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Sunday, July 14, 2024

How an NFL Stadium Turned Into a Record-Setting Swimming Venue

  • The USA Swimming Olympic trials are taking place at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
  • More than 200,000 fans are likely to attend events this week.
Swimming Trials at Lucas Oil Stadium
The Indianapolis Star

As USA Swimming figures out who will be representing the red, white, and blue in Paris this summer, the Olympic trials have taken over a former Super Bowl host site in an unprecedented way. 

In Indianapolis, tens of thousands of fans have already turned out to Lucas Oil Stadium, normally the home of the NFL’s Colts, to watch the country’s best swimmers vie for their spot on Team USA. The 70,000-seat venue has a capacity of 30,000 for the swimming trials, which began this past Saturday and will run through Sunday. 

A record crowd of 20,689 took in the action on the first night, setting the all-time attendance mark for an indoor swimming competition worldwide. More than 17,000 fans showed up Sunday morning—the most ever for a preliminary session. Indianapolis officials are confident they will break the U.S. Olympic swimming trials total event attendance record of nearly 200,000, which was set in 2016 at Omaha’s CHI Health Center. 

“The thing for us that we’ve been happily surprised by has been the crowds,” Patrick Talty, the president of local organizing body Indiana Sports Corp, tells Front Office Sports. “I’d be shocked if we didn’t set the all-time attendance record for all sessions.” There will be 17 total sessions at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Diving In

Indianapolis organizers began the bid process for the swimming trials back in 2020. Three pools have been constructed inside Lucas Oil Stadium, including a practice area that is the largest temporary pool ever constructed with ten 50-meter lanes and seven 25-meter lanes, all connected. Talty wouldn’t reveal exactly how much has been spent to transform the football stadium, only saying costs are “in the millions.” Construction began in early May, and teardown will run into early July.

The trials are a joint venture between USA Swimming and Indiana Sports Corp, the latter of which pays a hosting fee. Revenue will be shared between the two organizations. “We’re excited to see the outcomes when it’s all over,” says Talty. 

The Colts do not own Lucas Oil Stadium, so they won’t reap any financial benefits. The team is actually one of the event’s sponsors, and it did help with logistics of the bid process such as making premium suites available.

See Ya Next Time?

USA Swimming will have another bid process for the 2028 Olympic trials, ahead of the next Summer Games in Los Angeles. Talty says Indianapolis will be interested in hosting again. But Lucas Oil Stadium likely won’t turn into a regular swimming destination. The nearby Indiana University Natatorium, which can seat up to 4,700 fans, typically hosts other major swimming events.

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