Kelly: After 6 big sports events, Omaha no longer 'best-kept secret' - Omaha.com
Published Wednesday, July 17, 2013 at 12:01 am / Updated at 7:01 pm
Kelly: After 6 big sports events, Omaha no longer 'best-kept secret'

Sixteen months, six national sports events — a stretch that drew more than 1.1 million attendees and created 46 days or nights of national TV coverage from Omaha.

The U.S. Senior Open golf championships that concluded Sunday wrapped up a remarkable run for a midsize city.

“I don't think any city in the country, and maybe the world, has had a string like that in that time frame,” said David Brown, executive director of the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce.

“We don't want people to say Omaha is the best-kept secret anymore,” added Dana Markel of the Omaha Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We want them to say, 'That city is a happening place, and I want to go there.' ”

Said Creighton University economist Ernie Goss: “The impact on 'brain drain' is dramatic. The No. 1 thing that Creighton, UNO and Nebraska graduates used to think of was to get out of Omaha. That's no longer the case. Many now see this as more of a city.”

Those upbeat comments came this week after a compilation by Doug Parrott, a public relations executive who works with the Omaha Sports Commission and serves as a consultant to the Metropolitan Entertainment and Convention Authority.

The “big six” events, the crowds and the exposure:

March 2012, NCAA Men's Division I basketball second and third round tournament games: Attendance of 50,878, with Friday and Sunday games on CBS.

June 2012, College World Series: 338,873, with 15 games on ESPN.

June-July 2012, U.S. Olympic Swim Trials: 167,048, with eight nights on NBC.

January 2013, U.S. Figure Skating Championships: 90,760, with three dates on NBC.

June 2013, College World Series: 341,483, with 14 games on ESPN.

July 2013, U.S. Senior Open: 157,126, with two days on ESPN and two on NBC.

The total attendance was 1,146,168, and Parrott suggested that the economic impact may have reached $125 million. But economist Goss said that because of the multiplier effect of dollars circulating through the local economy, that estimate is very conservative.

“The CWS alone is now probably worth between $50 million and $60 million (a year),” said Goss, who has analyzed the College World Series impact in previous years. Last year, according to his study, the Swim Trials brought in more than $30 million.

What has made a big impact in less than a year and a half were all those network telecasts and commentators speaking highly of Omaha.

Markel said the convention and visitors bureau spends $1.5 million to advertise and promote Omaha, but that 46 days of positive national coverage was worth “hundreds of millions of dollars.”

With a metro population of about 880,000, the Omaha-Bellevue-Council Bluffs area is considered too small to support a major-league professional sports franchise. (Oklahoma City, with about 1.3 million in its metro area, has an NBA team. Green Bay, Wis., is small, but the Packers can draw from the 2 million-plus Milwaukee metro area.)

With a diversity of sporting events and enthusiastic corporate and community support, Parrott said, “Omaha is on the map as maybe the greatest non-major league city in the country.”

After the recent stretch, the question arises: Is that all there is?

No, there is more, though not so many nationally televised events in a concentrated period. But already booked are the annual CWS, an NCAA basketball tournament in 2015 and the Olympic Swim Trials in 2016.

Harold Cliff, Sports Commission president, noted that a 10-team international women's volleyball tournament will be played Sept. 16 through 21 at the Ralston Arena, as well as a Cuba vs. USA baseball series this weekend at Werner Park in Papillion.

Cliff attended the Senior Open golf tourney last weekend at the Omaha Country Club and said he heard nothing but praise for Omaha from visitors. (Another golf tournament, the annual Cox Classic, returns next month.)

The stretch of nationally televised events didn't take local officials by surprise. Brown, the Chamber of Commerce president, said the chamber used them as a major marketing tool called “Only in Omaha,” inviting corporate executives from elsewhere.

“We used these events to show off how Omaha is a big-event town,” he said, “with a unique quality of life and corporate and community support. When people leave, they have very specific memories about Omaha.”

Besides the six national sports events, he said, the chamber considers the annual Berkshire Hathaway shareholders meeting in May to be a seventh event of great importance for selling Omaha.

Besides creating good will and perhaps buffing Omaha's image, does all the attention bring tangible results?

“We have set the table,” Brown said. “We anticipate projects coming out of it.”

Markel said booking conventions often takes a couple of years of work, and then they might occur two years later. She said the increased recognition of Omaha, including magazine and newspaper coverage, has helped to leave a bigger impression on convention planners across the country.

Omaha is more than a growing big-event city. An economic report for the convention and visitors bureau by a Philadelphia firm said that tourism in general in Omaha-based Douglas County last year surpassed $1 billion for the first time. That was a 10 percent increase from the previous year.

