Year in Review: Indy will also host major sporting events in 2021


First came a March Madness like no other before. Then there was the Indianapolis 500 and all of the related events. In December, a full capacity Big Ten championship football game was played at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Indianapolis, long considered a city that knows how to host major sporting events, did so in 2021 even as the COVID-19 pandemic continued. Every step along the way showed where the public stood with pandemic fatigue and risk tolerance.

In the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, which was played almost exclusively in the arenas of Indianapolis, the NCAA allowed a capacity of up to 25% for all rounds. The Elite Eight, Final Four and the national championship at Lucas Oil Stadium could accommodate approximately 17,500 fans per competition.

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA – APRIL 05: (LR) Mark Vital # 11, Davion Mitchell # 45. Jackson Moffatt # 13 and Flo Thamba # 0 of the Baylor Bears celebrate after beating the Gonzaga Bulldogs in the National Championship Game of the 2021 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium on April 05, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Brett Wilhelm / NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

The relatively few fans who were allowed to participate in NCAA tournament games were in strictly regulated rooms. Participants reminded people to put their mask on, and there were constant prompts to wear a mask unless she was actively eating or drinking.

When it was time for the Indianapolis 500 two months later, capacity was capped to 40%, but that’s a deceptive number considering the enormous size of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. This allowed around 135,000 spectators to take part. It was the biggest rush at a sporting event since the pandemic began.

Although the 500 attracted a large number of visitors, one important factor is that it is an outdoor event that spans 560 acres. Even when the race is almost at full capacity, the spectators can find space on the infield lawn to escape the crowds.

By the time college football hit it would have been difficult to tell that the US was still in the middle of a pandemic as the crowds were back at full capacity and masks were largely optional.

Michigan and Iowa played to more than 67,000 mostly maskless fans at Lucas Oil Stadium on December 4th. The wearing of a mask was encouraged but not compulsory.

It’s hard to say what kind, if any, of the COVID-19 spikes were caused by major sporting events.

There was a spike in Marion County shortly after the Big Ten soccer championship, likely due to the more contagious Omicron variant. The Indianapolis 500 also roughly coincided with the rise of the Delta variant, and the race took place on Memorial Day weekend when more people and families gathered.

The 7-day moving average for cases rose slightly in early April after the NCAA tournament. It was around 80 in mid-March and reached 170 by April 17, before declining again.

Indianapolis will host the College Football Playoffs National Championship on January 10, 2022. The playoff committee plans to postpone the game to January 14th as the Omicron variant makes its way into some college football programs during the bowl season.

Contact Author Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853 or email [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.


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