Tag Archives: Harold Cliff

Olympic Swim Trials

June 28, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The U.S. Olympic swim team trials officially take place over a period of eight days, from June 26 through July 3, but preparations for the massive event close down the entire CenturyLink Center to the public for 47 days beginning in late May. During that period, the entire facility transforms into what Director of Communications Kristi Andersen considers its own unique community.

“A typical event for us—a concert, a basketball game, a consumer show—probably would take a few days in set-up. Or less, maybe just a day,” she says. “So this is very different. It’s really a city, a little city working to make this fly. It’s such a tremendous undertaking, but it’s one that everyone involved seems to take on happily and with pride.”

At heart of the swim trials are 1,800 athletes representing all 50 states (a maximum of 52 swimmers will make the final 2016 Olympic team), accompanied by 750 coaches and 600 support staff. Over a tight three-week build schedule, a 10-lane competition pool (50 meters long by 26 meters wide and 9 feet deep) will be installed in the arena and an 8-lane warm-up pool (50 meters by 25 meters and 7 feet deep) will be installed in the convention center. The two pools will hold a total of two million gallons of water.

Kristi Andersen

Kristi Andersen

“It’s a pretty aggressive timeframe…everybody has to pull together, whether it’s the electricians, the  plumbers, the pool installers, the decking people, the special effects and lighting (people). It’s many, many moving parts that need to be coordinated for it to be done correctly,” says Harold Cliff, president and executive director of the Omaha Sports Commission, which coordinates the efforts of entities from all over the world who are involved in the various facets of the event.

“When people come into the building we want them to think that it’s a swimming pool, not a basketball court with a swimming pool on top of it. That’s easier said than done.”

“This event is really a true partnership and it’s so collaborative on many levels. The U.S. Olympic Committee, it’s their event. USA Swimming and the Omaha Sports Commission run the event and manage it, but there are so many other groups, community groups and others, involved,” Andersen says. “I just think it’s a testament to our community. There are a thousand people who have signed up to volunteer to work this event. And our staff is just thrilled to be part of the action.”

More than 90 percent of this year’s volunteers also helped during the 2008 or 2012 trials, Cliff adds, and most of them are from the area.

“It’s a very solid core group of talented people who’ve done it before and work well together and understand the event,” Andersen says.

The list of additional supporting organizations and personnel is exhaustive: law enforcement will provide security, NBC will air all eight evenings of competition live with preliminary coverage on NBCSN, Levy Restaurants will present food service, 300 members of the media are already credentialed for the event period, and medical support will be offered through The Nebraska Medical Center. Andersen and Cliff both emphasize that’s just a glimpse of who is ultimately involved.

The CenturyLink Center is on a very short list of facilities around the country that can be realistically considered to host the swim trials because of the event’s unique logistical needs, Cliff says. A stellar performance when it hosted for the very first time in 2008 led the way to successful bids again in 2012 and 2016.

“There are a number of factors. The venue itself works exceptionally well for this type of competition when you have to put two Olympic-size pools in on a short-term basis. Having such a short transition space between the arena and convention center means the swimmers’ warm-up and warm-down area is very close to the competition area. The building itself is a good size and it has modern conveniences and good technology,” Cliff says. “The hotel proximity in downtown is very good, as is the distance to and from the airport. And there are lots of restaurants, et cetera.”

More than 29,000 hotel room-nights are already booked for the swim trials period, and as of mid-April, well over 200,000 tickets were already sold, with 14 of the 15 sessions sold out. These record-setting numbers exceed even that of the 2008 swim trials, which attracted more spectators than any other swimming event in U.S. history—including the Olympic competitions hosted in Atlanta and Los Angeles. The estimated economic impact for Omaha is over $40 million.

“It’s really a good-news scenario for the community and Nebraska as a whole. The economic impact will certainly be very substantial,” Cliff says.

Plus, it’s great exposure for Omaha. And not only have the local media and the community embraced the swim trials, but past visitors widely report being treated well by friendly locals.

“The community is our greatest asset,” Cliff says.


Visit usaswimming.org for more information about the event.


Local Champions Bring Millions Home

April 29, 2016 by

It’s one thing to love a city, it’s quite another to try and convince national associations, sporting organizations, and groups to plan a meeting, convention or event in your city. If it was easy cities wouldn’t need Convention & Visitors Bureaus, but the unsung champion in the whole process is you.

More than 25 local Omaha residents, from the powerful to the average Joe, have helped bring convention, meeting and event business to our city this year.

With Harold Cliff’s leadership the Omaha Sports Commission (local community leaders who volunteer their time) worked to have Omaha selected to host the U.S. Olympic Swim Trials for a third time. It didn’t hurt that the 2012 Omaha event broke attendance records for any swimming event ever held in the U.S. including the Olympics in Atlanta and Los Angeles.

