Tag Archives: NCAA basketball

Omaha is a Pro When it Comes to Amateur Sports

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

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

This column was printed in the February/March 2019 edition of B2B. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Bringing it Home

August 1, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Hordes of the nation’s top triathletes will descend on Carter Lake this summer. They will compete for a national title at the USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships on Aug. 13-14.

Top finishers in the two-day event’s Olympic-Distance National Championship (Aug. 13) and the Sprint National Championship (Aug. 14) will be invited to join Team USA at the 2017 world championships in Rotterdam, Netherlands.

Although the running, biking, and swimming events will revolve around Carter Lake, Omaha was the force behind the successful bid to host the event for 2016 and 2017. Triathletes will be reminded of Omaha’s national sports hub status as the running course turns around inside TD Ameritrade Park, home of the College World Series.

Coordination and collaboration of services among the Mayor’s Office; Fire, Police, and Public Works Departments; and other city infrastructure players were vital in landing this event—USA Triathlon’s largest and longest-running national championships event—as well as other major sporting events throughout the past decade.

This triathlon is expected to bring roughly 10,000 people and an estimated $10-12 million in hotel and food sales to metro Omaha during the weekend.

Triathlon1Race Omaha, which pitched Omaha as a future host site more than two years ago (when the event was celebrating year two of its three years in Milwaukee), has been the major coordinating force behind Omaha’s bid since the beginning.

Because of past and current events, USA Triathlon—which sponsors the championship—knew the metro area could more than support an event of this caliber. Those events include the College World Series, Olympic Swimming Trials, NCAA basketball, NCAA volleyball, and the U.S. Figure
Skating Championships.

“Because we’ve successfully brought in and held big events in the past, there was no doubt we could handle an event like U.S. Age Group National Championships,” says former Race Omaha Race Director Kurt Beisch. “We have this event this year and next year, and then USA Triathlon will decide where to take it next. We just want everyone coming to town for this event to have a great experience and learn what a great community we have here.”

The cooperation of city services was only one of many incentives that lured the triathlon and other events to the metro over the past decade (or in the case of the College World Series, since 1950).

According to USA Triathlon National Events Senior Manager Brian D’Amico, there were multiple factors that went into choosing Omaha over several other cities: geographic location, accommodations, and the history of hosting successful national sporting events.

But in his and USA Triathlon’s expert opinions, there is one intangible that drew them to Omaha: the people.

“We love Omaha’s central location in the United States, which makes it easily accessible from both coasts as well as the entire country,” D’Amico says. “We love that Carter Lake (site of the event headquarters and venue for the swimming leg of the triathlon) is so close to the airport, and the city has worked so hard to welcome us.

“But what we really noticed during our site visit was how friendly and welcoming everyone in Omaha is. We love how supportive the community has always been of the College World Series, Swim Trials, and other events. They really enjoy having visitors in town, and they go out of their way to make them feel welcome. That’s something you can’t measure or control, so it’s a definite advantage.”

The two-day event is divided into two race distances—Olympic on Saturday and sprint on Sunday. These distances both feature the traditional legs of a triathlon: a swim (at Carter Lake), followed by biking, and finally, a run through Omaha’s city streets, culminating with a turn at TD Ameritrade Park before returning to Carter Lake.

The Olympic portion features a 1,500-meter open water swim, followed by a 40K bike ride with a 10K run. Sunday’s sprint version is half the distance of all three legs.

Race Omaha founder Alan Kohll says whether you have attended or participated in previous triathlons, many things will help keep spectators and fans engaged—including an expo near the event headquarters.

As a perk, Oriental Trading Co. will hand out cowbells and thunder sticks to spectators who will motivate the athletes as they traverse through the course by water, bike, and foot. There will also be 5k and 1k runs on Friday night for everyone not participating in the triathlons.

Kohll says the triathlon events will definitely carry an Omaha flavor.

“We’re not attempting to mimic what’s been done in Milwaukee or past cities that hosted this event,” Kohll says. He and Beisch are both competitive triathletes.

“We want people from other parts of the country to leave Omaha having learned more about what makes the community special—the zoo, Berkshire Hathaway, and Omaha Steaks, among many others. These are some things Omaha is known for, and we want to emphasize them.”

Visit raceomaha.com for more information.