INDIANAPOLIS —Reportedly, $18 million was generated from last Saturday’s inaugural Big Ten football championship game. Whenever I hear or read such numbers on large-scale sporting events, I ask myself how much if any of that amount reaches the host city’s Black community.
I put this question to local residents as well during my visit.
“I would assume not a whole lot,” admitted Indianapolis native Anthony Arnett, who attends Sanctuary Church, located just a few blocks from the football stadium where the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts play and where the conference title game will be played for the next four years. Arnett says last weekend’s game is “a prelude for the Super Bowl” that will be played in Indianapolis in February 2012.
“You don’t hear many African Americans get excited” about such events as the Big Ten title game, Toyin Martin pointed out. “You hear them get a little bit more excited about the Circle City Classic [an annual Black college football game], the Black Expo or things like that, but not Big Ten — unless it was their alma mater.”
Most of the Black people I ran into at last week’s game were stadium workers.
“I think all our focus right now — not just the African American community, but citywide — is on the Super Bowl,” Arnett continued. “It’s a great opportunity to bring some notoriety to our city.”
No mention of the Black neighborhoods or Black-owned businesses, however, which is usually par for the course whenever city officials and others promote Super Bowls and NCAA tournaments as manna from economic heaven.
According to Sanctuary Senior Pastor George Martin, despite the fact that the Colts’ stadium is just across the bridge from the church and the neighborhood, most of his 250 Black church members see it and other local sporting venues in Indianapolis as belonging to another world. “Many of our folk don’t attend Colts games,” he said. “There are a vast number [of members] who never have been over to the stadium.”
That in itself is sad, since Martin’s members are all de facto stadium investors — their tax dollars contributed to building the football team’s home.
“The stadium actually was primarily built on tax dollars,” explained Martin. “We have Conseco Field House [a basketball arena] that was built a number of years ago — there also were tax dollars put into that. We’re just in walking distance from it, but yet they are not so accessible because they are so expensive to go there. A family of four going down and spending $200 just for one event is not likely.”
Using the pastor’s example, we did a quick analysis of the cost of attending last week’s game: parking — $10-$25; tickets — $50 to $175; souvenir program — $10; food and drinks — $60 or more; total cost — around $300.
“[The church members] are primarily working class. They can’t afford to take their families to a game,” continued the senior pastor. “We’ve gotten free tickets to preseason games and games not that significant, and we make [them] available to our families.”
Toyin Martin, the pastor’s wife, believes that the organizers of big sporting events might not have folk like her in mind when planning. “That raises my eyes and I think, ‘What kind of people do they want there?’”
Rev. Martin, however, thinks that his neighborhood, especially his church’s parking lot, are in the minds of some football fans. “Folk sometimes park in our lot when the Colts play so they can walk over, and they do not pay,” he said.
(In the interest of full disclosure, I offered to pay for parking at the church, but the pastor wouldn’t accept any money from me. “Don’t worry about it,” he told me.)
I then asked the three individuals if Blacks, whether in Indianapolis or in Minneapolis, should demand to know where all these supposed millions really go, and why the Black community isn’t getting its fair share.
“I think it should be pastors like me,” said Pastor Martin, “[and] those individuals who call themselves community leaders and community activists.”
“Those of us who do have a voice, who have influence in our community, [should] make these requests known and ask these questions,” added Arnett.
“I think we should be raising this question all the time,” said Toyin Martin. “If we don’t, then it won’t be on the top of [the event organizer’s] mind. Everyone should want to know how [these projected dollars] are spent.”
When it comes to so-called big revenue-generating events such as the Big Ten football title game, local officials should be “more prudent…making sure that it benefits the whole community and not just one part,” she concluded.