Tom Shatel of the Omaha World-Herald observed Oklahoma City preparing to host the NBA Finals and wondered on Sunday whether Omaha could be a major league city. At first glance, it's easy to wonder what if. Green Bay has the Packers, and Oklahoma City now has the Thunder. Why not Omaha?
It's nice to dream, but I firmly believe that the circumstances that brought major league sports to Green Bay and Oklahoma City are the exception, rather than the rule. Certainly Green Bay couldn't get a franchise today...not when Los Angeles doesn't have an NFL franchise. And if it weren't for Hurricane Katrina, would the Thunder even exist today? Would they still be in Seattle? Or in another market?
The Thunder came to Oklahoma City thanks to billionaire Clay Bennett funding the tab: $350 million in 2006 to buy the Seattle franchise, $45 million in 2008 to move the franchise immediately, and unless Seattle gets a new NBA franchise by next year, another $30 million. Sure, Warren Buffett and Walter Scott certainly have the resources to buy a franchise, but would they have the interest? I just don't see it.
Could the Omaha market support a pro sports team? Maybe, though I'm skeptical. NBA? Well, Creighton has proven you can draw 16,000 to watch mid-major college basketball...so that's a possibility. But are Omahans prepared to pay $2400 a seat for a season ticket? I don't see it, frankly. But I could be proven wrong.
The NHL might come at a lower ticket price, but while Omaha has shown themselves to be a good hockey town, it's not a great hockey town. UNO hockey hasn't yet been able to tap the general sports fan for the most part so far.
The NFL? We love football in Omaha, but not only would the tickets be very expensive, someone would have to fund a billion dollar stadium. I just don't see it.
Major League Baseball? Again, someone would have to pay to expand TD Ameritrade Park to Major League size...and any prospective owner would have to be willing to spend money on salaries, unlike the Wal-mart franchise 180 miles to the south.
It's fun to dream...but that's all the talk of a professional sports franchise in Omaha is. A dream. Maybe there's a niche to allow a lesser pro franchise to relocate here (Major League Soccer, Arena Football), but none of the major four sports franchises.