls.
This uninspiring picture led young urban professionals ready to make their way in life to tag the city as “India-no-place” or “Naptown.” It was largely their intention to finish college and leave. But those of us with strong home ties and who had seen firsthand what other cities had done, formulated a civic culture with the central premise of building a vibrant downtown. We realized that if we didn’t, Indianapolis wouldn’t be the kind of city in which we all wanted to live and work, and which would attract others to live, work, and raise their families here.
Many things coalesced over the next 40 years to make downtown Indianapolis a unique success story, certainly in the Midwest. Perhaps the most spectacular success that led to the downtown strategy we enjoy today was sports, but back then, we hadn’t connected the dots yet. That success was due to a consensus that we had to build a downtown by capturing individual opportunities, and these often involved sports.
For example, the Indiana Pacers, the local National Basketball Association (NBA) team, were playing at the State Fair Coliseum on the northeast side. The team needed a new arena and was in danger of leaving. Some wanted to build a new stadium on the northwest side of the city, but then-Indianapolis mayor Richard Lugar, a staunch proponent of the downtown, succeeded in having Market Square Arena built just east of Monument Circle.
Similarly, the National Football League (NFL) made it known it was considering expansion. We began establishing relationships with the NFL and team owners—never mind that we didn’t have a place to play professional football. This put us on a path to build the Hoosier Dome (later RCA Dome) downtown. The 60,500-seat dome opened in 1984, which made it possible to attract the Colts NFL club as a permanent tenant that year.
About the same time, planning for the Olympic Games in the United States was being reorganized into national governing bodies for each sport. We persuaded some of them to locate their headquarters to Indianapolis—not yet quite a sports strategy, but capturing yet another opportunity. With the governing bodies driving their individual Olympic trials and national championships, we realized we needed a sports strategy.
The Indianapolis 500 was already a powerful brand for the city, but our sports strategy would always be about developing the community; it would be about economic development; it would market Indianapolis to the world. The strategy would unify the community around the need for infrastructure for hosting major sporting events and the acknowledgment of the ripple effect that created in hospitality, dining, entertainment, retail, cultural enrichment, conventions, higher education, and most important, getting a critical mass of people living downtown instead of just working downtown.
In short, the sports strategy would always be about each event’s social impact and the community legacy it leaves. To formalize and implement the strategy, the Indiana Sports Corporation was incorporated in 1979 “to implement the city’s objective of becoming a national sports capital.”
These efforts led Indianapolis to host the National Sports Festival IV in 1982 with 4,000 to 5,000 athletes from all across America (later named the Olympic Sports Festival) and then the Pan Am Games in 1987. The games involved some 6,000 athletes from North, South, and Central America. Approximately 40,000 persons volunteered to help the local organizing committee, dubbed PAXI (Pan Am Ten, Indianapolis), host the events during a three-week period.
After also hosting numerous major National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) events and championships, in 1999 the city attracted the national headquarters for the NCAA, building on Indianapolis’ reputation ofamateur sports capital of the world. The momentum of the sports strategy and the success of the Indianapolis Colts led to the expansion of hotel and convention space, and the building of Lucas Oil Stadium in 2008, which set the stage for hosting the Super Bowl.
While building a vibrant downtown continues, today’s focus is also on building the urban core—“the next ring out,” encompassing neighborhoods on the near north, east, south, and west sides of the downtown’s mile square. This was the genesis of the Super Bowl XLVI Near Eastside Legacy Project.
For 13 years, the NFL has provided each Super Bowl host city with $1 million to be matched locally to renovate, expand, or build a youth center—a “Youth Education Town”—to be a lasting legacy of the impact the big game has on the community. But with Indianapolis’ history of innovation and its sports strategy, the 2012 Indianapolis Super Bowl Host Committee had a much broader vision. Rather than a single building or project, Indianapolis’ legacy project would include an entire section of the city—21 neighborhoods known as the “Near Eastside.”
