Fired up: A Q&A with Brandon McClish at the Evansville Regional Sports Commission
Since 2010, the Evansville Regional Sports Commission has played a significant role in bringing high-profile sporting events to southwestern Indiana, including NCAA Division II Men’s Basketball Elite Eights and National Championships and Ohio Valley Conference basketball championships.
The group has been searching for a new executive director since early 2023 when Eric Marvin was selected to lead the Great Lakes Sports Commission in Michigan. This month, Brandon McClish stepped into the role after spending five years as general manager for Learfield Sports at the University of Evansville.
Inside INdiana Business talked with McClish about his ideas for expanding sports opportunities in the Evansville area.
Do you expect to make any changes to the mission of the Evansville Regional Sports Commission?
I don’t want to make any changes. My expectations are to enhance the mission and take it to the next step. The person that was in the role, Eric Marvin, did a fantastic job of laying the groundwork for me and for the office. Everything I have envisioned to do is just take that to the next level.
When (Eric) was here during the COVID time of shutdown, all the conversations he was having, he couldn’t necessarily get to because of different hurdles. Utilizing what we have here in Evansville with the Ford Center, Deaconess Aquatic Center, Deaconess Sports Complex and Warrick County trails, I want to enhance what we’ve been able to do over the previous years.
What does success look like in the next year and over the next five years?
Success to me is, in a simple term, heads in beds and butts in seats. Having these events and tournaments that draw from a regional to a national audience is success to me. Taking the ceiling off of what has been done is success to me. Going after bids that necessarily we wouldn’t have done in the past due to facilities, due to restrictions—now knowing we don’t have those anymore—that’s success to me. Driving in more NCAA-regulated events such as cross country, volleyball, wrestling, whatever it may be, from NCAA to high school to regional, that’s how I do success.
What kind of restrictions are you referring to?
COVID and facilities. For years, we didn’t have the aquatic center. It was finished during the COVID time. Now that we have that, we can utilize it a little bit more. Utilizing the Deaconess Sports Complex for youth sports a little bit more, utilizing Bosse Field a little bit more, the Ford Center. These city-owned businesses and things like that had to follow different restrictions for seating and capacity during COVID. With a bid process that goes sometimes two years out, we couldn’t do a lot of things until we got back to normal.
What are the Evansville region’s advantages for attracting sports events?
We have a fantastic regional city. We have major interstates that basically run from Indianapolis to Nashville and from St. Louis to Louisville—and we’re the hub. We’re where everyone wants to be on regional travel. The hotel capacity we have is greater than a lot of regional cities that we would be competing against.
Our facilities are top notch. The Ford Center can hold a basketball arena of 10,000 seats, and the aquatic center has Olympic-size pools. The Deaconess Sports Complex has turf fields for youth. Bosse Field historically has 5,000 to 8,000 people piled in there for different events.
The big kicker is going to be in Warrick County when we have this indoor facility that’s going up in the next couple of years that can host conventions such as volleyball, gymnastics, lacrosse, archery, whatever it is. Then we take out the worst word in sports, which is weather. I worked in minor league baseball for five years, and you live by the radar. The fact that you have these facilities, that you’re not focusing on outdoors and are able to be indoors is a huge advantage.
What challenges does the area face in attracting sports events?
I would say the large one would be not being Indianapolis or Nashville. The regional (events are) really easy to get here, but once we start going a little bit wider to some of the national (events), restrictions of flights or travel coming in can be a hiccup when it comes to the (Division II) national championship.
A lot of times, a team from Maine or somewhere farther east coast, it’s a little more difficult to get here. So trying to figure out and working with our organizations such as the airport, Tri-State Aero and Owensboro’s regional airport to make sure that we have the avenues to get larger national events here.
Do you feel the state is doing all it can to help Indiana communities attract sports events?
I do. I really do. The Indiana Sports Corp. has already—I haven’t even started the role yet—and they’ve already reached out to make sure that they are a liaison for everything I can and will be for the office. The (Indiana Sports Corp.) would be, I guess we could call it a big brother type, because they hosted the Super Bowl. They know exactly what we’re looking for and how to go about it. And then also utilizing them for the NCAA bid process that comes up this summer is going to be a huge help for our economy.
Are there venues in this region you’d like to use more to attract sports events?
The Ford Center’s obviously the mecca. It sits right there in the middle of downtown. It’s absolutely fantastic. University of Southern Indiana has a new aquatic center, a new basketball arena, a great baseball venue. University of Evansville now has turf on its baseball and softball fields. The (Deaconess) aquatic center is going to be a huge help. Deaconess Sports Complex, continue to grow that.
What sports event would you like to see in Evansville that’s never been here before?
Savannah Bananas (exhibition baseball team). … That’s day one’s objective. That’s day two’s objective. That’s day three’s objective. I’m a minor league baseball guy. I love it and what they’re able to do.
On the other side, I truly believe we haven’t touched the Olympic sports. I think volleyball is a huge asset here because the UE women’s volleyball coach is Fernando Morales. He was a Puerto Rican national coach. So trying to utilize the Ford Center for Olympic trials or whatever it may be. Also, club volleyball is so massive here to utilize the convention centers.
What sports event was a success in this area that you’d like to see again?
Professionalism. I remember years ago going to a Pacer’s exhibition game. Bringing them down, the WNBA, the Fever coming down and doing an exhibition game. We have a hockey rink inside our Ford Center. How do we get the Blues here? Professional soccer is huge right now. The Indy Eleven come into Evansville and play an exhibition game against the Nashville team or the Louisville team playing against the St. Louis team in an exhibition.
I know it’s gonna be very difficult to have a true home game but getting to the professionalism is something I think would really skyrocket and be able to get back into our community with our regional fan base. That’s what happens with those four regional cities—they’re fighting over Evansville. They’re fighting over the 330,000 people that are in our community. They want that fan base. So come down here—showcase that you want us.