No. 10 Best City to Be a Sports Fan: Indianapolis
How much does where you live matter as a sports fan? The short answer is: It depends.
If you're an Alabama football fan, there's no better place to live than Tuscaloosa. If you're a Red Sox fan, there's no worse place to live than New York City.
But what if you were a free agent, so to speak? What if you loved sports but didn't have a specific affiliation to any team? You're moving to a new city. What city would have the most to offer you as a sports fan? What city would give you the best overall experience?
That is what we're here to find out. We took 25 of the best writers from Bleacher Report and beyond to objectively look at their cities and come up with rankings. To get a better understanding of the categories and grading criteria, click here.
Indianapolis comes in at No. 10.
No other city can be called "The Amateur Sports Capital of the World" and host to "The Greatest Spectacle in Racing." Indianapolis holds those titles, plus it has a Super Bowl, several Final Fours and other major events under its belt.
You want a big event done right? Bring it to Indy.
Pacers. Colts. Indians. Eleven. Hoosiers. Boilermakers. Bulldogs. Jaguars. USA Football. USA Track and Field. I could go on and on. Indy has more sports than you can shake a stick at. Year-round, it is a sports city, and one that fits all budgets.
Flashy? No. This city is more like Larry Bird than Magic Johnson. You might think it's a bit funny, a bit hick, but we just win and look pretty darn good doing it most times. Our Super Bowl might have been the best Super Bowl ever, as even Roger Goodell admitted.
I didn't grow up in Indianapolis, but Indianapolis has taken me in, and I'm proud to live here. I can be objective about both the positives and the negatives of the sports community in Indy, but there's a whole lot more positives than most people know.
Number of Teams/Events: 16/20
Our cup runneth over. Pro, college, high school and even youth teams are everywhere in Indy.
The easy ones are the Colts and the Pacers, but Indy also has solid minor league franchises that are definitely worth checking out. The Indy Eleven are a new and exciting soccer franchise in the NASL, while the Indy Fuel bring minor league hockey back to the city. An affiliation with the Chicago Blackhawks won't hurt, either. Meanwhile, the Indy Indians are a popular family choice, and top Pittsburgh Pirates prospects and eventual stars such as Gregory Polanco and Andrew McCutchen have passed through there on their way to the big leagues in recent years.
There are several major colleges—Indiana, Purdue, IUPUI, Butler, Ball State, Indiana State and a big contingent for Notre Dame—as well as smaller colleges like Marian or the great small-college rivalry between DePauw and Wabash that culminates in the Monon Bell game.
A recent development in Indy is youth sports parks on a grand scale. Westfield, a northern suburb, has a facility with 31 football/soccer fields and 26 baseball/softball fields spanning 400 acres. There's a similar complex planned in Greenwood, a southern suburb, anchored by a hotel with a number of fields in addition to a multi-court basketball facility.
If you can't find something to watch or play in Indy, you're not looking very hard.
Success of Teams in the Last 5 Years: 15/20
Do we rate this in terms of trophies or wins? In the last decade, the Colts brought home the Vince Lombardi Trophy and went to another Super Bowl, compiling just one losing season. That's good, right?
The Pacers have been up and down over the past 10 years, but the team is definitely on an upswing. Only the Miami Heat have stood between the Pacers and the NBA Finals the past few seasons. That's good, right?
The Butler Bulldogs stunned the basketball world by going to back-to-back Final Fours. They were one Gordon Hayward half-court heave away from the biggest stunner since...well, it would have been bigger than Villanova over Patrick Ewing's Georgetown or even Jim Valvano's NC State team of destiny upsetting Houston, which featured Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler. They've made up for lackluster years from Indiana and Purdue.
If you're hung up on trophies, well, that one in the photo above stays here every year.
Top the following, anywhere:
Lucas Oil Stadium is brand-new and hosted a Super Bowl. While it might not have the most character in the world, the giant barn with the retractable roof has hosted its share of big games and big talent. Plus, it's the regular home of the Final Four and Big Ten Championship games.
Victory Field is frequently cited as the best stadium in the minor leagues. It's tough to argue with that when you see the place. Gorgeous sight lines, a grass outfield berm for picnics or running kids and a view of the skyline that has become the prototype for many new ballparks. You won't believe it's nearly 20 years old.
Banker's Life Fieldhouse is the Camden Yards of basketball. It's got all the modern amenities with the old-school charm. As long as you don't sit up too high in the rafters, there's not a bad seat in the house. The sound stinks there, frankly, but hey, this is sports, not concerts.
Fairgrounds Coliseum is newly renovated and will be the home of both the IUPUI Jaguars and the new Indy Fuel hockey team. It's historic enough to highlight that the Beatles once played there and good enough to stack up against a modern, mid-size college facility.
Hinkle Fieldhouse. Wow, I can't say enough about this classic venue. It's basketball history at its finest, and the recent success of Butler basketball has made it even better. They keep the place up well, and the "Dog Pound" student section is one of the most entertaining ones you'll see. Butler Blue is always waddling around and may be the best mascot in sports right now.
Indianapolis Motor Speedway is the home of not only the Indy 500 but also NASCAR, motorcycle and sports car races. With some recent renovations (and a new manager), the speedway is modernizing. The new road course is a big upgrade, but the May tradition is still king.
Should I go on? Indy has more, from Carroll Stadium for soccer and track to the IU Natatorium for swimming. Does your city have a velodrome like Major Taylor for bike races? Does your city have raucous high school gyms that can hold thousands of fans?
Fan Passion: 5/10
Passion might be where Indy rates lowest in this survey. The city loves its teams, but passion? The fans show up for a winner.
