Downtown restaurants lament loss of revenue from NCAA Sweet 16 fans

NCAA, Big Ten decisions impact fans, businesses

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Downtown business operators say the NCAA Sweet 16 weekend was one they had circled on their calendar. March Madness has traditionally meant a big payday.

While business operators say in the short-term they can make it just fine, they wonder how long the coronavirus concerns will last.

The president of the NCAA said Wednesday that upcoming championship events, including the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments leading to the Final Four, will be conducted with essential staff and limited family attendance. In Indianapolis, Indiana Sports Corp. on March 26 and 28 will host the men’s basketball Midwest Regional at Lucas Oil Stadium.

The last time the Sweet 16 games were in town, Shapiro’s Deli tripled its usual weekend business. Owner Brian Shapiro said Wednesday, “Today, we had three-quarters of our catering business cancel.”

Now, plans for a big Indianapolis weekend in two weeks also on hold as an influx of fans and customers are no longer coming. “Business that weekend is tremendous especially if certain teams are in there, Louisville or Kentucky or Indiana,” he said.

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While Shapiro said the city is diversified, the problem right now is that multiple facets of that diversity — such as universities and corporations including pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly and Co. — are affected.

“It’s a significant amount of money,” Shapiro said. “Fortunately they canceled early enough that we weren’t ramped up with tens of thousands of dollars worth of perishable food.”

At another Indy classic, St. Elmo Steak House, drew fans Wednesday from the Big Ten men’s basketball tournament and team logos hugged the bar during the Wednesday dinner hour.

“Indianapolis thrives on this type of event. We’re a sports town,” said Richard Edwards, St. Elmo general manager. “We’re disappointed but, of course, we support their decision.”

He adds two weeks’ notice was plenty of time for them to adjust, too.

“It’s not something we can’t weather,” Edwards said.

Now, the question is, how long is the weather going to hold.

“It depends how severe it is,” Shapiro said. “If it’s just a two-week episode and we shut the economy down for two weeks, but if this drags on for another, it’s going to get into everybody’s pocketbook.”

Both men say they hope that the NCAA gives some sort of mulligan to Indianapolis and other host cities, and will award them another big event soon to help make up for the lost revenue.