Thursday, August 27, 2015

New Arenas and Stadiums Don't Meet Expectations

I've been one of "those guys" who is typically skeptical about the need for building new arenas and stadiums in this area.  The CenturyLink Center?  Great decision, at least with the arena, which has hosted events that Omaha would never otherwise be able to host:  NCAA tournaments, Olympic swimming trials and big-name concerts.  (The convention center is another matter entirely, and the part that drags down the profitability.)  TD Ameritrade Park? Good decision, when you combine the NCAA's willingness to sign on for an unprecedented 25 year contract for the College World Series with what the Henry Doorly Zoo is able to do with the additional space.

Bad decisions? Look no further than the Mid-America Center in Council Bluffs, which has been reduced to a role as a staging site for concert tours looking for empty arenas that they can use for a few weeks to practice in.  Werner Park, affectionately known as the "Trailer Park" on the outskirts of the metro area, which still has failed to produce any of the commercial development that county officials were promised - yet still racks up ever increasing bills for mistakes made during the planning stage, such as lack of parking and a lemon of a scoreboard.  Lincoln's Pinnacle Bank Arena, where the city is trying to strong-arm the NU athletic department into allowing beer sales during Nebraska basketball games to balance the books.

And now add Ralston Arena to the "bad decision" column.  Hemorrhaging cash ever since it opened, the city is now facing the need to hike property taxes 34% to balance the city's budget, in order to cover the revenue shortfall from the arena.  Mistake?  Hard to argue that it's not.

Of course, all of these venues were built with glowing positive expectations...but now reality has set in for Council Bluffs, Sarpy County and now Ralston.  Next up:  UNO with their new Baxter Arena.  One of the driving factors behind the decision was that it costs "too much" for UNO to play hockey games at the CenturyLink Center.  I submit that it's cheaper to rent an arena for 21 nights a year than to own and maintain an arena 365 days a year.

Who's right?  We'll see.  UNO certainly employed many experts who analyzed the proposal and justified it economically.  But here's the kicker: so did Council Bluffs, Sarpy County and Ralston.

Bottom line to me is that you don't build stadiums and arenas to make money, you build them because it makes your community better.  That happened with the CenturyLink Center.  When you consider the NCAA's commitment to the city and zoo expansion, that happened with TD Ameritrade Park.  The rest?  Not so much.  (No, I don't buy the argument that the Omaha Royals would have left the area entirely - not when Walter Scott and Warren Buffett still owned 50% of the team.)

Are there some good reasons for UNO to build an arena? Yes.  Getting games closer to campus is a good thing.  Having practice ice adjacent to the arena is hugely important.  Not having to schedule UNO hockey games around other events is a good thing as well.  All are good.  But will UNO be financially better off with this arena?  They say absolutely, but past history suggests that "they" are dead wrong.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Can Alex Gordon and Joba Chamberlain Reverse the Attendance Slide at the Trailer Park?

After plateauing in 2012 as the "new ballpark smell" wore off at former Omaha Royals' new ballpark out in Sarpy County, attendance began to drop the last two seasons. Not a huge surprise; any new venue always sees a spike in attendance as people rush to see the new facility. The trick is to capitalize on it while you can and expand your customer base.  As I asked in 2010:

I fully expect Royals attendance to increase in 2011, but that's not the question.  It's where Royals attendance will be in 2015, once the "new ballpark smell" has worn off.

Well, we kind of know the answer now.  Average attendance prior to this homestand was 5,335 fans a night.  That's below the 2008 average of 5,375 a night. That's two years before the "final season at Rosenblatt" and the ensuing interest in "one last season of nostalgia" mind you.  Prior to building the new park, Royals attendance was increasing every it's going in the opposite direction.

Or at least it was until it was announced that the Kansas City Royals were assigning former Nebraska baseball legends Alex Gordon and Joba Chamberlain to Omaha. It never hurts ticket sales around Omaha when you can offer a chance to see a couple of former Husker legends, so I'd be shocked if the final average attendance doesn't top the 2009 average when the season is over. But let's put the credit where it's due: Husker Power.

