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Volume 20 No. 42
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No room at Indy

Downtown site keeps events close but pushes hotel searches out and drives room rates up

Sports marketer Larry Rothstein has been entertaining clients at the Super Bowl since 1998, but the asking price on hotel rooms in and around Indianapolis this year caught him off guard.

“I can’t get anything downtown without taking out a mortgage, and I’ve been seeing things like the Super 8 and Motel 6 that are 25 to 40 miles out of town asking $350 to $700 a night, and they all have four-night minimums — and they all usually cost $69 a night,” said Rothstein, owner and president of Source Communications. “I don’t think the NFL has much control over all this, but it would be nice if they could stop these guys from using the Super Bowl as their own slot machine. I’m feeling ripped off.”

A combination of far fewer hotel rooms than a typical host city, two teams from large markets getting to the league’s championship game, and the NFL itself gobbling up most of the prime spaces has led to what executives are calling historically high prices for the Indianapolis Super Bowl.

Remarkably well-connected industry types are staying miles out of town. Large corporations are hosting client hospitality in distant cities, including Chicago, which is about 180 miles from Indianapolis. Fans trying to find room at the inn undoubtedly will have the same experiences, and complaints, this week.

Whereas many years the most frequently heard question on the streets of a Super Bowl city is “Whadya pay for your ticket?” this year, the same question is being asked about hotel rooms.

In Rothstein’s case, after a few weeks of frantically searching, he called in a favor and got three rooms at an Indianapolis airport hotel — for five times the normal rate, at a hotel that doesn’t normally charge more than $200 a night for a room.

“I have never seen prices like this,” said Alan Bachand, partner in sports hospitality site, who is working his 16th Super Bowl.

Bachand said this summer’s Olympics in London will have good hotel rooms at one-third the price of those in downtown Indianapolis this week. “It is crazy,” he said. “The [downtown] La Quinta is selling for $1,975 a night, with a four-night minimum, plus 17 percent [tax].” The week after Super Bowl, that same room will cost $74 a night.

“I have people offering me $8,000 for a room at the Hyatt, but I can’t get my hands on it,” Bachand said. “We have a suite for $8,000 a night at Embassy Suites. There is nothing downtown.” normally sells about 400 hotel rooms for a Super Bowl. It will do, at best, 300 here, but the company’s total sales will still set a record.

The NFL requires host Super Bowl cities to have 20,000 rooms within an hour’s drive. There are 6,000 hotel rooms in downtown Indianapolis, and at least 20,000 total within that mandatory hour’s drive of the city. But the NFL contracted for around 17,000 of those 20,000 rooms for use by teams, media, business partners, league and team officials, and, according to NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy, for fans.

Unlike many Super Bowls that have the weekend’s events spread out, Indianapolis’ allure was a compact geography that, in theory, would allow fans to walk to everything. As things have played out, such accommodations will be mostly for the very well-connected. Everyone else will be staying away from downtown.

Even the NFL’s own Super Bowl party, Friday night’s commissioner’s party, is not downtown but about five miles away, at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. So is the Maxim party the next night. And for those hoping to get into Indianapolis’ famed St. Elmo Steak House: the NFL has it fully booked Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.

Patrick Gallo, vice president at Toronto-based sports hospitality company Sportality, said that from a hotel room inventory perspective, this is the worst he has ever seen — other than for the inaugural U.S. Grand Prix, the now defunct Formula One race that also was in Indianapolis.

“The level of hotels, and inventory of hotels, is smaller than other NFL Super Bowl host cities, and there is not a lot in the outlying areas,” he said. “I have people staying in Chicago and coming in for the day.”

By population count, Indianapolis is the smallest Super Bowl host city since Jacksonville, which saw its first and likely last Super Bowl in 2005, one in which cruise ships were floated in as auxiliary hotels and traffic was horrific enough that I-95 had to be closed several nights of Super Bowl week.

“This is the worst hotel situation I’ve seen since Jacksonville,” said sports hospitality veteran Robert Tuchman, president of Elite Experiences. “The good news is that demand is still very strong. … I have clients paying $10,000 for tickets and flying in on private jets who are staying at the Jameson Inn in South Bend [130 miles away].”

QuintEvents, which sells the majority of the NFL’s official On Location hospitality packages, has sold several thousand packages and was out of top-tier packages last week. Those packages are priced at $8,699 and include on-field access.

After not being able to find appropriate hotel space in Indianapolis, one of QuintEvents’ biggest corporate clients settled on doing several days of hospitality in Louisville, Ky. (about 115 miles away), where it is hosting several hundred clients and staff, and then busing them in and out on game day. “They were able to get everyone in the same [hotel] property in Louisville and at a better rate, and I know they are doing much better on airfare,” said QuintEvents CEO Brian Learst.

Other than staging hospitality outside of Indianapolis, the idea of not spending the night in the city is gaining popularity among clients who consider the Super Bowl a must.

“The problems with hotels in Indianapolis is making private jets in and out the same day more popular than ever for us,” said Matt Haines, senior vice president at Inside Sports & Entertainment Group, New York, which is selling hotel-and-ticket packages ranging from $4,250 to $15,000.

Commercial airfare is another complaint. A search last week on Expedia found a direct, round-trip flight from New York arriving Thursday and leaving Monday at $1,609. With a layover you could purchase a ticket for as low of $785. On those same days the following week, the cheapest nonstop was $272, or $222 with a layover.

Sportality’s Gallo said he’d booked a direct flight from Toronto to Indianapolis that cost $2,600. Now, his company has a Toronto-Indianapolis charter going in and out on Sunday.

Sharyn Outtrim, executive vice president of strategic events at PrimeSport, said her firm is putting Super Bowl clients into hotels they had never considered before, like a Days Inn location. Other clients have shifted their budgets. “It’s opened up other events,” said Outtrim, whose company sells official travel packages for the New England Patriots, along with 13 other NFL teams, and is hosting a game-day Super Bowl tailgate with NFL alumni. “We have clients that shifted to the BCS championship or the Final Four in New Orleans because those are also great events and they could get in the hotels they wanted.”