Thursday, June 18, 2015

I've Never Seen Anything Like This Before...

Tonight at the College World Series game between TCU and LSU (Game 10 of the 2015 College World Series), I think Jon and I witnessed something new. Take a look here:

There was a particularly active group of fans in the right field General Admission section -- they led the wave, the slo-mo wave, a fast wave, and a reverse wave -- and yes, I know many of you don't care for the wave, but it was cool to see 26,803 fans (most of them, anyway) participating.

Anyway, at one point, that group of fans started doing something I have never seen before, and it quickly spread throughout the stadium. They took their cell phones and used the flashlight on the camera, turning it on and off quickly, so it looked like blinking lights.

After it had gone on for about 5 minutes, the public address announcer told us all to knock it off ... but before he played the role of party pooper, it was a beautiful sight to see. Which gave me this idea, which I tweeted:
Can you imagine how that would look when the lights are down for player introductions at Baxter Arena? I think it would look awesome.

Friday, June 12, 2015

It's Curtains for UNO Basketball

Because we're season ticket holders for UNO Hockey, we received a letter from "Omaha Athletics" today with information about purchasing UNO Basketball season tickets.

One thing we noticed right away: They are curtaining off Baxter Arena to limit attendance. You can see the curtains in the photo on the UNO/Ticketmaster/IO-Media website.

The diagram shows several seating areas. Courtside seats are in GREEN and are $500 per ticket. "Lower Center" tickets in RED -- sections 114, 115, 117) are $300 each. The "Lower Corner" seats in YELLOW are $225 each (sections 113, 119, 107, and 102). The only upper bowl seats are in sections 214, 215, 216, 217, and 218) and those are in BLUE -- they're $150 each. Students are in Section 118 (behind the away bench, and those tickets are free for UNO students.

Payment plans WILL be available -- there is a half-and-half payment option (pay 1/2 now and the other half in 30 days), plus 3-month and 6-month payment plans.

Club seat holders have access to ALL UNO home athletic events (hockey, men's and women's basketball, and volleyball) at Baxter Arena, and those seats are all sold out.

As with the hockey season ticket selection process, priority points are being used to determine when you can pick your seats. Our letter said we're able to pick on Thursday, June 18.

Some of you probably already know this, but the home basketball schedule will have 13-15 games, according to Brian in the UNO ticket office. The schedule has not yet been finalized (some home and away games are still pending), and they expect to release the schedule by the end of July. The link will be here on the Omavs website. There aren't currently any "big names" on the home game schedule, according to Brian, and he mentioned that some of the big name teams are reluctant to schedule a home game in the first year of a new arena -- I would guess because of the "upset factor" -- we have more incentive to win than they do. *smile*

Last year, UNO had about 200 season ticket accounts that controlled about 600 seats. I would imagine that demand will be higher this year because it's the first year UNO is playing a full Division I schedule, and they're in the new arena.

There will be 300 or so "fixed" seats for students, plus Brian said they are considering adding bleacher seating (probably on the end(s), like they did at the Ralston arena) for big games as overflow seating.

Remember, with season tickets, you'll get a discount over single game pricing, and have your guaranteed seat. (Jon and I are looking at getting a couple of basketball season tickets.)

Brian also said that single-game hockey tickets are likely to go on sale towards the first part of August, and that pricing for single game seats (for hockey OR basketball) have not been determined.

The UNO ticket office is open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., at 402-554-MAVS, if you have any questions about hockey or basketball tickets.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

The Arena Origin Story (Part 4): If You Build It...

By Jon Brooks

Everything seemed perfect. Idyllic, really.

The University of Nebraska at Omaha Hockey program looked like it had been born to play hockey at the Omaha Civic Auditorium. An outside observer in the late 1990s would have been hard-pressed to tell the team hadn't been playing there for decades.

The arena fit UNO Hockey like a glove.

But the winds of change were howling like a banshee. Local leaders were talking about a new arena/convention center as the millennium neared. Such was the case about many things in those heady economic days.

"If You Build It..."
A commission was formed in the late '90s to look at the viability of the city building a new arena/convention center downtown.

The commission studied many factors and made financial projections. The commission favored a location southwest of downtown's Old Market district. Mayor Daub favored the Union Pacific railyard on the northeast edge of downtown.

In addition, some in Omaha (like the Baer family, who owned the Omaha Lancers) were still pushing for the Aksarben property to become the focus of the city's arena plans.

The discussion of such a facility permeated Daub's tenure in office, and likely defined his legacy in politics. He tended to have a bullish outlook on urban renewal efforts in Omaha, and his frenetic persistence on the matter eventually saw the arena come to fruition.

(There was even one report in April 1998 suggesting the Daub administration was considering building a NASCAR track near the UP railyard site).

