‘Red Carpet Treatment’ of Indianapolis Olympic Trials Could Open Door for Other Big Venues

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

‘Red Carpet Treatment’ of Indianapolis Olympic Trials Could Open Door for Other Big Venues

U.S. Olympic Trials won’t be the last swimming event held in an NFL stadium. World Aquatics made that official on Friday.

The success of the event at Indianapolis’ Lucas Oil Stadium opens the door for more swim meets to expand beyond their previous attendance limits, USA Swimming President and CEO Tim Hinchey said Friday.

Hinchey said that the meet in Indianapolis has exceeded expectations on several fronts, including the target for ticket sales. USA Swimming had aimed to set the record for attendance at an indoor swim meet, which it did with 20,689 spectators Saturday’s opening night and 22,209 Wednesday. Hinchey also aimed for a nighty average of around 16,000, using the 2016 Rio Olympics as its guide. The attendance is well over that: Three of the first five prelims sessions topped 16,000, and only one finals session has fallen under it.

“We’ve surpassed that significantly,” Hinchey said. “We’ll do a lot of debrief when we get down into the analysis that we’ll share with everybody openly about how many tickets we sold and how we did it. One of the unique learnings here was the 17 individual sessions versus what we’ve had previously, it gave people a chance to really pick and choose what they wanted.

“We’ve never had walk-up before. We’ve never had tickets on sale the day of before. So we’re watching those trends quite a bit to see what we’ve been doing. That has been a pleasant surprise, because selling those nine-day packages is really consistent with the endemic swim families that we’ve done previously. So we kind of had that audience early, just like we had a lot.”

The Indianapolis program is much vaster than in the past. The COVID-19-affected 2021 Trials notwithstanding, USA Swimming has gone from eight days, 15 sessions and around 9,800 tickets to sell in Omaha in 2016 to nine days, 17 sessions and a capacity up to 32,000 spectators. Add in some 50 suites and a set of premium options and inclusive packages, and USA Swimming has gotten creative with its offerings.

Hinchey said his big concern entering the meet was the ticket-selling infrastructure, and USA Swimming has leaned on the Indiana Sports Corporation to bolster their efforts there. The growth of walk-up sales and other activations like the fan zone, which is drawing around 10,000 visitors a day, are a big part of what’s making the event successful.

“It’s incredibly important to me,” Hinchey said of the sponsorship with the city and Indiana Sports Corporation. “I think they’ve shown that this week, I think some of the feedback we’ve received more than anything has been, just fan reactions walking to the airport, all lanes lead to Indy, looking at Georgia Street. When they were talking about the kind of activations they were going to do, we were incredibly excited. And I feel like for the first time in a long time, our sport’s gotten the red carpet treatment here as hosts.”

The proof of concept of a temporary pool in a larger stadium opens the possibility for more. Hinchey said that the request for proposal process for 2024 trials involved four finalists: Indianapolis, Omaha, St. Louis and Minneapolis. The latter two candidates have visited Indy this week, and the kind of infrastructure that makes Indianapolis work is the kind that a handful of major cities have to host such an event.

Hinchey stresses that it doesn’t have to be a football stadium. But with this step taken, it would be a priority to push the momentum toward something as big or bigger next time around.

“Once you take something to the next level, it’s hard to kind of go backwards,” he said. “So I think we’ve set an expectation. And there’s a lot of things we’ve learned from this, there’s a lot of things we can do better. And I’m excited about that prospect.”

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Lyle Campbell
Lyle Campbell
29 days ago

Indianapolis Sports Corporation did an outstanding job in hosting the Trials from a West coast TV viewer perspective. NBC/Peacock did a good job. One complaint that has always irked people in the past has been the breakaway during 800 and 1500 for commercial. The viewer is just getting into the race and they interrupt for a commercial in the finals. I bet the number of swear words SHOUTED at this time would set a record!
Would like to see the other activities televised in a clip. Nice job!

JohnnyTwobad
JohnnyTwobad
29 days ago

I’d welcome a rigorous survey of those attending the meet, in terms of their reaction to the seating and prices before declaring “stadium meets” the thing of the future. The original pricing structure and ticket packages that US Swimming announced months ago had to be revised after underwhelming advance sales, and before Los Angeles decides this is the way to go, they should talk (or survey) those in the upper levels about their experiences.

Bridget Waterman
Bridget Waterman
28 days ago
Reply to  JohnnyTwobad

I was at the Trials in Indy for the entire time. I have also been to two Trials at Omaha. I agree with
Johnny Toobad. The entire ticket and attendance issues need to be reviewed. The atmosphere was great but it was like being at a basketball or football game.
Too loud, hard to hear the announcer.
The atmosphere in Omaha was
low key and focused on the
athletes…the view was better…
The Indy Trial were focused on
the audience.

Virginia Coach
Virginia Coach
28 days ago

Speaking of TV coverage. NBC does no service to viewers in not running an immediate graphic showing times and order of finish after each heat. In MOST races NBC waited 90 seconds or more before showing that info, and often for just three seconds. Interested viewers want that information. As it is the 90 seconds have been filled with Rowdy Gaines continued review of what viewers just saw adding little to the viewing experience.

A text to Rowdy early in Trials suggesting NBC show result information sooner went unanswered. NBC coverage of Track and Field showing such a timely graphic isn’t much better, but at least sometimes they post a winning time before running a total heat result.

Showing results sooner is not a big ask — or hard to do.

Darrell Lohrke
Darrell Lohrke
28 days ago

I’m a retired swimming coach and would have loved to have attended the trials. I had swimmers at the trials in the 80s and 90s. But, when I saw the price of tickets online I was shocked and disappointed that there’s no way I could afford go. After contributing decades to the sport I love I’m heartbroken about not being there.

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