Near Eastside residents were already hard at work on their quality-of-life plan to transform their declining community into a model for neighborhood revitalization across the city. Spotlighting such work as the Super Bowl Legacy Project is something no host city had ever done. The strategy worked. Despite losing the bid for Super Bowl XLV to North Texas in 2007, the next year when the NFL announced that Indianapolis had won its bid for Super Bowl XLVI, they praised the city’s enthusiasm and the vision and depth of the Near Eastside Legacy Project as the big reason.
Indianapolis landed the 2012 Super Bowl with a unique gambit: plans to transform a downtrodden Near-Eastside neighborhood in a project meant to create a lasting legacy.
The multifaceted Legacy Project encompasses the aforementioned Chase Near Eastside Legacy Center and Youth Education Town with health, fitness, and education programs for entire families. It is creating enhanced and new housing for more than 250 families and individuals, with the rehabilitation of existing homes; the development of new quality, affordable single-family homes; and the construction of new mixed-income and senior rental housing. The Project also includes improving infrastructure and green spaces, as well as supporting existing businesses and attracting new neighborhood-serving businesses to the area.
We definitely have financial capital for the Legacy Project, but without the social capital of the Super Bowl, many things wouldn’t have gotten done. A good example is the $9 million in federal seed funding from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Better Buildings Neighborhood Program to improve energy efficiency in more than 1,000 households, small businesses, and nonprofit and community centers in the Legacy Project. We wrote the proposal for this nationally competitive grant after the Legacy Project was declared. The DOE told us it was the visibility of the project that met their criteria and objectives for promoting and sustaining this program in other cities that led to the grant’s approval. There are dozens of similar examples at the federal, state, and local levels.
So given all of this, what have we learned? What are the right ingredients for an impactful community development effort like the Legacy Project? First, this is a leap of faith, because there are perhaps more than 1,000 ideas of what a legacy project can be. In choosing this one, the Host Committee probably picked the most risky project—because this is tough, tough work, especially in this economy and with a reliance on neighborhood groups. But while the risk is great, so are the rewards in seeing the results, which are far greater than those of the many other ideas combined.
Second, it definitely takes creating the aforementioned civic culture and social capital, and the driver of those is our dedicated volunteers. In fact, our volunteers have been the real heroes in all of this over the last 40 years and are again for Super Bowl XLVI. This is another unique competitive asset and advantage for Indianapolis. Regardless of the event, if we ask for 50 volunteers, we get 1,000 or so. The living legacy of our human capitalis what makes the lasting legacy of every event and initiative we pursue.
And third, we’ve learned over and over that the social impact of each event is always greater and longer lasting than the economic impact—that’s what we look for in each event, and that’s Indy’s style!
Mark D. Miles, President & CEO, Central Indiana Corporate Partnership, and Chairman, 2012 Indianapolis Super Bowl Host Committee (SBHC)
James Taylor, CEO, John H. Boner Community Center and Lead Staff for the SBHC Legacy Project
 Mitchell Schnurman, “Super Bowl's Economic Impact Hard to Tackle,” Fort Worth (Texas) Star-Telegram, January 12, 2011.
 Kathy Babiak and Richard Wolfe, “More Than Just a Game? Corporate Social Responsibility and Super Bowl XL,” Sport Marketing Quarterly 15, No. 4 (2006). pg. 214.
 Greg Pellegrino and Heather Hancock, “A Lasting Legacy: How Major Sporting Events Can Drive Positive Change for Host Communities and Economies,” Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, February 16, 2010. pg 16.
 David J. Bodenhamer and Robert G. Barrows, eds., The Encyclopedia of Indianapolis (Indiana University Press, 1994).
 William H. Hudnut III, The Hudnut Years in Indianapolis, 1976–1991 (Indiana University Press, 1995).
 Brendan O'Shaughnessy, “It’s Ours! Indianapolis Scores 2012 Super Bowl; Near-Eastside Legacy Project Helps City Clinch 1st Super Bowl,” The Indianapolis Star, May 21, 2008.
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