Bankers Life Fieldhouse was built for basketball, but it was built for a lot of other things, too. Those who thought Market Square Arena was a perfectly suitable facility missed the point that it lacked the loading docks and other amenities that make it possible for a building to host a wide variety of events.
From swim meets to beach volleyball matches to hockey games, from rodeos to concerts to memorial services, the Fieldhouse’s versatility and the bold, inventive mindset of many people within Pacers Sports and Entertainment have made it possible for Indianapolis to host events that couldn’t have been imagined in previous eras.
Here are 20 that stand out. Not all of them were exceptionally well-attended, but they showed off the flexibility of the Fieldhouse as a venue and sometimes the quick-change artistry of those in charge:
Dec. 31, 1999: John Mellencamp’s New Year’s Eve concert
The Hoosier rock icon rang out the old year with a concert that drew 16,500 fans to the Fieldhouse. Party favors were awaiting each of them when they arrived.
Mellencamp’s concert drew rave reviews from Indianapolis Star critic David Lindquist, who called it “the first truly great concert in Conseco Fieldhouse’s brief history.”
The gig was the final stop of the then-48-year-old Mellencamp’s Rural Electrification Tour.
February 2000-present: State wrestling championships
The Fieldhouse has hosted the state wrestling championships every year since it opened, featuring some of the most dedicated athletes to be found anywhere.
The two-day event, with matches conducted simultaneously, routinely draws more than 10,000 fans for the finals on Saturday. It also requires a great effort from the Fieldhouse staff to execute the quick turnarounds in the setup.
Take 2000, for example. The wrestling championships took place on Feb. 18 and 19. On Sunday the 20th, Pavarotti came to the Fieldhouse and performed before more than 7,000 fans. And then on the 21st the Pacers played a home game against Dallas – and won, 94-93 to kick off a five-game winning streak.
May 13, 2000: Roy Jones Jr. defends light-heavyweight title
Indianapolis had not hosted a boxing title fight since 1986, when native Marvin Johnson won a bout at Market Square Arena before Roy Jones Jr. came to the Fieldhouse. It was worth the wait for the 13,211 fans who attended his bout with Richard Hall.
Jones owned the unified titles of the WBA, WBC and IBF at the time, and kept them with an 11th-round TKO of Hall. Many, including HBO commentator Larry Merchant, thought the fight should have been stopped earlier.
October 7-11, 2004: World swimming championship
Probably the most audacious event to be held at the fieldhouse was the FINA World Short Course swimming championship. Imagine installing two swimming pools on the building’s floor, a two-week process that included pumping 500,000 gallons of water from a hydrant on Pennsylvania St.
Although the legendary Michael Phelps had to withdraw because of injury, 600 swimmers from 100 countries participated. Saturday’s session drew 11,488 fans and ESPN2 broadcast 18 hours of coverage.
August 17, 2008: Summer Slam pro wrestling event
With professional wrestling having moved into the mainstream of the sports world, it’s only nature the Fieldhouse has hosted several WWE events.
The best-attended was the Summer Slam program that drew 15,997 fans to watch seven matches. It also attracted 477,000 Pay Per View buys for a national television audience.
January 24, 2009: Beach volleyball tour
The Association of Volleyball Professionals “winter nights” tour came to the Fieldhouse to offer respite from the cold weather and gloomy skies.
The Pacers had played (and defeated) Houston the previous night and would play (and defeat) Charlotte the following night, but for this occasion the floor was converted to an 85-foot-by-55-foot sand pit. The competition features Todd Rogers and team Phil Dalhausser, who had won gold medals in the 2008 Olympics.
February 26, 2010: Reggie Miller returns for documentary premier
Reggie Miller was five years into his retirement from the Pacers, but still drew a crowd for the premier of a documentary to be aired on ESPN as part of its 30 for 30 series. “Winning Time: Reggie Miller and the New York Knicks” told the story of Miller’s historic moments against the Knicks in the playoff games of the mid-Nineties.
About 8,000 fans turned out for the red-carpet event, in which the documentary was shown on the scoreboard over center court. Former teammates Vern Fleming, Austin Croshere and Jeff Foster also were on hand along with then-current Pacers Dahntay Jones, Earl Watson, Roy Hibbert and Josh McRoberts. Miller’s fellow TNT broadcasters Doug Collins and Charles Barkley also were in attendance.
October 23, 2011: Dan Wheldon memorial service
Two-time Indy 500 winner Dan Wheldon was one of the most popular drivers on the Indy Car circuit, and his memorial service at the Fieldhouse was a fitting tribute.
Wheldon, who had been killed in a 15-car accident at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Oct. 16, was eulogized by teammates Dario Franchitti, Tony Kanaan and Bryan Herta in a 90-minute service before an audience of nearly 3,000 that included several auto racing dignitaries. Reba McEntire and Garth Brooks were among those who performed.
January 29, 2012: Sampras, Martin conduct tennis fundraiser
Pete Sampras and Todd Martin were past their prime when they met for an exhibition at the Fieldhouse, but that wasn’t the point.
Their match raised money for the Miracle Match Foundation, with proceed going to the Riley Hospital for Children. It was a cause particularly near and dear to the heart of Martin, whose father had died of leukemia.
The tennis wasn’t bad, though. Sampras, 40, had been the world’s No. 1-ranked player from 1993-98, while Martin, 41, had achieved a No. 4 ranking in 1999. Sampras won the match, 7-5 and 6-4 before a crowd of 3,200.
July 14, 2013: Paul McCartney concert
When Paul McCartney comes to town, it’s an automatic sellout. Such as when he made his fourth appearance in Indianapolis in his post-Beatles career and delighted the ticket scalpers.
