Friday, May 29, 2015

$149 for a Single Game Ticket at the New Arena?

So it begins... Fans don't even have their season tickets (and won't until September), but the first signs of "secondary market" tickets are showing up online (StubHub, in this instance). Ticket resellers have apparently identified UNO Hockey as a potentially lucrative ticket. (Although we'll have to see if this actually plays out.)


A trio of seats in Section 222 (upper bowl, shoot-once end) are being offered at surprisingly high rates. Pretty bold pricing. I would be shocked if anyone pays those rates. But it's interesting to see tickets already being offered for resale, given that we're more than four months out.

It also brings out into question exactly who is buying these tickets -- "good-hearted souls" who truly enjoy UNO hockey, or mercenaries wanting to make a buck???

While I think there will be a legitimate resale market for tickets, I'm not sure that $99-$149 for a single game ticket will be supported.

Update: As of July 28, the lowest asking price for tickets is at $99...but we expect some of those to increase -- especially for the North Dakota series, once single game tickets go on sale Aug. 3.

Update: As of Oct. 9, the lowest asking price for tickets for the opening game is $59.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Arena Origin Story (Part 3)

By Jon Brooks

After the University of Nebraska at Omaha announced their intention to start Division I hockey in 1996 (and after they took $25/ticket deposits on season tickets), they set forth to find a home for the nascent program.

Installing ice into the venerable Omaha Civic Auditorium wasn't a given. In fact, there were questions about adding hockey to the venue -- both from the Omaha City Council and Creighton University (which held its men's and women's basketball games there).

Creighton Athletic Director Bruce Rasmussen told the Omaha World-Herald on April 30, 1996:

"We've been a longtime tenant at the Civic and we feel it's been a good relationship. However, if there are issues that arise that create additional problems for us, and other opportunities arise, maybe [the city] will be adding hockey and losing Creighton."

Rasmussen was concerned about the nature of collegiate hockey scheduling, and the two-game series structure of Friday and Saturday night games. He felt sharing the facility with UNO could impede his school's ability to hold games during prime hours (he even mused that Creighton might build its own basketball arena should issues arise).

UNO AD Don Leahy did a yeoman's job trying to quell any concerns. Additionally, he talked about the Civic's beautiful sight lines and the fact that the facility could hold 2,000 more spectators for hockey than Ak-Sar-Ben Coliseum.

The other piece of the puzzle in UNO becoming a tenant was that the Omaha City Council would have to approve the the ice install as well as any additional renovations to the 40-year-old facility.

Council members Subby Anzaldo and Lee Terry actively pushed for ice.

But according to Omaha World-Herald accounts of the proceedings, some on the council weren't as supportive:

Aside from a 20-minute filibuster by Councilman Frank Christensen, the council's public hearing and vote on the renovation package went smoothly, lasting about an hour and a half.

Council members put to rest any question about their support for ice and voted overwhelmingly in favor of a Hawkins Construction Co. contract worth $13.1 million.

The contract calls for the main renovation work to cost $11.1 million, plus $1.6 million for ice and ice-related facilities. Another $400,000 in additional items such as new wall surfaces and new air-handling units also is included.

The contract also includes an 11th-hour change by Councilman Richard Takechi to move the hockey locker rooms and storage areas to a new addition on the west side of the auditorium. The change will tack another $400,000 onto the project but will preserve arena concourse space used by trade shows.

Councilman Paul Koneck was the lone council member to oppose the ice component of the contract. Although he voted against installing ice, he later voted in favor of the agreement with UNO for hockey.  

With the city in place to make the necessary renovations – and UNO having sold 5,000 season tickets at the time of the vote – UNO could get down to the nitty gritty of putting a hockey program together.

The Race Toward a New Arena
As UNO was forging ahead with UNO Hockey (securing the necessary renovations to play at the Civic), talk of a new arena was swirling on the Aksarben property.

With the piecemeal breakup of the 360-acre Aksarben property, the Ak-Sar-Ben Coliseum's future was in doubt. Mayor Hal Daub favored a new 15,000-25,000 arena in downtown.

While all of this was going on, Council Bluffs was talking about building an arena and convention center on the other side of the Missouri River.

Omaha would eventually build an arena on the riverfront, Council Bluffs would proceed with plans to build an arena of their own, and the Ak-Sar-Ben Coliseum would get razed in favor of new development.

Within seven years of the Omaha City Council approving ice at the Civic Auditorium, there would be arenas in the metro area that held ~8,314 for hockey, ~6,700 for hockey, and ~16,000 for hockey.

