Swimsuit-clad Indianapolis Colts cheerleaders posed on a pristine Lake Michigan beach for their calendar this year, and local tourism officials are fuming they drove right past Indiana's 15 miles of shoreline.
South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority President and Chief Executive Officer Speros Batistatos fired off a letter slamming the Colts for shunning the beaches of the second-most populous area of the state. He faulted the management of the downstate National Football League team for not supporting Indiana tourism, promoting another state's attraction and not even asking about his agency about a shoot on the Indiana Dunes.
"The decision ... is an affront to Hoosiers throughout our great state," he wrote. "It is an even greater insult to those of us in the northwest corner of Indiana."
The photo shoot took place this summer at Oval Beach in Saugatuck, Mich., which has been recognized by Conde Nast and other national publications.
"It was a major coup for us. We loved having them," said Felicia Fairchild, executive director of the Saugatuck and Douglas Visitors and Conventions Bureau.
At the state level, Michigan pumps $29 million a year into promoting its tourist destinations. Indiana's state tourism office has a budget of about $1 million, which is why organizations such as the Colts should promote travel and recreation in Indiana, Batistatos said. He said it was a missed opportunity to develop more fans in the northern part of the state.
"It's not like they wanted to shoot it on a mountaintop or a Wild West ranch, or at an asset we don't have," he said. "They basically said our beaches are not good enough."
The Colts have made an effort to reach out to fans in Northwest Indiana, but are restricted in what they can do since the NFL has designated it a marketing area for the Chicago Bears, said Pete Ward, the team's chief operating officer.
League rules prohibit the Colts from having fan fests, selling season tickets or doing other promotions in the region, but they have still reached out, such as by bringing the Super Bowl trophy to Merrillville and awarding a grant to Gary's West Side High School football team just last week.
Most NFL teams routinely shoot cheerleader calendars on beaches in Florida, Mexico and The Caribbean Islands, Ward said. The Colts have photographed the calendar out-of-state three times during their 30 seasons in Indiana. The annual calendar has never been shot at the Indiana Dunes.
"We don't know if they want us," he said. "Our marketing studies have show it's hardcore Bears country. But we would consider the Dunes as we would consider any Indiana location."