City whiffs at College World Series

June 15, 2009
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vicfieldReading the news that TD Ameritrade recently signed a naming rights deal for Omaha’s new baseball park, made me wonder if Indianapolis didn’t miss a golden opportunity with the College World Series. That opportunity is going, going, gone.

When TD Ameritrade agrees to a 20-year deal that starts at $750,000 annually with escalator clauses, that says something about the rising value of this event. That’s pretty impressive in this economy, even if Nebraska-based TD Ameritrade says it did the deal partially to support a hometown event.

Since 1950 Omaha has hosted the 11-day baseball tournament. And it’s not going anywhere soon. Omaha sealed that future by agreeing to build a 24,000-seat $128 million downtown ballpark which is set to open in 2011. The NCAA and Omaha officials agreed to a deal that will keep the CWS in Nebraska until 2035.

But there were two key times that CWS organizers would have been open to a pitch from Indianapolis to host the event. The first came when the ribbon was cut on the 15,500-seat Victory Field in 1996. At the time, some were beginning to grumble that Omaha’s Rosenblatt Stadium was becoming outdated. Meanwhile, Victory Field was opening to great accolades.

The second opportunity came in 1999, when the NCAA moved its headquarters from Overland Park, Kansas to Indianapolis. NCAA executives, now perched just up the street from Victory Field, were more familiar with its fine amenities and were willing to at least discuss the possibility of putting Indianapolis into the CWS rotation if not outright moving the event from Omaha.

But there were downsides, as Indians Chairman Max Schumacher has explained on several occasions. First, the Indianapolis Indians would have to all but vacate the facility during the CWS, which is no small scheduling hurdle during the heart of the professional baseball season. And there were always concerns Victory Field was a bit too small for the growing event. Now, it appears, it’s quite a bit too small.

Since a significant number of seats can’t be added to the outfield (without closing West Street), that would mean adding an upper deck to some of the existing seating areas. And at this point, that would be expensive. It would have been a lot less expensive if it was done when the facility was built. But, without a guarantee from CWS organizers, that also would have been a risky investment for the city-owned facility.

If the city could have gotten the event, even on a trial basis, with little to no extra addition to the original Victory Field price tag, you have to believe, with Indianapolis' track record of putting on big-time events, the city would have had a real chance of stealing it from Omaha. Then when it was secured, the cost of expanding the facility if necessary would have seemed a lot less daunting.

Victory Field, meanwhile, has no naming rights deal, in part, Schumacher has explained to protect the integrity and historical significance of the facility’s moniker. But there’s also no corporate name on the building, he admits, because with no regional or national TV/radio deal for the Indians, there’s little money in it.

That all would change of course, with the CWS. You can’t flip past either ESPN or ESPN2 in mid-June without seeing a college baseball game, and hearing about Omaha. The title sponsorship proves there’s value. But that’s mostly the Indians’ loss, since the team’s lease states it gets all the naming rights cash.

Annual exposure to the city from throngs of college baseball fans from across the country who attend the event live or watch on TV for almost two weeks each and every year—that’s the city’s loss.
  • Not really a comment on the CWS, but I took a sales course with some of the Indians staff and they are a classy organization. Good people, top to bottom. I would trust their judgement and input on how to run a sports facility. The CIB could take lessons from them.
  • Too bad the CIB is trying to manhandle the Indians organization when the Indians maintains it's own facility and venue, but part of the tax and a monthly lease to CIB that I think is outrageous still goes to CIB. Yet because it is the one profitable organiztion who has nothing to do with the drag on the bottom line for the CIB like the LOS and Conseco - they feel they can just take their profits for the CIB benefit.
  • While the CWS is a great event, Indy doesn't have to host *every* collegiate sports tournament. Omaha has built a nice tradition, and moving to Indy would seen a little strange. Of course, I would love for it to be here, but I'm happy to see Omaha do well and get a new stadium out of it. The tournament is a great showcase for NCAA baseball and I'm enjoying this year's games so far.
  • Just because an event is seen on ESPN doesn't mean that event would be a moneymaker for the host city.
  • I think it would have been difficult to pull this away from Omaha. It is so ingrained and I think they would have been willing to spend big dollars to keep it. There is no easy way to put on a second deck. It was discussed when the facility was built in case we had a chance at a major league team. There is no way with the rail lines behind and the other site constraints to put one on then, or now.