A Stranger Rides Into Town
Businessman Ken Stickney of California-based Mandalay Sports Entertainment decided in 1998 that he wanted to move one of his minor league teams to Omaha, and he wanted that team to play in the Civic Auditorium.

Stickney suggested (in the Omaha World-Herald on Aug. 31, 1998) that if they couldn't play at the Civic, Mandalay was prepared to enter into a partnership with the city to privately fund a 10,000-seat sports arena.

UNO had a non-compete clause in their contract with the city, and could keep the IHL out.

Mandalay, [Stickney] said, would want the arena to seat about 10,000 and feature 36 luxury suites. A second ice rink would be located elsewhere in the building. Cost, he said, would be $38 million. In addition to hockey, Stickney said, a new arena would be used for other events throughout the year.

"You don't just build an arena for a hockey team," he said, "unless it's a National Hockey League franchise."

Omaha is the No. 1 target for company growth, Stickney said. The city is attractive, he said, because it is the largest market in the country besides Portland, Ore., that does not have a pro hockey team.

While city leaders had already eyed a new arena and convention center, it is interesting to note how Mandalay's overtures sparked Omaha to move in that direction.

Just as important is the role that the sport of hockey played as a catalyst in Omaha's desire to improve its entertainment venues in the city. Sellout games and Ak-Sar-Ben Coliseum and the Civic Auditorium for the sport caught the attention of outside business interests.

Pro hockey could be seen as the next logical step.

Mayor Daub and members of the City Council were intrigued with the possibility. Mandalay scheduled a pair of exhibition games at the Civic Auditorium between the IHL's Las Vegas Thunder and Long Beach Ice Dogs on Sept. 24 and 25, 1998.

All signs suggested that whatever Omaha did regarding a new arena, pro hockey could become an anchor tenant in such a facility.

Voting With Their Wallets
Any of you remember those exhibition games?

Me neither.

A combined 3,000 tickets were sold for the two exhibitions. The prices were $13, $11, and $9 respectively (comparable to UNO Hockey ticket prices at the Civic).

While the small turnout didn't close the door on pro hockey in Omaha, it did demonstrate that consumers wouldn't blindly follow the "next thing" in town.

The IHL eventually folded into the AHL, and pro hockey would eventually take the ice in Omaha.

However, the ho-hum response to Mandalay's exhibition games foreshadowed the community's eventual interest in that level of hockey.

Omaha eventually took the path of funding its own arena/convention center along the Missouri River.

UNO's eventual move to that facility would help solidify the notion that the university needed its own facility, where they could better control their own destiny.

Next time: Part 4

Saturday, May 23, 2015

MP Mini: Party in the STL (Video)

By Jon Brooks

Found this little gem on the "UNOMavTV" YouTube channel from 2011.

Current UNO Media Relations Coordinator Charley Reed put together this video which highlights the pre-game party Bridget organized at Maggie O'Brien's Irish Pub & Restaurant in St. Louis (with assistance from Elizabeth Kraemer, Director of Alumni Programming for the UNO Alumni Association).

Fans had a chance to celebrate before watching UNO take on Michigan in the first round of the NCAA West Regional.

Not-So-Fun Fact: Our red "Mavericks" flag (seen at the beginning of the video) went missing after the party.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Terry and Sheila Leahy: "Our Finest Hour"

By Bridget (Weide) Brooks

Friday night was the "Fundraiser for Sheila." On the same day hundreds gathered to raise money for her and Terry Leahy, Sheila was moved to the Josie Harper Hospice House.

Photo by Ed Thompson

I talked with Terry and he said he couldn't wait to tell Sheila all about the event. Several family members took pictures and videos. And Channel 7 and Channel 6 covered the event.

At one point, Terry took the stage. He said the support from family, friends, the community, and his UNO Hockey family has been "unbelievable." Then he corrected himself. He said it is believable, because he has seen the support. Instead, he said he would call it "amazing."

There were plenty of "Old Bulls" in attendance. (Ryan Walters coined that phrase, referring to former Maverick Hockey players.) I saw Colin Strom, David Brisson, Christian Graham, Kendall Sidoruk, Rob Facca, Alex Nikiforuk, and several others there.

I caught Chancellor John Christensen talking with Terry at one point. The university support for Terry and Sheila has been gratifying. Mike Kemp lined up numerous donations of UNO Hockey memorabilia -- some are pictured below.

