Indiana is ready for a victory celebration, and this one doesn’t relate to March Madness. With a swipe of his pen, Gov. Eric Holcomb created a statewide sports and tourism bid fund. The Indiana Sports Corporation will use the fund to help pay the bid fees for large events, allowing it to remain competitive with more states around the country.
And while the fund won’t start receiving money until next year when legislators write a new state budget, you can believe that once those funds are available, Indiana will be a force at the bidding table.
The bill, originally sponsored by Senator Kyle Walker of Lawrence, would funnel public funds through Indiana Sports Corp for distribution across the state.
“I look at this as an investment rather than an expense,” said Walker. “Indiana Sports Corp (ISC), through their efforts statewide, had an economic impact of over $76 million just last year which also amounted to over five million dollars in local taxes and five million dollars in state taxes.”
Among the destinations supporting the bill were Visit Indy, Westfield, Fort Wayne and Evansville. The language strictly designates that at least 30 percent of the money be spent outside Indianapolis.
The legislation hit the radar back in the early days of 2022. CVB officials said the funding is necessary because Indianapolis area has been lagging behind others in the nation.
Ryan Vaughn, president of ISC, told The State House File, “There are more than 15 states and dozens of cities that have some form of a public bid fund to support and attract and grow sports.”
One article also stated that Chris Gahl, a senior vice president with Visit Indy, said that in the past, the city lost three bids—all non-sporting events worth $30 million in economic impact—to Orlando, Dallas and Houston. According to Gahl, the event planners told Visit Indy the cities were able to access bid funds, whereas Indy could not.
Walker told reporters that one bid for a national swimming event had failed because local hosts couldn’t raise the funds to entice organizers to come to Indiana.
“They simply couldn’t bid on the event because it was essentially a $1.5 million licensing fee and they didn’t have the funds to bid,” he said. “We lost out on $80 million of economic impact and all of the tax dollars associated with that.”
Bid fees can vary but they can often prove an insurmountable obstacle to sports commissions and CVBs, particularly now, when communities are coming off a pandemic year during which many events had to be cancelled.
Andy Mallon, who heads up Indiana’s Capital Improvement Board, which oversees the Convention Center, Lucas Oil Stadium, and Gainbridge Fieldhouse, told reporters at 93.1-FM that big Indianapolis events like the NCAA basketball tournament have historically relied on private contributions and local organizing committees, but as Indy attracts more events, it becomes harder to keep going back to the well.
Andy Cook, mayor of Westfield, located in Hamilton County, went on record to state that having a pool of public money for disbursement to sports commissions and CVBs will allow for a far more equal playing field, as it were, when going head-to-head with other cities.
“It becomes very competitive and these tournaments, they want more and more for nothing, so to speak, and, of course, our funds here locally are extremely limited in how we could compete with a state backed incentive program for a given tournament…if we have to compete with Round Rock, Texas, for a soccer tournament, now Indiana could be more competitive, and we would welcome that greatly.”
With the success of Indy’s bid fund, expect other states to mount similar campaigns.