This week's news featured two body shots to Omaha's Civic Auditorium. First, the Omaha Ak-Sar-Ben Knights confirmed that they are folding and moving to the Quad Cities. Then, the Big XII conference rejected Omaha as a host for the Big XII basketball tournaments, citing the Civic Auditorium being unsuitable.
The Knights situation closes a sad (but thankfully brief) chapter in Omaha hockey history. In the end, the Knights finally realized one of the truths of fandom when Calgary Flames President Ken King said yesterday:
The word "fan" is a derivative of the word fanatic...a word that in turn implies an emotional attachment that sometimes defies logic. Some people will talk about the AHL as being the "second best hockey in the world" and seem amazed that Omaha's didn't embrace it. But many Omaha hockey fans chose to remain loyal to "their" team, whether it was the Omaha Lancers or the Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks. Fans stay loyal to their teams no matter what. I may think Steve Pederson is a ego-driven used car salesman, but I still donate to the program, buy tickets, and support the team. UNO's ousted administration may have guilty of graft, misconduct, and gross mismanagement, but I still support the Mavs.
"There are a lot of loyalties to a lot of different sports here. And when you're the last of three hockey teams to enter the market, it's really tough."
Apparantly Calgary somehow thought that they could get more Omaha hockey fans to dump the other hockey teams. They paraded out their "Best! Best! Best!" campaign as their opening game approached, and immediately started their downward spiral. Too bad they didn't try to grow the Omaha hockey audience instead. So there goes one of the anchor tenants in the Civic, who were given a sweetheart deal to keep the place occupied.
The Big XII's decision on the Civic Auditorium was rather curious when they somehow determined that the capacity of the Civic was 7980 instead of the actual capacity of 9300. Where did that 7980 figure come from? My guess is that they used the estimated capacity of Council Bluffs Mid-America Center, which in light of the questionable future of the Civic, was suggested as an alternative venue for women's basketball. My guess is that the Big XII was responding to the underlying premise of many...Omaha's Civic Auditorium is essentially obsolete at this point. The Big XII apparantly didn't even seriously consider the Civic, using excuses of lack of capacity (getting the figures wrong) and claiming they didn't want to play on someone else's home court (then putting 2 out of 3 women's championships on Missouri-Kansas City's home court). The Big XII just didn't want to come out and say "the Civic is a dump". We haven't heard the results of the feasibility study of the Auditorium, but the events of this week seem to indicate that the Civic's days are numbered.
Here's my take...Omaha still needs a secondary arena like the Civic. Not everything requires an 18,000 seat arena like the Qwest Center. High schools and colleges still need a place to hold graduations, not all concerts draw 18K. Meanwhile, the infrastructure of the Civic is aging and contains obsolete exhibition space underneath the arena that will be a money pit. In the near future, we'll find out that while the needs for the Civic still exists, it's going to cost more to maintain than it's worth. If Omaha is going to compete with the likes of Kansas City for championship events, then Omaha is going to need a facility to match. The Civic isn't that place...but a new UNO Coliseum near the old Ak-Sar-Ben complex just might be.
Some people locally might scoff at the idea of Omaha challenging the likes of Kansas City and Dallas for Big XII championships...but certainly others around the Big XII took Omaha seriously. If Omaha can find a way to replace the obsolete Civic Auditorium, they very well might find themselves as a future player for Big XII basketball.