UNO Chancellor John Christensen talked with Terry.

Here were some of the items featured in the silent auction:

Patrick Kane jersey (top) and Mike Kemp-signed panorama of a game at the Civic Auditorium
(Courtesy of Brad Williams Photography)

Dean Blais signed this UNO jersey with the NCHC and Frozen Four patches on it.

I would have bid on this Hoggan jersey, but Terry was the first bid, and I didn't want to bid against him.
Others didn't seem to have the same problem!

This is an amazing keepsake for a fan: A goalie stick autographed by the 2014-15 UNO Hockey team.

I bid on a basket that had two UNO polo shirts, two UNO Hockey tickets, and four UNO Basketball tickets (but I was ultimately outbid for it). Someone donated two club hockey tickets for the first home game at the new arena, and those were raffled off for $10 a chance.

The final numbers aren't in yet, but the fundraiser was a huge success -- not just in the number of people who came, or the money raised, or the media coverage -- but in showing Terry (and Sheila) how much we love them.

Remember, you can still donate to the GoFundMe campaign:

Fundraiser for Sheila GoFundMe

And, you can make a donation at any First National Bank of Omaha branch -- tell them it's for the Fundraiser for Sheila account.

Here are the links to the news coverage of the event:

WOWT Channel 6:…/headl…/Community-Comes--303976721.html

KETV Channel 7:

UNO Gateway Newspaper:

Thursday, May 14, 2015

When UNO Started the Stampede...and Bridget Staffed the Civic With Volunteers

By Jon Brooks

On May 11, 2000, the UNO and the UNO Hockey Blue Line Club announced they were going to hold an early season hockey tournament called the Maverick Stampede.

The tournament offered an opportunity to start off the hockey season in style, and featured a mix of foes from around college hockey.

The UNO Hockey Blue Line Club entered into a contractual agreement with the university to co-sponsor the event with the opportunity to "earn" money for the BLC. In order to increase revenue potential, the typical "paid" game staff (ticket takers, ushers, door monitors) were replaced for the weekend with volunteers.

Bridget and I served on the Stampede committee (which featured a variety of potential organizers and sponsors for the event). What started out as a group of roughly 30 people soon dwindled into a core group of about 10 people.

Bridget was charged with finding 50 volunteers to handle those positions during each of the four Stampede games that weekend.

That was not an easy task, and it was especially hard given the fact that a number of volunteers were paying season ticket holders who would have preferred to watch the games from the comfort of their blue plastic seat.

Finding people willing to do just that was a difficult job in itself for Bridget Weide, who coordinated the UNO Hockey Blue Line Club's effort to round up volunteers who will serve as ushers, ticket-takers and in various other support roles at the auditorium Friday and Saturday nights.

"These are people," Weide said, "who are kindly and generously donating their time." -- Omaha World-Herald, Oct. 9, 2000.

Not only did her efforts help save the program money both nights, it was an opportunity for us to lend a helping hand during the games.

The following Spring, Bridget was named "Blue Line Club Volunteer of the Year" at the program's annual postseason awards banquet.

They only staffed the Stampede with volunteers during the first two seasons.

Today, the Maverick Stampede seems like a distant memory (the 2011-12 season was the last time the event was held).

I enjoyed having the event in the lineup. It served as a great opportunity to see programs we don't normally get to watch in Omaha.

One aspect of UNO's tenure in the CCHA that made the Stampede possible was that Alaska-Fairbanks was their travel partner, and playing two games in Alaska each season allowed the program to play an additional pair of games each season (beyond the NCAA limit).

Perhaps now that UNO is moving into their own arena there will be an opportunity in the future to bring the Stampede some way, shape, or form...

P.S. -- The 2000 Stampede is where the team unveiled their "uber-cool" silver third jersey.

The "Silver Bullet" Jersey

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Arena Origin Story (Part 2)

By Jon Brooks

In Part 1 of "The Arena Origin Story" we touched on the nascent days of hockey in Omaha, looking at how the The Ak-Sar-Ben Coliseum became the hub for pucks in the area.

Whether or not that piece of property -- nestled in the middle of Omaha -- is "hallowed ground" for the sport is yet to be seen. But there is no denying that the area holds an important place in the city's sports landscape.

The Spokes on the Wheel
With the Omaha Lancers finding a foothold at Ak-Sar-Ben Coliseum in the late 80s, hockey's passionate fans came roaring to the fore. A rough start to the franchise's history was succeeded by teams with excellent records, and capacity crowds to cheer on the boys.