McCartney, 71 years old at the time, played a 2 ½-hour set without an intermission. It was a far cry from when the Beatles played a pair of half-hour sets at the State Fairgrounds in 1964. His fans were no less thrilled to see him all these years later.
Marty Bechtold, the director of booking for Pacers Sports and Entertainment, commissioned a limestone sculpture of McCartney from Indiana artist Dale Enochs, and PSE’s president Rick Fuson presented it to him before the concert.
September 25, 2013 and August 2, 2017: Fallen police officers honored
Whenever an Indianapolis police officer is killed, the city takes appropriate steps to pay a suitable tribute. That often includes a memorial service at the Fieldhouse that is open to the public.
Ray Bradway, a 41-year-old, five-year veteran of IMPD was honored in 2013 after he was fatally shot by a man holding a woman and child hostage. Jim Waters, a Deputy Chief in the department, was recognized in 2017. The 48-year-old officer had been killed in an off-duty auto accident.
August 13-16, 2015: World gymnastics championships
The world became acquainted with Simone Biles during the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio De Janeiro, when she won gold medals in the individual, vault and floor exercise. Indianapolis got a sneak preview of her impending glory at the P&G Gymnastics national championship at the Fieldhouse.
Biles, then 18 years old, won her third all-around national title at the event, becoming only the second woman to do so. Kim Zmeskal had accomplished the feat from 1990-92.
Organizers announced a combined attendance figure of 15,370 for the Saturday afternoon and evening sessions. The buzz throughout the building reminded many of the Olympic Trials rather than a national championship.
“It was so insane, the energy,” said Gabby Douglas, who won gold medals in the 2012 and 2016 Olympics. “This arena was just so dynamic, and I loved it because I just feed off the crowd.”
November 4, 2015: Mel Daniels memorial service
The memorial service for Mel Daniels was a fitting tribute for a Hall of Fame center who helped the Pacers win three American Basketball Association championships and was twice voted the league’s MVP. Daniels had continued to work for the Pacers as an assistant coach and scout, during which he gained the loyalty of countless co-workers who admired his down-to-earth nature.
Modern-era Pacers Reggie Miller and Jeff Foster offered eulogies along with Daniels’ coach, Slick Leonard, and teammates Darnell Hillman and Bob Netolicky. The event attracted co-workers and admirers from California, Texas, Florida, New York, Arizona and other distant locales who wanted to pay their respects to Daniels.
December 12, 2015: Dirt Midget and Outland Kart racing
The sweat had barely dried off the court following the Pacers’ 96-83 victory over Miami at the Fieldhouse on Friday, Dec. 11 when workers began preparations for the first indoor Dirt Midget and Outlaw Kart races in Indianapolis.
It took 50 loads of premium dirt and 800 feet of steel barrier and fencing to construct the oval track. Two races were conducted, with 40 drivers competing in each one. The preliminary was an Outlaw Kart race with $5,000 going to the winner, and the main attraction was a Dirt Midget race with a prize of $10,000. Kyle Schuett won that race, which included some NASCAR drivers.
Dec. 2-4, 2016: The circus’ final appearance
Little did anyone know when the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus made its annual stop at the Fieldhouse on this occasion that it would be the last. The following summer it was announced the circus would be closed after a 146-year run
Declining attendance and high costs were two of the primary factors.
The circus went out with a six-show run from Friday through Sunday, with three shows on Saturday.
October 5-8, 2017: Garth Brooks’ five-show run
Garth Brooks had not played a concert in Indianapolis since 1996, 21 years earlier. So perhaps he should have known one concert wasn’t going to be enough.
Brooks scheduled a concert at the Fieldhouse for Oct. 7, but it sold out so quickly he added another. It sold out just as quickly, so he added another. The sellouts and additions kept coming until ultimately Brooks played five concerts over a four-day period, squeezing two into Saturday the 7th. Even then, some tickets were being sold for more than $3,000 in the resale marketplace.
In a venue that has attracted elite concert acts from all over the world, Brooks’ weekend spree stands alone.
February 13, 2018: Michelle Obama speaking engagement
Michelle Obama is one of the most popular First Ladies in American history, and that was proven once again when she visited the Fieldhouse for what was billed as “A Moderated Conversation with Former First Lady Michelle Obama.”
The event, sponsored by the Women’s Fund of Central Indiana, drew an audience of more than 12,000 people. It was moderated by Alecia Decoudreaux, and covered topics related to women’s issues.
March 11, 2019: Metallica’s attendance record
Metallica had not played in Indianapolis since 2009, so its fans were more than ready for their Fieldhouse appearance.
The four-man group performed in the round as opposed to setting up a stage at one end of the floor, which accommodated more seating. The strategy worked, as the group drew an announced crowd of 18,274 to break the concert attendance record previously set by Billy Joel.
October 24-28, 2018: Future Farmers of America Convention and Expo
The 91st annual FFA convention featured a couple of memorable guests. Garth Brooks performed a private concert for the high school students from around the nation at Lucas Oil Stadium on Wednesday, then President Donald Trump gave the keynote address at the Fieldhouse on Saturday.
It marked the first time the President of the United States had appeared at the convention since 1991. More than 70,000 kids heard the address.
The convention had been a mainstay of the Fieldhouse calendar, but the bulk of the activities were moved to Lucas Oil in 2019.
July 24-28, 2019: Cirque du Soleil’s latest show
Of all the entertainment acts that have performed in the Fieldhouse, one of the most unusual is the Cirque du Soleil production.
The show blends acrobatics, aerial arts and ice skating in a presentation that takes full advantage of the arena’s spacious confines. Popular? Its latest offering, CRYSTAL, required eight shows over a five-day period. It was described as a blend of “Alice in Wonderland” and “Frozen.”