Sports tourism slowed due to fan capacity or no fans at Indy games, downtown businesses impacted

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INDIANAPOLIS – Cities across the U.S. are feeling the economic impact of the pandemic and adding to that is the lack of fans at sporting events.

This week, Indianapolis will host the No. 7 Kansas vs. No. 20 Kentucky game and the Jimmy V Classic, both at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, but neither will have fans in attendance.

“Unfortunately, we’ve definitely seen the impact of the lack of visitors, lack of residents coming down for athletic activities and certainly spectator sports,” said Bob Schultz, Senior Vice President of Downtown Indy Inc.

Schultz said downtown was deliberately designed with events in mind. “So, when you think of our sports palaces here, from Lucas Oil and Bankers Life and Victory Field, every time residents come down they’re spending money at restaurants, parking, merchandise, obviously, and maybe after game activities at the bars and nightclubs.”

“Our restaurants and retailers have totally been devastated by the lack of visitors,” said Schultz.

Schultz said theater and art events also help bring in more tourists to the city.

“You can find restaurants and retailers and parking and there’s plentiful of those elements here and then when you don’t have the events that are attracting those people to Downtown,” he said.

“This starts to add up and unfortunately that’s why we’ve seen a number of our restaurants have to close down either permanently or temporarily,” said Schultz.

Although there’s not an exact figure of how much revenue the city has lost this year related to sporting events and tourism, Schultz put the numbers in perspective that one Indianapolis Colts game alone can help bring in to the city.

“I think it is gonna shock a lot of people. When you think on an average Colts Sunday home game you see anywhere from four to five million dollars in direct visitor spending at restaurants and parking and merchandise,” he said.

“You get kind of the multiplier effect,” he said. “Fortunately, we’ve been able to recoup some of that with measured numbers going back to Lucas Oil Stadium, but a lot of those people aren’t going back to the restaurants to have full meals and such.”

Steve Geisler, who owns Tavern on South near Lucas Oil Stadium, said game days are a big part of his restaurant’s business, although not their only source of revenue.

“They’re not huge because there’s only 10 days a year that Colts play but that’s a smidgen of what you do overall,” said Geisler.

He said capacity restrictions are causing challenges for downtown restaurants and the impact of games with little to no fans is only an added factor to that.

Geisler said his restaurant is filling on game days, but in a pandemic-era, filling only means he is seating what the county’s restrictions allow.

“Overall, we’re at about 35 to 40 percent of the normal revenue levels for a game day and we don’t even open after the games for these 1 p.m. games,” said Geisler. “We just open beforehand and close at game time because there’s really not enough people to warrant waiting around for three hours to see, if you know, a handful of people might come by.”

Geisler said major nearby businesses with thousands of employees working from home have significantly impacted the flow of traffic to restaurants and businesses in downtown.

“Without any of those things there’s really just no people downtown,” said Geisler.

“It’s pretty much a ghost town and it’s a waiting game at this point to see how long you can hang in there and see how much you can stand to lose because it’s just not possible to stay profitable,” he said. “It’s just, how long do you have the means to hang in there?”

Geisler said the recent high school football finals hosted at Lucas Oil Stadium brought in a boom in business.

“We were busy for three days this week because we had high school football Friday and Saturday night and those days were busier than the Colt’s game.”

“It’s great to see when there are some of the rare activities that go on downtown,” he said.

“There’s just a few things here and there that help bring a few dollars in but those just help offset losses honestly.”

“It’s easy to understand why people don’t come downtown,” noting the pandemic, he said, “It’s very easy, but it’s difficult to be a business owner these days especially downtown.”

“If some of the ones that still enjoy dining out, I would encourage you to come down and see some of us because we all could use – every bit helps,” he said.

Schultz said he hopes people continue to patronize downtown businesses, even if they are not heading into the city due to sporting events. “Unless we support these restaurants during these final days of the pandemic and these retailers, they’re not gonna make it. We have to find ways to support these today so they’re for us and with us tomorrow.”

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