It only stood to reason that other interested parties would stand up and take notice.

Not only would rumblings once again surface regarding the possibility of UNO Hockey, but a minor league hockey team's owner would even propose building a 10,000-seat arena in Omaha.

The Land of Our Dreams
In November of 1990, the Ak-Sar-Ben board of governors decided to put its 340 acres of property up for sale.

As I mentioned in Part I, the proceeds from horse racing on the property had declined throughout the 1980s, and those charged with its care started looking for other opportunities.

When the decision was made to sell, it was done with the idea that only select civic entities would even be considered.

An Omaha World-Herald article on Nov. 20, 1990 stated: "A new owner would be prohibited from using the land and buildings for any commercial activity..."

Obviously, that didn't quite end up being the case, and the Aksarben property is today a vibrant "mixed-use" development with commercial, residential, and educational facilities.

UNO was one of the educational entities on the short list for the sale. Local leaders felt there was merit in the idea that the property would allow for UNO's landlocked campus to have expansion opportunities.

Another entity that Aksarben's leadership found acceptable as a buyer was Douglas County, and board member Steve McCollister started devising a plan for the property.

McCollister proposed many possibilities for the property, and the idea of UNO as a major participant was definitely at play. In addition, he proposed building a new sports arena:

"The number of seats hasn't been determined but probably would be between 8,000 and 15,000," McCollister said. "Omaha's City Auditorium Arena seats 9,300; the Bob Devaney Sports Center in Lincoln seats 14,300." -- Omaha World-Herald, Jan. 5, 1991

There was a certain amount of debate as to where the city should build a new sports arena. Some local politicians (such as then-Mayor P.J. Morgan) favored downtown Omaha as a locale. Others were pushing for the soon-to-be available Aksarben property.

The sale of Aksarken had the resultant effect of putting all the various plans in limbo.

"Hockey at UNO?"
That sentence started out an Omaha World-Herald article published on March 22, 1991.

UNO had just released a 20-year master plan, and hockey was listed as a possible addition to athletics.

[UNO Athletic Director Bob] Gibson said several people have asked him about UNO adding hockey. He said the success of the Omaha Lancers is probably one reason why.

"I don't think there's any question that has something to do with it," he said. "This is a hockey city."

The article itself was little more than a "tease," but it showed the concept was on UNO's radar.

Douglas County Makes Its Pitch
Douglas County Commissioner Steve McCollister wrote an editorial (published in the Omaha World-Herald on Jan. 8, 1992) titled "How Purchase of Ak - Sar - Ben Would Add to Quality of Life."

The plan would see the county purchasing the property, and the Knights of Ak-Sar-Ben continuing as a foundation (using proceeds from the sale for charitable work within the community).

McCollister also wrote: "It is important to stress that it is not what Ak - Sar - Ben is today that is exciting; it is what it can be in 10 or 20 years. This is not an offer to buy a racetrack."

The vision that McCollister had is largely what we have seen the Aksarben development become (albeit with a significant commercial component).

Mayor Daub Enters the Picture
In April of 1995, Mayor Hal Daub started talking about redevelopment possibilities at Aksarben. Debate was swirling as to whether the property -- which in its heyday had been known for horse racing -- should be used for "non-gambling" uses, or whether casino gambling should be allowed on the property.

Daub focused on redevelopment centered around educational uses for UNO. He commented on the topic in the April, 21, 1995, issue of the Omaha World-Herald.

Mayor Daub said Friday that a conference center, a sports arena and an engineering college for the University of Nebraska at Omaha are among the redevelopment options that are under consideration for Ak - Sar - Ben.

Daub said the plan could include a 6,000-seat sports arena for hockey and basketball and a conference center for use by the city's medical schools and other educational institutions.

He said his personal view was that an engineering college "should offer undergraduate and graduate study, as well as continuing education classes."

(Note: Hal Daub currently serves on the University of Nebraska Board of Regents, and was one of the board members who approved the bonds to fund the UNO Community Arena adjacent to the Aksarben redevelopment).

McCollister voiced similar views the following week, and expressed his concerns about the property being turned over to "gaming" interests. He also reiterated the notion of the property being used for future UNO facilities.

Many discussions have been held over the years about uses as varied as UNO facilities and parking, amphitheaters, soccer fields, amateur and collegiate hockey to Shakespeare on the Green. -- Omaha World-Herald, April 28, 1995

In the final sum game, the "non-gambling" interests won out, and the road toward the ongoing Aksarben redevelopment we see today was forged.