Mind you, I doubt that the ownership of the Omaha Storm Chasers is all that concerned about it. They've got a sweetheart deal in Sarpy County with the ability to charge more for tickets and parking, so even if attendance is down, the revenue is up.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Does Nebraska Have Much Depth at Tight End?

One of the more interesting positions to watch at Nebraska on offense this fall will be the tight end. There isn't any debate over the fact that tight ends haven't been involved much in Nebraska's passing game the last two season.  The argument is why:  what was the cause and what was the effect?

The common wisdom is that Tim Beck didn't want to use tight ends in the passing game, and that this was the cause.  I argue that was the effect of the situation, not the cause.  It's not a popular opinion, as the comment section shows.  The primary evidence was Ty Peteranetz's 2013 interview with Beck:
CN: Would you say tight ends and fullbacks are becoming obsolete in college football?
TB: Absolutely.  The game's become more athletic.  It's almost basketball on grass.  I think when you- back in the day- if when you think of it, all the way around: concussions.  There are fewer practices. The NFL only has so many days in full pads. It's almost like, "No hitting with the head, no this, no that", no late hit, throw the guy out, protecting the players.
All these things that are developing, don't get me wrong, they're good things, but it shows the game is making a change to becoming less physical.  They're trying to get it to be less physical by the rules and the regulations, again, for safety because guys are bigger, stronger, faster.
So it's turned in to more basketball on grass, and as schematics, if you have four legitimate wide receivers lined up, you have to cover ‘em, so you wanna have no help?  Play what we call Cover Zero and there's nobody helping?
Note that the question was whether tight ends were "becoming obsolete" - not that they "are obsolete". Why is this important?  Well, let's first observe that Beck was talking about college football in general, not his preference.  Let's also point out something that CornNation's Jon Johnston observed:  Nebraska had 11 tight ends on the roster last season.  Which raises the question:  If Tim Beck really believed that tight ends weren't useful, why did he have eleven of them on the roster?

If your answer is that Beck is an idiot, let me remind you that Beck was hired by Urban Meyer as Ohio State's co-offensive coordinator.  So try again.

So why didn't Beck throw the ball at tight ends the last two years?  My answer is very simple after watching Nebraska's tight ends the last few years:  the tight ends on Nebraska's rosters are better blockers than pass catchers.  It's something I've mentioned a few times in my weekly post-game report cards, but apparently now it's controversial:

Bigger still would have been getting production out of the tight ends; I didn't expect that we'd miss Ben Cotton and Kyler Reed as much as we have. - UCLA 2013 Report Card

Freshman tight end Cethan Carter finally got untracked with a couple of nice catches. - South Dakota State 2013 Report Card
Last season, Carter was hurt much of the season, which also played into his lack of involvement in the passing game. Even so, I've watched him drop way too many catchable balls during his time in Lincoln, especially in 2013. So it's crystal clear to me:  Beck tried to get the ball to Nebraska's tight ends, but over time, targeted other, more reliable receivers.  Why?  Because completed passes are better than incomplete passes.  The lack of passes to tight ends was a natural result of the ability of the tight ends, not a conspiracy, as some allege.

Still don't buy my argument?  OK, let's look at 2012's statistics for tight ends:

  • Kyler Reed: 24 catches, 357 yards
  • Ben Cotton: 18 catches, 239 yards
  • Jake Long: 6 catches, 55 yards

That's 48 catches by tight ends.  In a Tim Beck offense.  For comparison purposes, Mike Riley's tight ends at Oregon State caught 55 passes last season.  Pretty comparable in my book.  But then Reed and Cotton graduated, and Long was injured quite a bit in 2013.  And while Nebraska had a good quantity of tight ends on the roster (and still does), they weren't terribly useful in the passing game.  The sudden dropoff in tight end production has a very simple explanation: talent.  And it's something that people aren't considering in their rush to blow raspberries at the previous staff.

It'll be interesting to see how Mike Riley uses Nebraska's tight ends this season.  I stand by my statement in the spring game report card at CornNation.
But Mike Riley is going to learn what Tim Beck already figured out: while you can make a quarterback throw the ball to a tight end, you can't make him catch the ball. FWIW, Sam Cotton did have a nice catch. But this fall, it looks like it'll be up to Matt Snyder if a tight end is going to contribute in the passing game.