Did you know the sports industry made $71 billion in 2018 and has been forecasted to keep growing year-over-year? A growing balance sheet is always a healthy sign, but the industry is also valued for many other reasons.

Much like corporate events, sports facilitate comradery and networking. The coronavirus put a crimp in that, of course, and while things are finally starting to look up—the NBA season is scheduled to resume July 30 with no live audience; MLB is set to begin July 23 at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C.; the NFL and NHL (which has moved the rest of its season to Canada) will be back but have yet to schedule—it has been slow moving.

But an unexpected sports organization in an unexpected city took a crack at bringing back live events before the pros do. Tournament of Champions—formerly National Basketball Events, a California-based high school basketball tournament that is typically staged in Illinois—took place July 6-8 and 10-12 at Indiana Convention Center (ICC) in Indianapolis. The city used the opportunity to showcase new protocols and hygiene standards.

The event brought more than revenue to Indy. It brought renewed hope.

Participating hotel properties, including The Westin Indianapolis, Hyatt Place Downtown and Courtyard by Marriott, averaged nearly 70 percent occupancy as nearly 9,000 new faces came to the city.

Ordinarily a 700-team competition, the tournament’s size was more than halved,  to 300. This kept people safely distanced and accommodated Indianapolis’ government mandates.

“By cutting more than half of the basketball teams competing in one city at a time, we were able to safely spread the number of athletes out among 11 exhibit halls and mandate that no more the 250 people could gather in one exhibit hall at a time,” says Chris Gahl, senior vice president of marketing and communications at Visit Indy.

Gahl stresses the effort that went into planning for the event. “An incredible amount of work, including $7 million in convention center safety enhancements, went into planning this event so that it could be conducted in the safest way possible,” he says. “Given the new protocols and advanced communication of safety expectations (wearing a mask, temperature checks, etc.), the attendance and willingness of families to travel to Indy was on par with the numbers the event organizers estimated.”

Many families made the trip via car. “Indy is within a day’s drive to more than half of the nation’s population, [allowing] families to easily and safely get to the city,” Gahl says.

Gahl reports there were no major problems. ICC had security in place to enforce mask-wearing and social distancing; signage also reminded attendees of mandated safety procedures.

Indianapolis’ event was such a hit that it led to two more basketball tournaments in the city last weekend, 2020 All-In Hoopfest and The Clash.