It is fascinating to see how the property has developed in a fashion similar to those early visions.

It wasn't easy getting from there to here, and the notion of UNO having a new sports arena -- let alone a hockey team -- seemed like a faint dream.

While local leaders were ruminating on the future of sports, entertainment, and conventions in the area (along with the dealings at Aksarben, Mayor Daub was laying the groundwork for riverfront redevelopment downtown), UNO Athletic Director Don Leahy was laying the groundwork for D-I hockey at the university.

The "Don" of a New Era
The concept of D-I hockey at UNO was again floated publicly as Don Leahy returned to UNO for another stint as athletic director. This time, Leahy would pull it off.

Leahy's installment as AD was covered in the Aug. 11, 1995 issue of the Omaha World-Herald:

Don Leahy, introduced as UNO's new athletic director in a press conference on Thursday, said he had come up with the idea during his previous stint as athletic director at the school, from 1974 through 1985.

"Shortly after I arrived, I went to Ronald Roskens -- who had hired me -- with a plan to start hockey at UNO," Leahy said. "He said he liked it, but because of the timing and some possible problems involved, we decided to put it on hold."

Leahy had come to UNO from Ak - Sar - Ben's executive staff, where his responsibilities included working with the Omaha Knights of the Central Hockey League.

Now, more than 20 years later, UNO Chancellor Del Weber is enthused about the possibility, Leahy said.

But coming up with the funding -- and finding a place to play -- are different problems.

"I would think it would be extremely difficult for us to play at Ak - Sar - Ben, with another hockey team (the Omaha Lancers) and a basketball team (Omaha Racers) already there," he said. "But that will be part of our investigation. I haven't looked into it yet, but we're going to look at every option."

Another option would be renovation at the City Auditorium that would include ice for hockey.

Leahy had been brought in to revitalize athletics. There was considerable hand-wringing regarding UNO Athletics in the early 1990s, and it wasn't a pretty period.

I was a UNO student at the time, and there were some in Omaha who were even suggesting that the university drop athletics altogether.

Leahy -- and hockey -- proved to be the elixir that would fix an ailing athletic department.

(Note: That was part of my motivation for sending Bridget over to UNO to stand in line for hockey season tickets in May of 1996. I saw our school doing something positive for athletics, and thought it was important to support them in the effort).

Looking back, it is fascinating to consider Leahy's connection to the Omaha Knights organization, and his previous employment with Ak-Sar-Ben.

Even though the UNO Hockey program has yet to play a game in the area, Aksarben is inextricably tied to the program, and it almost seems like UNO building a new home there was predetermined from the inception.

But as we all know, the program would take a few detours on its road to the UNO Community Arena...

Next time: Part 3

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Fundraiser for Sheila: Friday, May 15, 2015

By Bridget (Weide) Brooks

Terry Leahy is the “Voice of the Mavericks” and for the three biggest games in the history of UNO Hockey, he was right where he needed to be. Not providing color commentary on the radio at the NCAA Regionals or at the Frozen Four. Instead, he was at his wife’s bedside.

On March 16, 2015, Sheila Leahy was diagnosed with Stage 4 single cell carcinoma, an incurable cancer. Sheila had lost her job a few years ago, and her medical expenses are adding up quickly.

A fundraising event for Sheila and Terry Leahy will be held on Friday, May 15 at the Holy Cross Gym, 4837 Woolworth, from 5-11 p.m. A goodwill donation will be accepted at the door, and the evening will feature a dinner and a dance, plus silent auction and raffles.

Donations for the silent auction and raffles have come in from former UNO Hockey players, the broadcasting community, and businesses all around Omaha. Gift cards have been donated by Lawlor’s Custom Sportswear, Mama’s Pizza, Ted & Wally’s, Papio Fun Park, Lauritzen Garden, Outback Steakhouse, Sullivan’s, Learning HQ, and many more. Aksarben Cinema donated two “Movie Night for 2” certificates for two movie admissions, two popcorns, and two drinks. Residence Inn in Aksarben Village donated a gift certificate for a free night stay. Donations of sports memorabilia includes a signed Ozzie Smith baseball, a Sports Illustrated autographed by Doug McDermott, and a Jeff Hoggan signed 8x10.

A GoFundMe campaign for the couple has raised $13,000 from 156 people in just over two weeks:

It's amazing to see the list of former players who have donated on the GoFundMe page.

