The university-owned arena recently ended its first fiscal year $1.5 million in the red, forcing campus officials to infuse $1.4 million in university funds into the operation to help cover construction bond payments.
The disappointing results aren’t just a first-year blip. It’s expected that $1.5 million in university dollars will need to be tapped to balance this year’s books, with $1 million kicked in by UNO and $500,000 committed by NU central administration in Lincoln.Sounds bad? It's actually worse.
The athletic department had been counting on roughly a half million dollars in arena profits to help fund its own operations, dollars that did not materialize. That shortfall and myriad other budget issues left athletics with a $1.8 million budget deficit of its own.Not a surprise to me, mind you. I thought the numbers didn't add up before one spade of dirt was turned over, and turns out, my suspicions were correct. But that doesn't help things one bit. The money has been spent; the building is built. There's no turning back.
UNO can't undo this mistake.
The Monday Morning Quarterback can say that UNO hockey should have stayed downtown at the CenturyLink Center with basketball remaining at the Ralston Arena. Baxter Arena has been a lose-lose proposition for everyone: the other arenas have fewer events, and UNO's athletic budget is exposing the reality that the expenses of owning a building 365 days a year are much higher than renting a building for the 20-25 days a year they actually need it.
Doesn't matter now. They built it, and now must deal with the results. The University of Nebraska system, which signed off on the bad idea, is now on the hook to cover the losses. Hopefully UNO won't lose any more sports in the aftermath. I suspect that any plans for UNO to build a baseball field are now dead, which is a shame, because they deserve a better facility than what they've got out at Boys Town. Maybe UNO could find an agreement with another high school; I know that Millard North has a better looking facility than Boys Town. I suspect Westside might also have a decent field. Maybe UNO and MECA could swallow their egos and find a way to compromise so that UNO could use TD Ameritrade Park on a part-time basis. (Imagine UNO and Creighton working on joint scheduling to bring opponents to town to play games with just one road trip.)
You know what would help UNO even more? Winning hockey games in March... and April.
One thing is clear: the Omaha metro area is done building arenas and ballparks for many, many years to come. This area has overbuilt, and has double what the region actually needs and can support.