Sunday, July 24, 2011

As the Stadiums Turn

Last Thursday's Omaha World-Herald reported that attendance for the Omaha Golden Royal Spike Chasing Whatchamacallits is up 2.4% this season over last season's Royals attendance at Rosenblatt. Does that prove the Trailer Park out in BFE Sarpy County wasn't the boondoggle I predicted it would be?  Hardly. A new stadium usually results in an attendance boost of 25%, and the Trailer Park isn't even generating a tenth of the typical bump.

That being said, some of my predictions have proven to be wrong. I thought we'd hear more complaints about the stadium's location, but those have been almost non-existent. The only complaints I've heard have been that there aren't enough parking spaces out at BFE. And my concerns that the stadium was being built on the cheap apparently hasn't resulted in any complaints; the Trailer Park generates compliments from just about everybody who's attended a game.  But even though the stadium has been a success for baseball, does that mean it's a success for the taxpayers who funded the stadium? Again, hardly. Has Sarpy County ever announced how they would pay for the stadium? Other than the $3,000 a year for the county's share of naming rights from Werner and a tax on concessions at the ballpark, it's still pretty murky. Hotel tax revenue is being diverted from other uses to apply towards the ballpark, and the rest is not clear. It really comes down to if the Pennant Place development surrounding the stadium gets built.  The longer that area sits idle, the more that taxpayers have to pick up.

That's not a concern with TD Ameritrade Park downtown, where the stadium funding has been well documented and hasn't really been an issue since the plan was finalized. But now that the College World Series is over, what else can happen at the ball park.  The Nighthawks season is delayed, raising questions as to whether they'll even play this season. I think they'll play this season...and probably sell out games once again. But after that?  Unless the NFL comes to some sort of an agreement with the UFL, if only to broadcast games (like the NFL Network carries Arena and Canadian League games), I just don't know how the UFL plays in 2012.

Next year, it's likely that an independent league team will play downtown. Frankly, that's something I'd like to see.  Is the baseball going to be inferior to AAA baseball?  Absolutely.  But that's not the point of minor league baseball.  If it wasn't, the Whatchamacallits wouldn't run every crazy promotion or gimmick that they can think of.  That sets a high bar for anybody who wants to try to operate an independent league team in a 25,000 seat stadium.

Last week, TD Ameritrade Park hosted the Red Sky Music Festival, which was a mixed bag overall. The rumored acts (U2, Jimmy Buffett, Jay-Z) never materialized, though the country acts that closed out the stadium series drew pretty good crowds. But by setting the stage behind second base, the capacity of the ballpark was about the same as the capacity of the Qwest Center for concerts. In which case, what was the point of holding the concerts outside?  Especially considering the weather concerns and the wear and tear on the field, I just don't see the point in holding those concerts outdoors, other than proving that you could. I always felt that concerts were held outdoors at stadiums to increase attendance...but that wasn't the case last week.

Last week's parking lot concerts drew somewhat sparse crowds to the late afternoon acts, though I have to expect that the promoters expected many more people to show up.  The early afternoon acts drew ... almost nobody.  That shouldn't have been a surprise to anybody:  local acts that very few people have heard of, playing in a parking lot with heat indexes in triple-figures while most people are at work...well, that's a recipe for poor attendance.  I'm also not sure the schedule had any sort of continuity, other than it seemed that Friday's acts were more country than the other days.  Frankly, I think the best thing that Red Sky might have tried would have been to bunch up all of those name acts (Charlie Daniels, Bruce Hornsby, STS-9, George Clinton, Buddy Guy, etc.) on Saturday and at least tried to put on one day of a festival.

In the end, it doesn't matter with respect to the success of the stadium. TD Ameritrade Park was built for the College World Series, and with the national attention and the business that the CWS generates, it was still the right decision. Would it be nice if the stadium were used more? Absolutely. But the lack of other uses for the stadium doesn't make the downtown stadium a mistake.

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