In addition, cash/check donations are being accepted in the name of “Fundraiser for Sheila” at any First National Bank branch.

Please plan to attend next Friday's event! And help spread the word by sharing this blog post, tweeting about it, or sharing the event on Facebook. 

Thursday, May 7, 2015

The Arena Origin Story (Part 1)

By Jon Brooks

Every story has a beginning...

The road to the UNO Community Arena saw its beginnings long before the first puck was dropped at the Omaha Civic Auditorium in 1997.

To tell you the truth, I'm not altogether sure the general public was really paying attention. I know I had read bits and blurbs, but I certainly didn't see how things were evolving at the time. It's the benefit of hindsight, I suppose.

As much as the vision started with proposals for the redevelopment of the Ak-Sar-Ben property, it started years before when the Omaha Knights left the city, leaving a void in the city's sports landscape.

Club Hockey at UNO
The Omaha Knights had folded. Their league (the CHL) was in limbo. By all accounts, fans of the sport were left to wonder whether they'd get to watch high-level hockey in Omaha again.

UNO Athletics (under the direction of Athletic Director Don Leahy) fielded a club hockey team in the immediate aftermath of the Knights' departure — a team that played 14 games at Ak-Sar-Ben Coliseum in 1975-76.

(Omaha University had a club hockey team during the 1940s that played in the Amateur Hockey League.)

Mike Kemp (who was only 23 at the time) was the coach of the club team, and he had high hopes they would move up to the varsity level for the 1976-77 season (either Division I or Division II, the latter held championships from 1978-84 and 1993-99).

Omaha World-Herald writer Jerry Fricke addressed the state of hockey in Omaha in a column published on April 21, 1976:

"Coach Kemp, whose club team finished with an 11-14-2 record, has been recruiting and arranging a schedule with the idea that UNO will go varsity.

'If we don't go varsity, I won't be here,' Kemp said. 'Most of the games I've arranged are with varsity teams, and they won't play us unless we have a varsity team.'"

OWH research also shows that a non-profit group had been set up to help raise money for scholarships for the club players.

"Varsity" UNO Hockey did not become a reality in the 1970s, and the dream was put on hold. Every so often an errant mention of UNO possibly starting a varsity hockey program would surface, but it wouldn't happen for another 20 years.

The Heat is On!
A spectator-brand of hockey didn't return to Omaha until 1986, when a USHL franchise formed in Omaha.

The Omaha Lancers didn't come out of the chute with immediate success (they were 0-48-0 in their inaugural season), and they initially played at Hitchcock Ice Arena in South Omaha (which sat 900 for hockey).

But Lancer Hockey changed the Omaha sports landscape in a profound way during the intervening years.

When the Lancers did finally take the ice for the first time at Ak-Sar-Ben Coliseum in December 1987 (a single game during the 1987-88 season played there), 4,000 tickets were pre-sold, according to Omaha World-Herald reports. Ticket prices: $4 and $3.

When 28-year-old Omahan Ted Baer (and his father) bought the franchise, more games were played during the 1988-89 season at the Ak-Sar-Ben Coliseum. Baer was a fixture during his tenure, and could be seen walking around the arena during games in a jersey and blue jeans.

Ak-Sar-Ben Executive Director Don Drew said in an Omaha World-Herald article on May 27, 1988, that the Ak-Sar-Ben Coliseum had "the best ice surface west of the Mississippi."

"The quality of the ice, the arena, and the excitement of players realizing they will play before large crowds is very important," Drew said. "It should help make the Lancers a better team. I've heard people talking about hockey. Hockey is a big, big game in this town."

Baer moved all home games to the Ak-Sar-Ben Coliseum for the 1989-90 season. The organization also made a coaching change, and hired Frank Serratore to take the reins.

(Serratore is currently the head coach at Air Force. He'll bring the Falcons to Omaha this October for UNO's debut at the new arena).

Before long, the Lancers became known for packed houses and on-ice success.

I have fond memories of attending games at the Ak-Sar-Ben Coliseum. It was old, musty and smelled like warm beer, but it was a wonderful atmosphere for hockey, and still stands as one of the great sports experiences in Omaha.

Sure, there were beams that obstructed the view from certain seats, and the pitch and angles were kind of wonky. But the rough-and-tumble fans made it an experience.

As important as Baer's purchase was for the future of hockey in Omaha, an inkling came in the summer of 1988 that Aksarben's future was in limbo.