The Colts struggled with attendance when they weren't winning, and even one bad season when Peyton Manning was hurt saw a drop-off in season-ticket sales. Basketball lovers have started to warm up to the Pacers again, consistently packing the arena after years of suffering from the "Malice in the Palace" brawl.
It's not all negative, though. The Indy Eleven, a minor league soccer club that debuted in 2014, sold out 7,000 season tickets and filled its temporary 11,000-seat stadium for every home game. A new minor league hockey franchise is also experiencing rapid growth among its fanbase in anticipation of the inaugural 2014-15 season.
College and high school sports do very well, especially with so many choices. There's a rivalry between Indiana and Purdue, but it doesn't approach Alabama-Auburn by any measure.
There's not much in the way of fan traditions or tailgating, but sometimes that over-the-top passion can get annoying or even exclusionary. There's definitely none of that here.
General Fan Experience: 13/15
There is no better city to visit for an event than Indy. There's a combination of factors, but the keys are experience, close proximity and variety.
Indy knows how to put on a big event. You can say the city got lucky with springtime weather for the Super Bowl, but there were heaters set up all over town had it not been so fortunate. The Super Bowl Village concept is now mandated by the NFL, but Indianapolis invented it. Those guys flying over the street in the picture above? Indy started that, and everyone else is copying it.
Know any other event where 250,000 people show up, spend a weekend and then leave? Just imagine if the entire population of Buffalo, New York, decided to invade your town all at once. Could you handle it? Indy does it every year for the 500.
This is also my chance to brag a little bit about Indy food and drink. It's not New York or even Chicago, but there's a great food scene in Indy. Restaurants range from the iconic St. Elmo Steak House to the high-end foodie experience of The Libertine or R Bistro. Sure, we've got chains and steakhouses, but we've also got Asian comfort food at Rook or farm-to-table fare from Oakley's.
Like beer? Indianapolis now has 35 breweries in and around the city, including seven within walking distance of the major sports venues. Sun King has won tons of beer awards, but others like Fountain Square, Outliers and Flat 12 are worth visiting to pick up a pint. Venture a little outside the city, and I might even buy you a beer at Oaken Barrel.
It's also a very reasonably priced city. The cost of living is low here, and yeah, we'll jack up the prices a bit for a big event, but we're Indianapolis, not San Francisco. You can find a nice room and a good meal without taking out a second mortgage.
Indy is not a big media town. There's one major newspaper (The Indianapolis Star), and while it has great columnists and beat writers, it's had as difficult a time as most print publications.
We have four solid TV stations and three sports radio stations, which is good, but there tends to be a team-centric nature to them. Don't expect there to be too much groundbreaking work—just reputable, hard work that will give you the coverage you need.
Bob Kravitz deserves special mention as the only local print columnist, while Mike Chappell of The Star has been a Colts beat writer since the team came to Indy. You might know Dave Calabro's brother, Kevin, due to his national exposure, but Dave has taken over a tough gig as the voice of Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the last couple of years, assuming the duties of the iconic Tom Carnegie.
Star Power: 7/10
Peyton Manning may be gone, but his spirit lives on here, for better or worse. Andrew Luck might be as good on the field, but off the field...well, let's just say he's not the best interview in the world.
There are plenty of guys who are, led by Pat McAfee. Yes, the punter has become the face of the franchise. He's genuinely funny and represents the team well. Maybe we first noticed him because he was arrested for SWI (swimming while intoxicated), but he's become a lot more. Yes, Cris Collinsworth was right—that hit in the video above helped make him a local legend.
The Pacers have no shortage of star power. Paul George endorses national brands like Papa John's and Gatorade, and the Pacers media relations department is second to none as well, which helps.
I'm not sure if we can count part-time residents like Tony Kanaan or Marco Andretti, but NASCAR star Tony Stewart still lives in his boyhood home south of Indy. Add in the rest of the college and minor-sports scene, and you won't be starved for star power here.
Fans from Baltimore might argue with the Colts here, but the rest of the city's sports have a rich enough history to more than make up for that. The Pacers have strong ABA ties, and former Pacers coach and newly inducted Hall of Famer Bobby "Slick" Leonard is still the announcer for home games.
The rich history of Indy sports is perfectly embodied by the Indy 500, where a yard of the original brick surface now serves as the start-finish line for the three big races. Beyond that, you can see the gym where Hoosiers was shot in Knightstown or go eat at Bobby Plump's restaurant, Plump's Last Shot. (Plump is the real-life Jimmy Chitwood!)
Need more? OK, head up to Hinkle Fieldhouse, yet another Hoosiers connection, to see a classic 1930s venue that has stood the test of time as the home of the Butler Bulldogs. Go see where records are regularly broken at the IU Natatorium or Michael A. Carroll Stadium. Even better, go see a high school basketball game at New Castle, where the true spirit of Indiana lives on cold winter nights.
Yes, there's plenty of history and tradition in and around Indy. Few can match it, and few celebrate it with more passion.
Final Tally: 77/100
Indianapolis used to be known as the "Amateur Sports Capital of the World." That still holds true, but it's grown into much more. Indy is now able to handle anything from high school basketball state championships to the Super Bowl with equal aplomb.
The combination of top-notch facilities, a walkable downtown, a diverse experience on and off the court and a Hoosier spirit that's infused into every event makes Indy an ideal destination for nearly every event, big and small. Super Bowl? Final Four? National championship? Bring it on.
Walk from the new Lucas Oil Stadium past the circle, up Mass Avenue, where you'll find great restaurants and bars, then back to your hotel—the entire town seems built for it. In many ways, it is and will continue to be. Downtown has become the spoke for the city, but its engine is sports.