    While I appreciate what the Indians have done, they are far from self sufficient. Their stadium, a single use facility, was built using taxpayer money. As a single use stadium and with a minor league team as occupant, the financial impact is not nearly as great as the larger multi use stadiums. So even though we do not pay the costs for maintaining it, we are still paying for its construction and other costs.
  • I'm from Indy and know its abilty to run a major sporting event. I've also attended CWS every year for the past decade. If the City, Sports Corp, someone truly had an opportunity to bring CWS to Indy and didn't fight for it then we really did miss a golden opportunity. CWS is like the Indy 500; fan or not, everyone should attend at least once. CWS is an amazing, two-week, sports fan- and family-friendly event with a huge economic impact that would have extended far beyond Downtown into the surrounding counties. Those not familiar with the overall CWS event know there are several HUGE little league tournaments that take place all over Omaha during CWS that bring in tens of thousands of other kids and their families who play their games on diamonds all over the city and stay in hotels outside downtown. The City of Omaha/NCAA's decision to build a new downtown stadium just for CWS speaks to the importance of the event to Omaha and the NCAA. Indy, meanwhile, already has a phenominal downtown perfectly suited to conventions and big-time sporting events and a five-star baseball facility. CWS in Indy would have been HUGE, HUGE, HUGE. Oh well. Start the campaign for the next renegotiation (2036).
  • NCAA moving the CWS to Indy or anywhere else was nothing but leverage to get a new facility in Omaha. And Rosenblatt, while it looks ok on TV, is nowhere near Victory Field or other top minor league parks. In fact, it's a dump. The community of Omaha cherishes the CWS. Indy/Conseco can't sell out the Big Ten tourney? What makes you think Indy would support CWS, a 2-week event?

    And VF is mostly a single use facility for the Indians but the high school finals will be there this weekend and the concert they hosted a couple years ago was awesome. Im not sure about it being built totally w/ taxpayer money either. I've heard the Indians contributed substantially in the construction costs.
  • And if you look at their financials - they are making money (More Revenue then Income) while still having to pay a hefty fee each year to CIB. Other than that fee - CIB has nothing else to do with the facility, upkeep or strategic direction of it - hence why it is profitable. Shareholder value is up TREMENDOUSLY since they were first issued. So much in fact that on the Pink Sheets people are trying to buy others out. While also increasing their sponsorship deals and attendance.

    Read some of the past posts about the CIB and its relationship to Victory Field in the IBJ and Property Lines posts. It's not as mutual as you would expect! VF management pretty much does everything.
  • More revenue than expenses I mean.
  • Indianapolis and the Indiana Sports Corp. made a play for the CWS. Conversations were had between locals and NCAA chiefs about bringing the event here, but city and ISC officials thought it was too big a risk 10-12 years ago when talks were underway. Indians officials too didn't see the upside. That naming rights money would double their total profit, and they never saw that potential 10-12 years ago. Then the CWS with a bit of help from the World Wide Leader in Sports took off. They'd never admit it, but there are a lot of higher ups in this city who regret they didn't have more foresight on this one. The downtown hotels, restaurants and Circle Centre Mall are the biggest losers here ... and I bet the ICVA would like the image bump the CWS would bring. I wonder what the Joyce Julius numbers would be for the city if they hosted the CWS. My estimate: $25 million annually easy.
  • Not that Indy would have made a catch with the CWS anyway, but to this currently negative nelly, it represents another loss for Indy.

    Our current amateur sporting facilities in Indianapolis, once prime jewels and engines for growth, and there seems to me no leadership from the 25th floor to rally the community, refocus, and reinvigorate.