The Future of Aksarben
In 1988, the Douglas County Board of Directors had their sights on purchasing the Aksarben property so that they could build an arena and convention center using revenue bonds.

That July, the Ak-Sar-Ben Board of Governors rejected the proposal.

According to OWH articles at the time, horse racing on the property wasn't generating the sort of revenue that the Knights of Ak-Sar-Ben wanted. Other forms of gaming were eating into the revenue that horse racing had previously generated.

For those not familiar with the Aksarben property's historical place in Omaha's history, here is a bit of background from the July 17, 1988 issue of the Omaha World-Herald:

"The Knights of Ak - Sar - Ben, a nonprofit civic organization dating to 1895, opened a race track in 1920. Ak - Sar - Ben has sponsored Thoroughbred meetings each year since 1935, except for 1943 and 1944. Ak - Sar - Ben (Nebraska spelled backward) also sponsors a rodeo and a 4-H show, provides big-name entertainment, has more than 47,000 members, and calls itself 'the largest civic organization of its kind in the world.'"

As interest in horse racing waned in the late 80s (competition came across the river in Council Bluffs from casinos and greyhound racing), the buzzards started circling, eyeing the prime Aksarben real estate in the city's center.

Vast acres lay in wait for what would eventually become a mixed-use development (and the home of UNO's "Pacific Street Campus")...

Next Week: The Arena Origin Story (Part 2) 

Sunday, May 3, 2015

The Civic Sellout Myth

Note: My husband Jon will be guest posting this entry:

Some people have expressed concern over the ~7,500-seat capacity of the UNO Community Arena (set to open later this year). They argue that planners should have opted for greater seating capacity in the new facility. The oft-used phrase is "room to grow."

The concern seems to stem from the capacity of the Omaha Civic Auditorium -- UNO's home during the program's first six seasons. That facility held 8,314 for hockey (8,310 after some chairs were removed in 2001).

The question is whether there is solid foundation for the concern about the size of the new arena, or if the "8,314 sellout" notion was an exaggeration built on a foundation made of sand.

Magic... or Myth?
Reporter Eric Olson examined UNO Hockey attendance in an Omaha World-Herald article published Jan. 24, 2002.

The article was written during one of UNO's early successful seasons. UNO would go on to finish the 2001-02 season 21-16-4. The previous season saw the Mavs go 24-15-3.

Taken together, UNO had shed the auspices of a fledgling program, and looked more like a program poised to take its place among college hockey's elite.

Any season where a D-I hockey program wins 20-plus games tends to signal success. The team wasn't quite in a position to receive an at-large berth* to the NCAA tournament, but seemed to be building toward that crescendo.

* Note: The NCAA didn't change from a 12-team to a 16-team championship format until the 2002-03 season.

Both the 2000-01 and 2001-02 seasons featured good crowds to watch a solid Maverick squad, but "typical attendance" was nowhere near the "8,314 sellout" reported in "box scores."

Furthermore, UNO rarely approached 7,500 attendees (the reported capacity of the UNO Community Arena) during those seasons in terms of actual "people in seats." (From Olson's Omaha World-Herald article: "UNO provides the news media with an 'announced' attendance that uses the ticket count as its base and then adds people who enter the building with passes. UNO counts the number of people with passes, many of whom attend receptions that various organizations hold in different rooms at the auditorium.")

UNO Athletic Director Bob Danenhauer admitted in the 2002 article that UNO had had to "buy back" tickets on certain occasions to preserve the sellout streak:

"Referring to buy-backs in past seasons, Danenhauer said, 'There have been some tumultuous times where you ask yourself, 'Why am I doing this?' We look back on it now and are really happy that we did protect it.'"

Manufacturing sellouts fed skepticism about the veracity of the "sellout streak."

My wife (never one to mince words) had this to say about the streak in Olson's article:

"'There's an overemphasis on it,' Weide said. 'Having attended the home games, it has become somewhat of a debatable point, almost to the point of being laughable, that they can call some of those games sellouts.'"

The "optics" weren't matching the "messaging" during the team's final years at the Civic, and it led to collective head-scratching among fans.

According to Olson's article, the highest number of "tickets taken" for a game during those two seasons came during a matchup with Michigan on Feb. 3, 2001.

