The baseball brain trust of Indianapolis now makes its stand by pointing to the stands.
If you have any doubts whether this city could support a major league baseball expansion franchise, they say, just listen to the constant clicking of the turnstiles. It's the sports heartbeat of the heartland: More than 250,000 attended the week-long National Sports Festival here in 1982. More than 67,000 went inside the Hoosier Dome last June to see the U.S. Olympic basketball team play a group of Indiana professional stars (Larry Bird, Isiah Thomas, etc.); this represented the largest crowd ever to see a basketball game. More than 34,000 attended the National Basketball Association All-Star Game at the Hoosier Dome in February, another attendance record. Last Sunday, the usual 400,000 crammed the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Indy 500. Perhaps most amazing of all, when the football Colts came here last March, more than 200,000 requests for season tickets came rolling in. Even after the Colts' 4-12 season in 1984 -- in which the average attendance was about 60,000 -- the season-ticket renewal rate is running 97 percent. The Pan-American Games will be here next, in 1987, and various city officials talk of another attendance record. Indeed, India-no-place has become India-some-place. You have to wonder if author Kurt Vonnegut, the native son, might now reword his one-time description of Indianapolis as the city that watches a car race one day a year and sleeps the other 364.
Amidst the glorious numbers, though, there lurks a problem for the prospective Indianapolis Arrows major league baseball team. The truth is, the reason city officials point to the stands is because they don't want to point toward Cincinnati. It's only 110 miles away. That's too close for business comfort, say baseball insiders. The fact that Chicago (and two more major league teams) is 185 miles away doesn't help Indianapolis much, either.
Robert Howsam Jr., vice president/marketing director for the Cincinnati Reds, said much the same thing. "I don't think that you need to be a brain surgeon," he said, "to figure out how we feel about this. Naturally, we want to maintain the loyalties of the Reds fans in Indiana. They've been Reds fans since the beginning of time."
He said the Reds draw "3 or 4 percent" of their total attendance from the greater metropolitan Indianapolis area. "Three or 4 percent adds up." He also said of the possibility of a new major league baseball team in Indianapolis: "We wouldn't be too happy about it. We're a regional team . . . That would cut into our existing pie."
Art Angotti, a member of the partnership that hopes to own a major league baseball team in Indianapolis, counters the Reds Are Too Close theory by saying, "Ninety-five percent of the season-ticket holders of a team are within 75 miles of the ballpark. That's the market average. If you draw a 75-mile radius around Cincinnati and Chicago and Indianapolis, the only overlap is southeastern Indiana and that's not a highly populous area."
"Whatever is lost to other teams in baseball will more than be made up by the new fans to major league baseball," says Tom Binford, the chief steward of the Motor Speedway the last 11 years who is also a member of the baseball partnership. "If we have everything else in place, I think we have enough to overcome the geographics."
Nearly everything else does seem in place here. The ownership group, besides Angotti and Binford, includes Dave Elmore, a Chicago-based businessman. and WTTV-Channel 4 in Indianapolis. Angotti said that an announcment will be made later this week that "10 local businesmen, who will represent a minority ownership," will be added to the partnership.
Certainly such a partnership would seem to enable Indianapolis to meet one of baseball Commissioner Peter Ueberroth's three criteria for expansion, multiple ownership with local roots. Another of the criteria, fan support (the third is political support), will be reckoned with here beginning next week, when the Arrows will begin a season-ticket campaign similar to the one in Washington, D.C. Fans will be able to place their deposit in an escrow account and thereby establish priority for tickets if and when Indianapolis acquires a major league team.
The Arrows have an attractive stadium -- "state of the art," designers say -- in the Hoosier Dome, which would hold between 45,000-50,000 for a baseball game.
David Frick, treasurer of the Capital Improvements Board, which owns the Hoosier Dome, says that "between $8 million and $10 million" is required to ready the dome for baseball. The reconfiguration could be accomplished in less than eight months, Angotti says.
Frick said that a feasibility study was done on expanding Bush Stadium, the home of the Indianapolis Indians of the Triple-A American Association which seats less than 15,000. However, the cost was "between $20 million and $50 million" and the plan was scrapped.
Although there has been discussion of building a downtown stadium for baseball, Frick says, "The No. 1 alternative is to work on the Hoosier Dome."
Neither Binford nor Angotti, whose partnership group is the only one known to be interested in owning a team in Indianapolis, seems concerned with reports that major league teams lost an average of $3 million or more last year. Angotti said that a sweetheart lease with the Hoosier Dome, similar to the 20-year deal obtained by the football Colts, already has been discussed by the potential owners of the Arrows.
Angotti also said that "we have worked out a contract with (independent) WTTV, so we know what the revenue will be in that respect . . . "They (WTTV) are coming in with a several million-dollar investment totally independent of purchasing broadcast rights . . . (And) as long as they broadcast in a manner that's consistent with major league baseball, they'll have exclusive rights."
"I'm also convinced that Indianapolis would support major league baseball," Angotti said.
In July 1982, Indianapolis Mayor William Hudnot created the Indiana Major League Baseball Franchise Committee. Danny Danielson, chairman of that committee, says that a turning point came when Peter Bavasi, now the president of the Cleveland Indians, was hired as a baseball consultant.
In his 1 1/2-year stay with the Indianapolis group, Bavasi created a 200-page owners' prospectus, as well as another document that detailed costs, sales prices, stadium information and other facts pertinent to baseball expansion. Danielson says: "We had raised $75,000 in donations from corporations and we gave 95 percent of it to Peter Bavasi. In the end, we had a document to give owners with everything in it, every expense all spelled out. Peter Bavasi was absolutely worth everything we gave him."
Danielson talks of how five interstate highways converge at the Hoosier Dome. "You should see the ease with which the big crowds slide out of the Hoosier Dome," he boasts. He talks of how, even though Indianapolis is only the 24th television market in the nation according to Arbitron, "almost 800,000 people in the state also have cable TV subscriptions.
"Our No. 1 stumbling block is geographics. We're close to Cincinnati and somewhat close to Chicago," Danielson says. "And yet I can turn that argument into a benefit. If Cincinnati, Indianapolis, St. Louis and Chicago were all in the same division of the National League -- if they go to 16 teams in both leagues, in other words -- there would be a beautiful neighborhood rivalry."
Oh yeah, about that name Arrows . . .
"We thought about a name that was related to the game and our city," Angotti said. "We thought about 'Turbos' because early on, Indiana was one of the largest carmakers in the country. We thought about 'Scouts' because of the historic relationship to our city and because there are scouts in baseball. But it wasn't hard enough.
"We thought about 'Knights,' but Bobby Knight was getting a lot of bad press at the time in Bloomington."
But Arrows? Said Angotti, "You go out and dig in the ground around here and you're not surprised to find an arrowhead. 'Arrows' fits right in."
And Binford added, "The name has mobility and forward thrust, just like the city."