President and Founder of TotalWellness, Alan Kohll, proves that persistence pays off when Omaha was chosen as the location for the 2016 USA Triathlon. Omaha Zoo CEO, Dennis Pate helped convince the Associations of Zoos and Aquariums to meet in Omaha, the event will bring in 900 attendees from all over the world and more than $1 million in visitor spending.  Omaha City Clerk Buster Brown, having gone to conventions in other cities for years, convinced the International Institute of Municipal Clerks to look at Omaha; they did and will be holding their annual conference here in May. UNO’s Deepak Khazanchi , Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, is constantly putting Omaha’s name in the mix, and this year helped Omaha bring the World Intelligence Congress meeting to Omaha. Following in Warren Buffett’s footsteps, Lori and Paul Hogan, who own Home Instead Senior Care, hold their companies international convention in Omaha every year – they could go anywhere, they choose to bring the meeting business home.

This is just a small sampling of the convention and sporting business coming to Omaha in 2016, yet it means more than $53 million in economic impact for the city.

From the Omaha Lions Club to the local Cat Clubs, Omaha residents are making a real impact. And it’s simple for you to do the same. If you are a member of an organization, association or sporting group think about bringing your organization’s meeting or event to Omaha.  We’ll do all the heavy lifting; we just need a local boost from you.

It’s Hockey Time in Omaha!

December 25, 2012 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann and Jeff Beiermann

Omaha may not appear to be a hockey town to the casual observer, but you don’t have to peel back the layers too far to find evidence of such.

The University of Nebraska-Omaha and Omaha Lancers, who carry the hockey banner in Omaha, have consistently played quality hockey with the Mavericks making two trips to the NCAA Tournament in their 15 years of competition, while the Lancers have accumulated more United States Hockey League Championships (13) than any other USHL teams since they joined the league in 1986.

And fan support has and continues to be second to none.

UNO Mavericks

The University of Nebraska-Omaha Maverick hockey team.

“Omaha is a good hockey town,” UNO Mavericks head coach Dean Blais says. “We’re near the top of the country in terms of attendance on a yearly basis. The support from the fans is huge and their commitment is extremely important to our program.”

Mike Aiken, Lancers head coach and general manager, adds, “Omaha has always had a strong hockey following, and it’s only getting better. There’s great development within the youth league and with the new arenas providing additional ice time that will only increase.”

This winter Omaha hockey will get another boost as an unique event will be held at TD Ameritrade Park. The Mutual of Omaha Battles on Ice February 9 will feature a doubleheader as both Omaha squads entertain two of their fiercest rivals. The Mavericks take on the North Dakota Fighting Sioux while the Lancers face the Lincoln Stars.

“This area turns out some good kids with the strong youth hockey program, and I think that development will grow with the addition of hockey facilities in the city.” – Dean Blais, head coach of UNO Mavericks hockey team

“The concept came from the Omaha Lancers and the doubleheader gave us the best chance of having a successful event such as this,” comments Harold Cliff, the President of the Omaha Sports Commission. “We wanted meaningful games and to provide something different at another one of the great Omaha venues. Omaha is a great sports community. These teams have competed well in the past and this is another opportunity to display their talents. With the doubleheader we’ll also be able to provide two different types of hockey and expect strong attendance. It may not be something we can do annually, but we’ll measure the response and this could grow. A lot depends on support. Sponsors also play a large part, and Mutual of Omaha stepped up in a big way for this year. Local hockey interest remains strong, and we are confident this will be a successful event.”

Omaha Lancers practice at Ralston Arena.

Omaha Lancers practice at Ralston Arena.

Blais and Aiken echo Cliff’s excitement for this upcoming event and believe it’s a great opportunity to showcase their teams.

“It will be an awesome event,” Aiken says. “With us playing Lincoln, which is one of the best rivalries in the league, it should be a great experience for the players and fans alike.”

It’s undoubtedly an exciting time for hockey in Omaha as this season the Lancers began play in the brand-new Ralston Arena.

“We’ve moved into an unbelievable building, and we feel fortunate to have such a facility,” says Aiken. “Our facilities are second to none and give us the opportunity to recruit the best players out there. We’re more than hockey, it’s an entertainment package. A fan friendly atmosphere with great hockey, which people can really enjoy. We get involved with the community quite a bit, and we plan to continue to promote our organization through the good people who are a part of it.”

UNO will also be changing home ice in the future after announcing plans in late 2012 to build an on-campus arena to host indoor Maverick athletics including hockey.

UNO Mavericks play Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs in November.

UNO Mavericks play Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs in November 2012.

“This area turns out some good kids with the strong youth hockey program, and I think that development will grow with the addition of hockey facilities in the city,” Blais explains. “More kids will be able to get ice time, which will be great for the future. Our future goals include winning a national championship. As we move into a very good conference (WCHA), it will help with recruiting. We like the state of our program and what we think we’ll be able to accomplish in the future.”

That future looks bright, for all those involved and interested in Omaha hockey, thanks to the commitment from the organizations, community, and fans alike.