In many respects, the issue turned into a race of sorts as the city kept a wary eye across the river at Council Bluffs, and whether the considerable casino revenue there would result in their city building an arena/convention center first.

(Council Bluffs did beat Omaha to the punch, but their arena would be built at less than half the capacity of Omaha's facility, and didn't have near the convention space or amenities).

After lengthy debate on a site for Omaha's proposed arena/convention center, the venue would end up in the northeastern part of downtown on the U.P. site where Daub had envisioned, adjacent to a park on the "cleaned up" Asarco lead refinery property (despite concerns from certain groups about contamination to the site's groundwater).

There was considerable debate on funding an entertainment/convention venue for Omaha. Perusing the reams of articles on the matter, it is readily apparent that a book could be written on the political machinations behind the downtown arena/convention center.

The measure was eventually put to a vote on May 9, 2000 (along with a measure to approve a governing authority -- MECA -- to run it).

A group called "Build It Omaha" set forth to promote the ballot bond issue. I remember their TV commercials (saying, "It's about Omaha's future"), red-white-and-blue yard signs, and website.

I also remember being handed a "Build It Omaha" sticker at the 2000 Maverick Council Dinner (one of our clients had a table at the event).

Voters approved both ballot measures, and work began in earnest on the arena/convention center project.

On the topic of minor league hockey at the venue...

There had been rumblings about such a thing at a new arena, but the financial projections reported limited the numbers to UNO Hockey and Creighton Basketball.

David Sokol (the first chairman of the MECA board) told the Omaha World-Herald on May 18, 2001:
"At this point, minor league hockey, in my personal view, has not demonstrated it would be the best and highest use for the amount of nights it would take."

Should I Stay or Should I Go
The Omaha World-Herald published an article on May 25, 2002 telling readers that UNO Hockey was set to become the first major tenant at the yet-to-be-named arena.

UNO Athletic Director Bob Danenhauer said of the move: "For the viability of our athletic program and hockey, this is the right move for us. You're going to have a facility that is brand new and one of the best in the country."

The financials of the deal were outlined in the article:

-- UNO would pay an estimated $600,000 annually — $6 million, plus inflation, over 10 years. The lease would start Sept. 1, 2003, and UNO would begin playing hockey at the arena in the 2003-04 season.

-- The main advantage is that UNO would be able to sell more tickets, [Danenhauer] said. The Civic's hockey capacity is 8,314. The new arena's will be about 14,500.

-- UNO's estimated $600,000 lease payment for the first year of the new arena is $200,000 more than the $400,000 the university will pay [for the 2002-03 season] for the Civic.

-- The higher cost of leasing the new arena would be more than offset by an estimated $650,000 increase in hockey revenue that first year, primarily from additional ticket sales and advertising income.

-- UNO would pay a base rent of $4,500 a game. The university also would pay MECA 10 percent of all per-game ticket proceeds in excess of $82,000.

-- The lease also requires a utility fee of $1,000 a game, which also would be increased annually by a percentage that matches the increase in the base rent. UNO also must pay a facility fee of $1.50 a ticket, the same amount it pays at the Civic.

UNO had expressed hopes of selling more seats as a result of the move. He suggested that season ticket holders at the time expressed interest in adding seats, and that the athletic department had a marketing and promotional program they were planning to unveil.

(UNO did, in fact, announce a marketing deal with "Omaha Sports Marketing" on March 5, 2003. OSM was a marketing division of the Omaha Royals Baseball organization).

Danenhauer also told the Omaha World-Herald that he didn't want to "cap [UNO's] potential fan base" by staying at the Civic Auditorium:

Danenhauer said UNO came to the conclusion that if it stays at the auditorium, it would cap its potential fan base. UNO has sold out all 87 of its home games since the program started in 1997. Its average paid attendance of 8,314 has ranked in the top five nationally in Division I hockey each of the past four years.

By moving to the new building, Danenhauer said, there would be an opportunity to increase the fan base beyond the current waiting list for 900 seats.

Goaltender Dan Ellis said of the Civic:
"This is my favorite rink to ever play in — by far. It's the perfect sized rink for college hockey. It's got an unbelievable atmosphere because it's a nice tight bowl. Our fans can fill the place, but even when it's maybe a little empty it's still loud."

Legendary hockey coach Herb Brooks had this to say:
"I love the Civic, and it would be crazy if they ever took the college game out of there. You keep putting 8,000 people in the Civic and keep the tickets a premium, and you've got something going. With the sight lines, it's one of the great college hockey rinks in America. The fans are as boisterous and as enthusiastic as any I've seen."

Others shared fondness for the old barn, but the prevailing sentiment seemed to be that it was time for the program to move forward.

