January 21, 2019 by

Anybody who knows anything about Omaha’s sports history knows the name Bob Gibson. One of Omaha’s most notable athletes, Gibson started as a member of the Harlem Globetrotters in 1957; everyone expected him to have a future in the National Basketball Association. After all, he was a standout basketball player at Technical High School and later Creighton University.  But Gibson’s career changed to baseball when the St. Louis Cardinals offered him a contract. In 1959, he made his Major League Baseball debut.

One of the highlights of Gibson’s pitching career was a recorded 17 strikeouts during Game 1 of the 1968 World Series. Gibson’s success that season sparked fundamental changes in the rules of baseball—sometimes known as the “Gibson Rules.” The MLB lowered the pitcher’s mound by five inches and reduced the strike zone height from the batter’s armpits to his jersey letters. Who would have thought a kid from Omaha would one day have such an impact on the game?

Throughout Omaha’s history, local fans have cheered homegrown athletes like Gibson, NFL Hall of Famer Gale Sayers, NBA player Kyle Korver, and welterweight world champion Terence Crawford as they climbed the sports ladder to become professional athletes. Today, Omaha continues to embrace amateur athletes and their fans as the city hosts events such as the U.S. Olympic Swim Trials, NCAA basketball, volleyball tournaments, wrestling tournaments, and the NCAA Men’s College World Series.

The city even embraces the youngest of athletes during events like Slumpbusters, a little league tournament that attracts more than 500 youth baseball teams from across the country. In February each year, Omaha hosts more than 400 high school teams from across the country for the annual President’s Day Volleyball tournament. Youth sporting events use baseball fields, volleyball courts, and sporting facilities throughout the metro area.   

These sporting events are fun for young athletes and their families, but are also good for business. When an out-of-state team competes in Omaha, the team, their fans, out-of-town media, and officials stay in hotels, eat in restaurants, and shop in stores. In fact, recent research revealed a party of three visiting Omaha for a sporting event, on average, stays four days and spends $1,298—that’s more than the average business traveler, or average family of three visiting for a fun weekend, typically spends.

The next time you are sitting in the stands watching a basketball game, cheering at a baseball tournament, or witnessing an amazing swimming performance, keep this in mind—you may be sitting next to a visitor who is helping to boost Omaha’s economy as you both cheer on the next generation of hall-of-famers.


Keith Backsen is executive director of the Omaha Convention and Visitors Bureau