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Monthly Archives: May 2015

Cha-ching! Some businesses say Final Four tops Super Bowl

Source: Indystar.com
By: Jeff Swiatek 

With inventory in his Final Four souvenir tent on Pan Am Plaza down to a few dozen T-shirts and some bright blue Kentucky Wildcats knit caps, Don Menser pronounced his latest Final Four a profit-raking success.

"It was good. It was a very good event. We have no complaints," said Menser, a purveyor of branded merchandise to 27 Final Fours. "Hats, basketballs, the little plush monkeys, all the tattoos that go on your face, they're all gone," he said Tuesday, standing outside the white tent with two big "50 percent off" signs propped by the entrance.

Menser's thumbs-up for Final Four weekend seemed a shared gesture across Downtown and much of Indianapolis' suburban business landscape. A favorable mix of teams, weather and — dare we bring it up? — a just-in-time change that quieted the controversy over the state's "religious freedom" law, teamed up to make the 2015 Final Four one of the most lucrative and publicity-enhancing sporting events ever for the city.

"We were relieved and very proud ... especially coming off the heels of the RFRA issue," said Chris Gahl, a spokesman for Visit Indy, the city's tourist promotion and convention arm.

Indianapolis stood to gain a $70 million economic impact from hosting the NCAA's men's basketball Final Four, Gahl said. The college fans who poured into the city bedecked in their team's swag spent so freely that some restaurants were busier than during the peak periods of the NFL Super Bowl that Indianapolis hosted in 2012.

The High Velocity sports bar in the JW Marriott hotel sold 13 percent more food and drink on Saturday than its busiest Super Bowl day, said hotel General Manager Phil Ray. "It was just a great weekend," he said.

Of course, the mild weekend weather provided a big assist, allowing the visiting hordes to swarm Downtown streets and spend more freely.

"We were 30 percent above projections for the weekend. It would have been more if Kentucky won," said Jim Siegel, chief beer taster at Tow Yard Brewing.

Fans from the Final Four teams Kentucky, Wisconsin, Michigan State and Duke were able to easily reach Indianapolis within a day's drive, and they turned out in big numbers, said Patrick T. Tamm, president and CEO of Indiana Restaurant & Lodging Association.

"Those fan bases know our city and like our city, and the word is getting around," Tamm said. "We couldn't have asked for a better turnout."

This year's Final Four fans also seem to hanker for Michelob Light beer. On Saturday, "the whole city ran out of it," said Ray. Distributors quickly restocked on Sunday.

Monarch Beverage said opening the city to a national party produced a 400 percent increase in sales to its Downtown customers. The distributor shipped 23,000 cases of beer and wine over the weekend, said Scott Shipley, senior vice president of sales.

"Almost all of the accounts we talked to said that their numbers were better than the Super Bowl," he noted.

At the Marriott Indianapolis Downtown, which hosted the Kentucky team, "gosh, we thought it was a great weekend," said Paul Kiley, director of sales and marketing. "The city was, like, on fire Saturday." The Marriott's two in-house restaurants topped their Super Bowl sales numbers, he said.

Gahl figures more people showed up than the last time the city hosted a men's Final Four, in 2010. Then, the city didn't have the 1,005-room JW Marriott and its three adjacent hotels, the NCAA's Fan Fest was smaller and musical events were fewer.11092112_10152691390796817_6284197721865162307_o

Talk of boycotts of the state by gay rights groups, businesses and others upset with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act had restaurateur Scott Wise worried as Final Four weekend approached. He'd spent six months preparing to host crowds at his Downtown Scotty's Brewhouse.

"We were very concerned going into the weekend with everything happening with RFRA," Wise said.

Those fears became a distant memory as his restaurant racked up $7,000 in sales per hour over the weekend — more than double normal.

Wise's only real Final Four worry: several upset Kentucky fans who had to be escorted from the restaurant late Saturday night after Kentucky's loss to Wisconsin.

"It was the end of their perfect season," Wise said. "I'd probably be upset, too."

Only 12 Final Four-related arrests were made over the weekend, most for public intoxication, according to Department of Public Safety records.

And Downtown businesses were not the only ones to benefit. In Hamilton County, most of its 3,000 hotel rooms were booked over the weekend, which coincided with Easter, normally a slow period for hotels.

"It was a fantastic four-day period, second only to the Super Bowl," said Gary Miller, senior vice president at IHG, which owns the Staybridge Suites at 96th Street and I-69.

Kevin "Woody" Rider said the two restaurants he owns in Carmel — Woody's Library restaurant and Divvy — were packed much of the weekend. "Carmel's spring break really slows us down. It's a mass exodus. It was nice to have the influx from the Final Four," he said.

The Indianapolis-based NCAA, which had raised concerns about holding events in Indianapolis if RFRA wasn't revised to give protections to gays and others, pronounced itself happy with the Final Four.

"The 2015 Final Four is the latest example of the city of Indianapolis staging a major sporting event in a first-class manner, and that's evidenced by the dozens of members of the media who went out of their way to remark about the wonderful experience they had over the last several days," said Dave Worlock, NCAA director of championships and alliances.

And one measure of more success to come: 20 influential business meeting and convention organizers who were checking out Indianapolis came away impressed, according to Gahl.

"We addressed the RFRA issue head-on at the beginning of the weekend," Gahl said. "The one-on-one dialogue helped answer questions and reassure these decision-makers Indianapolis is a welcoming place." By Monday night, as Duke celebrated its championship win in a cloud of confetti in Lucas Oil Stadium, "We were relieved that all 20 of them still have a strong interest in coming to Indianapolis in the future," Gahl said.