Coach Mike Kemp's comment to the Omaha World-Herald sums up the mindset during those years: "How do you drive a recruit from the airport down Abbott Drive and go past the new arena and tell him that you don't play there but that you play in the 50-year-old building up the street?"

With season ticket renewals at 98 percent for the 2003-04 season, things looked to be in good shape to build on a solid base of support.

Lest people think hockey fans and supporters didn't give the $290 million arena/convention center (soon to be known as the "Qwest Center Omaha") a fair shake, my wife Bridget had the following to say in the Dec. 10, 2003 issue of the Omaha World-Herald:

"I was skeptical at first because of my attachment to the Civic," she said. "But after coming here, I've come around."

What no one realized at that moment was that sentiments would change, and within three years of the move, local "influencers" (along with fans on forums like would start to bang the drum for UNO to have its own on-campus arena.

Next time: Part 5

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

"It Just Doesn't Get Any Better..."

By Jon Brooks

Rendering of Baxter Arena courtesy of UNO Athletics

On a damp June morning, the University of Nebraska at Omaha held a press event announcing "naming rights" for the heretofore titled "UNO Community Arena."

The event was held at the venue's north parking lot -- a stone's throw from the arena proper. Media, civic dignitaries, staff and other onlookers gathered to find out which entity's philanthropic gift would ultimately win out, and become the name of the massive steel-and-concrete structure that represents the future of UNO Athletics.

While a corporation will have its name emblazoned on UNO's new arena, the family behind the name has a history that embodies what the University of Nebraska at Omaha is all about.

If you were born and raised in Omaha, Baxter Auto stands as a well-known automotive brand in the city. In many respects, their catchy advertising slogan/jingle -- "Baxter...It Just Doesn't Get Any Better!" -- has become implanted into the subconscious of generations of pop-culture savvy Omahans.

The heirs of the late Tal Anderson (former Baxter Auto owner and UNO grad) have maintained the family-owned and operated Baxter brand, and have supported academic and athletic endeavors at the university.

The name of their business will be featured on the university's signature athletic facility, now known as "Baxter Arena."

Tal Anderson's UNO Story
Tal Anderson's history with the University of Nebraska at Omaha started off in similar fashion to that of many local alumni.

He was a student at Omaha University in the late 1950s, attending classes and playing collegiate athletics. He also worked part-time for Baxter to support his way through college.

"UNO Magazine" (a publication of the UNO Alumni Association) profiled Anderson in the Summer 2014 issue.

"Anderson was a two-sport standout for OU then. In 1958, he was among the leading free throw shooters in small college basketball and a leading scorer for the team. On the diamond he was a catcher and part of one of the university’s finest baseball teams ever. The 1959 OU squad went 15-0 and won the Central Intercollegiate Conference regular season title, then finished second in the NAIA national championships.

That said, money was tight as Anderson attended school on a partial scholarship. To make ends meet during his sophomore year, Anderson got a job pumping gas at a Benson Texaco station owned by Johnny Baxter Chrysler Plymouth. Soon thereafter, Anderson sold his first car for Baxter, a 1950 Chevy, to a college friend for $250.

Anderson enjoyed selling cars part time for Baxter so much he left school to do so full time. Shortly thereafter Anderson bought stock in Baxter’s dealership after winning and then selling a new car he had won in a sales contest in the Kansas City area. Eventually, the small-town boy from Stanton, Iowa, a small, farming town just 64 miles southeast of Omaha, built an automotive empire."

Even though Anderson enjoyed tremendous professional success as he climbed up the ladder with Baxter, his academic career wasn't quite finished:

"The partnership between Anderson and Baxter flourished, and by the time Baxter was ready to retire, Anderson had completed his business degree at UNO and owned 49 percent of the company. Anderson bought the other 51 percent of the company..."

The Narrative Exceeds the Donation
In my mind, Tal Anderson seems to epitomize what it means to be UNO student.

Most who attend UNO work for a living. Among the student ranks there also exists a healthy slice of non-traditional students. Many work full-time jobs. Some are married; others have families. They are students returning to finish undergraduate degrees and obtain advanced degrees and certifications.

It is all part of the interesting dynamic that exists at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Much of UNO's history is about "second chances," and fulfilling its mission as a metropolitan university striving to meet the needs of an ever-changing workforce.

I must admit that Tal Anderson's story was a new one to me (and you all know that Bridget and I are basically obsessed with "all things" UNO).

As an alumni, fan, and fervent supporter of the University of Nebraska at Omaha, I can say with pride that this is a naming partner that goes beyond corporate hyperbole.

Tal Anderson's academic story at the university symbolizes what it means to be a UNO grad, and a Maverick.

Taking it all into account, the "Baxter Arena" name adds a shiny veneer to a campus that doesn't always get the respect it deserves, but is becoming more prestigious by the day.

Well done.

(And no, I am not getting paid by UNO to say these things).