2000-01 Attendance Figures (Source: Omaha World-Herald):
  • Oct. 6 Manitoba - Paid: 8,314 | Announced: 6,537 | Tickets taken: 5,734
  • Oct. 13 Niagara - Paid: 8,314 | Announced: 7,248 | Tickets taken: 5,742
  • Oct. 14 Boston College - Paid: 8,314 | Announced: 6,246 | Tickets taken: 4,862
  • Oct. 27 Ferris State - Paid: 8,314 | Announced: 6,122 | Tickets taken: 5,742
  • Oct. 28 Ferris State - Paid: 8,314 | Announced: 5,439 | Tickets taken: 5,543
  • Nov. 10 Massachusetts - Paid: 8,314 | Announced: 7,397 | Tickets taken: 6,297
  • Nov. 11 Massachusetts - Paid: 8,314 | Announced: 5,097 | Tickets taken: 3,697
  • Dec. 1 Alaska-Fairbanks - Paid: 8,314 | Announced: 6,729 | Tickets taken: 5,729
  • Dec. 2 Alaska-Fairbanks - Paid: 8,314 | Announced: 6,299 | Tickets taken: 5,516
  • Dec. 19 Notre Dame - Paid: 8,314 | Announced: 6,152 | Tickets taken: 4,562
  • Dec. 20 Notre Dame - Paid: 8,314 | Announced: 6,575 | Tickets taken: 5,175
  • Jan. 12 Bowling Green - Paid: 8,314 | Announced: 7,517 | Tickets taken: 6,566
  • Jan. 13 Bowling Green - Paid: 8,314 | Announced: 6,556 | Tickets taken: 5,858
  • Jan. 19 N. Michigan - Paid: 8,314 | Announced: 8,314 | Tickets taken: 6,002
  • Jan. 20 N. Michigan - Paid: 8,314 | Announced: 8,314 | Tickets taken: 6,539
  • Feb. 2 Michigan - Paid: 8,314 | Announced: 8,314 | Tickets taken: 7,129
  • Feb. 3 Michigan - Paid: 8,314 | Announced: 8,314 | Tickets taken: 8,026
  • Feb. 16 Ohio State - Paid: 8,314 | Announced: 8,314 | Tickets taken: 6,409
  • Feb. 17 Ohio State - Paid: 8,314 | Announced: 8,314 | Tickets taken: 6,988
  • March 1 Findlay - Paid: 8,314 | Announced: 6,354 | Tickets taken: 5,354
  • March 2 Findlay - Paid: 8,314 | Announced: 7,564 | Tickets taken: 6,752

The 2001-02 attendance figures look very similar to those listed above. The OWH article only provides detailed figures for that season through Jan. 24, 2002, and 7,421 represented the highest number of "tickets taken" (for a November game against Michigan).

During those two seasons, the team featured the likes of future NHLers Jeff Hoggan, Greg Zanon, and Dan Ellis -- players who rank among the greatest in UNO Hockey history, and players still competing at the professional level.

But actual attendance rarely matched the long-held notion that there were 8,000 warm bodies at games on a regular basis. That was at a time when ticket prices were $10.50, $12.50 and $14.50 per game for the three tiers at the Civic Auditorium.

Those two seasons also represent the zenith for UNO Hockey at the Civic Auditorium -- the best the program had to offer, and the best we would see out of the program until the 2005-06 season (when UNO would make the NCAA tournament for the first time).

When Enough Capacity is Enough...
The question then is this: Why do many believe in the notion that 8,500-plus seats would have been a preferable capacity for the UNO Community Arena?

It appears to stem from a healthy dose of "misinformation" about the "sellout streak" at the Civic Auditorium during those early years. That notion -- combined with UNO's recent Frozen Four appearance -- has led some to believe capacity has been capped too low.

The other component to keep in mind is the fact that NCAA hockey realignment shifted Big Ten schools into their own six-team conference.

North Dakota is still a draw, but the other NCHC powers don't have the "name value" of Michigan or Minnesota.

People will point to recent seasons when we had the sellout-promotion games at the CenturyLink Center. They believe those games represent an indication of "what could be."

The fact is that massive ticket promotions and groups sales were used to spur attendance on those nights -- yielding an attendee that wasn't a long-term, high-value prospect.

The season ticket base also eroded to around 3,400 season tickets sold (from a peak number of around 6,500 during the Civic era).

Final Thoughts...
Looking at the numbers, it appears reasonable to assume that the UNO Community Arena's capacity (and configuration) will prove to be a smart balance of high-end price points and moderately-priced seating.

Only time will tell, but it looks like the 7,500-seat capacity represents a healthy and realistic number for UNO's new arena.