Baseball and swimming: two summer essentials, both put on hold. This summer was about to be another busy one. Every four years Omaha becomes a sports hotspot, with the College World Series (CWS) and the Olympic Swim Trials both set to start in late June. Thousands of dollars in revenue flow in, from event tickets to hotels and restaurants to taxi services.
With large outbreaks of the coronavirus from March through May across the country, many sports teams and organizations postponed or cancelled summer events. Notably, the NCAA (National College Athletics Association) and USA Swimming, hosts of the CWS and Trials respectively, did away with their summer event schedule to help stop the spread of the coronavirus to fans and players alike.
With the cancellations of these two events, Omaha lost an estimated $140 million in revenue this year. “[This virus] has really hurt our Metropolitan hospitality,” said Tim Darby, president of the Nebraska Hotel and Lodging Association and general manager of the Magnolia Hotel in downtown Omaha.
Omaha may not have any active professional sports teams, but fans are prominent, even within the Marian community. At least 54 percent of the 149 students who answered the Network August survey planned to attend both the CWS and Trials. One such fan is sophomore Georgia Foley. As a CWS season ticket holder and past attendee of the Swim Trials, Foley was ready to spend her summer watching for home runs and first-place finishes. “I was devastated when [the events] were cancelled,” she said.
But it’s not just the fans and players who are suffering. The loss of these two high-demand sports shows hurt Omaha businesses and forced them to rethink event schedules and financial plans to accommodate virus safety measures. Berkshire Hathaway, owned by local billionaire Warren Buffett, called off their Annual Shareholders Meeting in early May due to concerns over crowd size. Also in Omaha in early spring were two games of the NCAA March Madness tournament. Darby said the combined loss of Berkshire’s convention and the college basketball games took another $60 million in hotel and entertainment revenue from Omaha this year.
One small business that has been hit particularly hard is Blur Parties, a tailgate staple established in Lincoln in 2008. With sports and other large gatherings hanging by a thread this summer, Blur owners Eric Gomon and Stacy Leners have been struggling. “We are both pretty defeated,” Gomon said. He explained that Blur hasn’t seen any income for months. Without the CWS, their main summer event, Blur was already in a financial crisis. Since football is one of the biggest money makers in Nebraska, a lack of tailgating events this fall could “be the final nail” for Blur and many other sports-centered businesses in Omaha and Lincoln.
Both the CWS and Swim Trials are set to stay in Omaha for 2021. The CWS has been in Omaha since 1967 and the Trials since 2008.