The six national sports events put Omaha in the spotlight, but the metro area also has scored highly in recent years in a number of national economic and cultural rankings.

Goss, the Creighton economist, noted that many of the big sports events relate to the creation of the riverfront complex that includes the CenturyLink convention center and arena, the TD Amertrade ballpark and nearby hotels and other attractions.

Without those major improvements, he said, it's unlikely that Creighton would have been invited to join the new Big East Conference, in which it will compete athletically with schools from New York, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and other major cities.

In his 21 years in Omaha, Goss said, he has seen “a remarkable turnaround.”

Removing a century-old riverfront lead-smelting plant and other eyesores and replacing them in the past decade with the gleaming structures there now, he said, has led to events with national exposure — and made Omaha more attractive to outsiders as well as to young people who grew up or attended college here.

“It has really just had a huge economic impact,” he said, “that goes well beyond the numbers.”

Contact the writer: Michael Kelly

mike.kelly@owh.com    |   402-444-1000

Mike writes three columns a week on a variety of topics.

Cult murderer's death row appeal denied, but execution in limbo
Beau McCoy strikes Obama doll in TV ad; Democrats are not happy
17 senators in Nebraska Legislature hit their (term) limits
Police identify 21-year-old shot in ankle near 30th, W Streets
19-year-old arrested in connection with March shooting
Police: Slaying of woman in Ralston apartment likely over drugs
Keystone XL pipeline backers blast 'political expediency' as foes hail ruling to delay decision
Nebraska senators to study tax issues over break
Interstate construction to cause lane shifts, closings in Omaha area
Teenager arrested after woman's purse is snatched outside Omaha store
Kelly: A California university president returns to her Nebraska roots on Ivy Day
Omahan charged in fatal shooting in Benson neighborhood
Friday's attendance dips at Millard West after bathroom threat
High school slam poets don't just recite verses, 'they leave their hearts beating on the stage'
Crack ring's leaders join others in prison as a result of Operation Purple Haze
Haze in area comes from Kansas, Oklahoma
Man taken into custody in domestic dispute
Omaha judge reprimanded for intervening in peer attorney's DUI case
Intoxicated man with pellet gun climbs billboard's scaffold; is arrested
Police seek public's help in finding an armed man
Saturday forecast opens window for gardening; Easter egg hunts look iffy on Sunday
Database: How much did Medicare pay your doctor?
Last day of 2014 Legislature: Praise, passage of a last few bills and more on mountain lions
New public employee pay data: Douglas, Lancaster, Sarpy Counties, plus utilities
A voice of experience: Ex-gang member helps lead fight against Omaha violence
< >
COLUMNISTS »
Kelly: A California university president returns to her Nebraska roots on Ivy Day
The main speaker at today's Ivy Day celebration at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is a college president who grew up roping calves and earned her Ph.D. at the prestigious Oxford University in England.
Breaking Brad: Stuck in a claw machine? You get no Easter candy
I know of one kid in Lincoln who will be receiving a lump of coal from the Easter Bunny, just as soon as he's extricated from that bowling alley claw machine.
Breaking Brad: Mountain lion season's over, but the bunny's fair game!
Thursday was the last day of a Nebraska Legislature session. Before leaving town, legislators passed a bill to hold a lottery to hunt the Easter Bunny.
Breaking Brad: At least my kid never got stuck inside a claw machine
We need a new rule in Lincoln. If your kid is discovered inside the claw machine at a bowling alley, you are forever barred from being nominated for "Mother of the Year."
Breaking Brad: How many MECA board members can we put in a luxury suite?
As a stunt at the Blue Man Group show, MECA board members are going to see how many people they can stuff into one luxury suite.
Deadline Deal thumbnail
The Jaipur in Rockbrook Village
Half Off Fine Indian Cuisine & Drinks! $15 for Dinner, or $7 for Lunch
Buy Now
PHOTO GALLERIES »
< >
SPOTLIGHT »
Omaha World-Herald Contests
Enter for a chance to win great prizes.
OWH Store: Buy photos, books and articles
Buy photos, books and articles
Travel Snaps Photo
Going on Vacation? Take the Omaha World-Herald with you and you could the next Travel Snaps winner.
Click here to donate to Goodfellows
The 2011 Goodfellows fund drive provided holiday meals to nearly 5,000 families and their children, and raised more than $500,000 to help families in crisis year round.
WORLD-HERALD ALERTS »
Want to get World-Herald stories sent directly to your home or work computer? Sign up for Omaha.com's News Alerts and you will receive e-mails with the day's top stories.
Can't find what you need? Click here for site map »