Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Nighthawks and Red Sky Depart Downtown

The UFL has once again cut short it's season; this time, after four weeks.  Is this the death knell for minor league football in Omaha?  Probably not, but the UFL is absolutely going through it's death throes. This time, the UFL says they'll finish this season in the spring.  Nearly everybody will probably chuckle at that prospect, but I wouldn't be surprised to see them try.  This might be an attempt to gauge the interest in another spring football league.

Spring football will be difficult to manage in Omaha, though. TD Ameritrade Park won't be available for the Nighthawks, so they'll have to find another venue to play in.  The NCAA doesn't mind football being played after the College World Series...but they will mind the CWS playing field being torn up by football players.  So that's not happening.  Where would they play?  Most likely, Burke High School would be the site.  The jumbotron from Rosenblatt is already installed there, and the stadium can hold crowds of 10,000, as the state high school track meet can attest.  With the crowds they've drawn this season, you could even try setting up portable bleachers around the field at the Salvation Army's Kroc Center.  Problem with both of those suggestions is that beer sales wouldn't be supported at either location.

The Trailer Park out in BFE might be an option, though it's questionable whether a football field could fit into the playing field.  UNO played a soccer game there last fall, but it was a non-regulation field.  The outfield fence at the Trailer Park is 310 feet, versus 335 feet downtown; not sure there's room for a field.  It would allow beer, and the capacity would be more than sufficent for the crowds the Nighthawks have been drawing.

But the sad fact is that there is no point in the Nighthawks resuming play until the owners can show how this league can be viable.  Fans are voting with their wallets; there's no point in spending money on tickets if you have no assurance the games will be played.  Or if the players and coaches will be paid, for that matter. I was shocked when the UFL's owners tried to play this season despite having little organization and no marketing.  Will they actually try it in the spring?  My guess is that they will, based on what they tried this year.  But should they?  It's not worth trying at this point, from my perspective.  Not if the UFL is going to try to operate this way.  There is a market for pro football in Omaha, but not when it's run like this.

That wasn't the last shutdown recently at the downtown ballpark.  MECA and LiveNation pulled the plug on the Red Sky "Festival" last week.  That wasn't much of a surprise either; the first two festivals were a mishmash of different acts with no consistency.  I'm not sure how hard MECA tried to make this festival really work; it would have required a greater investment  and a willingness to lose money to establish a presence in this market.  Spend more on artists than you take in with ticket sales, and make it something that excites people.  Build that market, then try to wean it off a subsidy.  Come up with a theme so that it's a regional draw to bring in music fans in a demographic to take the effort to travel to Omaha.  It doesn't matter if it's indy rock, heavy metal, or country...just something that people would want to spend 4 days to watch.

It's a big venue that's underutilized.  That doesn't make it a "white elephant" though.  The ballpark was built for the College World Series, and it serves that purpose very, very well.  The NCAA is happy with it, and the CWS alone justifies Omaha's investment in it.  But it would sure be nice to have something else in that stadium after the Fourth of July.  Even independent league baseball would be better than nothing; we've been told that people attend baseball for the experience and not the quality of play.  And while the Trailer Park features the $5 merry-go-round, some people might be more interested in an experience that has restaurants and other entertainment options within walking distance.

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