    I really hate to pick on the mayor, he seems a nice fellow, inherited tough economic times and a large debt from previous administrations (Democrat AND Republican,) but so far there's little sense of leadership, no grasp of the big picture. Mass transit, IPS, city planning, the arts, business incubation -- just what is he doing there? And crime? Ye Gods, I've seen no improvement for all the criticism of the Peterson administration.

    Whether it's the College World Series, crime on the corner, or CIB solutions, the silence of ideas and leadership, is deafening.
  • Whoops, I should edit before I send.

    Our current amateur sporting facilities in Indianapolis, once prime jewels and engines for growth should be followed by: are aging and in danger of closing or losing their star events...
  • Parkershade,

    I would agree that the city is in dire need of strong leadership. Mayor B has done little. However, crime is down from a year ago. That's the only credit he gets at this point.
  • Boomer,

    Indy would not be expected to fill the stadium for the CWS, do you think Omaha does? It is the fans of the teams competing. No different than the final four etc...
  • I couldn't agree more with Parkershade about the lack of leadership on the 25th floor. Where are Bill Hudnut, Bart Peterson, even Steve Goldsmith when you need 'em? I've been at several occasions where the mayor has spoken and if I hear him say one more time, This is a really tiring job - I'm going to scream! He has no vision, ideas or leadership. Ballard is a bust!
  • Indyman-
    Residents of Omaha make up a good portion of the annual attendance (maybe 50%). Don't be fooled into thinking each school brings thousands of fans for what could be an 11 day event with little to no planning time. Would Indy support something that lasts that long? I just don't think so.
  • Omaha has a population of 400,000. The college world series drew 330,000 fans to 17 games over 11 days last year. Using your figures, a number equal to half the population of Omaha attends the games over multiple days. I find it hard to believe that many people can take a week off of work to go to the games.

    I am more inclined to believe that like NCAA Bball tourney games, that thousands of fans converge on Omaha to root on their teams. Especially since the schools are on summer break and since most of the fans have a good idea their team will be there almost every year, they plan their vacations around it. Hell, it would be bad for Indy or any host city to have a large portion of their residents attending the game, it would severely cut into the economic impact.
  • An Omaha comment here
    Living in Omaha and having stumbled across this article on the 'net, I have to make a few comments.

    One, I don't know if half the city goes, but there are a LARGE number of people from Omaha and the surrounding area that attend multiple sessions / multiple days of the CWS (though I will admit the number does increase if either Nebraska or Creighton qualifies). I believe you also see increased local attendance during the second week, when teams that have been ousted leave and their tickets are sold off. And even then, some fans (not to mention scouts) of those departed teams will remain for the entire tournament because they love college baseball.

    Two, there are those who attend the CWS every year, no matter who is playing. It's their own personal tradition to see college baseball at the CWS. (A local station interviewed one older family in its sportscast and learned that this is how they celebrate father's Day every year.) And many of these people are second, third, and with little kids fourth generation in attendance.

    Three, it is a HUGE financial boon for the Omaha area. When one considers the income, don't just look at ticket sales. It is VERY difficult to get a hotel room in the Omaha area during the CWS, and you can expect to pay increased rates. That's not including people who will rent out apartments or houses during the CWS for fan contingents to stay in, or in camping fees (a fair number of people bring in camping trailer, motor homes or other RVs). Then there is the food and beverage income, whether it is fast food or other restaurants near the various hotels or a burger stand / beer garden just outside the stadium grounds. One particular bar and grill owner, I learned recently, owns a snack stand across the street from the stadium and sets up a beer garden ten next to it for the CWS. That one entrepreneur was reported to earn anywhere from $600,000 to $800,000 just during the two weeks of the CWS. That's just one business owner. When you look at the number of businesses that directly or indirectly receive revenue from CWS patrons (not to mention the sales/hotel/other tax revenues generated), I think you would agree it's not exactly a financial hardship on Omaha to host the CWS.

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