OMAHA, Neb. – As Evansville prepares to bid on a new round of NCAA championship sporting events, local officials heard Tuesday from a community whose identity is synonymous with one such event.

The College World Series is in Omaha this week. For the last 70 years, the championship and the city have been joined at the hip.

Officials with the NCAA know they can depend on Omaha to provide whatever is needed for a first-class tournament. And for Omaha, the championship does more than fill hotel rooms and restaurants 10 days a year.

It brings the city vast sports media exposure, and the “Road to Omaha” slogan (owned by the NCAA) is familiar to anyone who follows baseball.

Omaha’s mastery of the College World Series has helped it land other major sporting events, such as the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials, the U.S. Senior Open golf tournament and a Web.com Tour golf event.

And recently, Omaha also has joined the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament hosting circuit, as well.

The city’s arena, CHI Health Center Omaha, hosted first- and second-round games in 2008, 2012 and 2015, as well as the Midwest Regional semifinals and finals in 2018.

“I believe sports is an integral part of the fabric and quality of life of the community,” said Jack Diesing Jr., president of the nonprofit College World Series of Omaha for the last 30 years. “There’s a lot of notoriety that goes outside of your city’s area.”

The Omaha model is one Evansville officials want to emulate, if on a smaller scale.

Evansville has made inroads as an event host, with the Ohio Valley Conference men’s and women’s basketball championship, the NCAA Division II men’s basketball championship and Web.com Tour’s United Leasing & Finance Championship in Warrick County being well-received.

Evansville also has hosted NCAA championship cross-country events.

In August, the Evansville Sports Corp. will bid to host more NCAA championships. Director Eric Marvin said the ESC is still evaluating its interest in specific events, divisions and years.

Being chosen as a host site takes a team effort from local communities, Evansville officials visiting Omaha were told on Tuesday. A delegation from the Southwest Indiana Chamber was in town on an Inter-City Leadership Visit.

“You have to meet the general bid specs, like hotels in close proximity that are full-service,” said Anthony Holman, managing director with the NCAA. “What’s transportation going to look like? Is it a regional airport, or is it international? What are the capacities for rental cars? Is there interstate?”

“But the intangible things we look for are, what do you have in your community that’s going to enhance the experience for our student athletes and fans? It’s a community involvement. It’s a commitment to the championship long-term.”

Evansville is looking to maintain and build upon its own recent successes as a sports event host. The city received some good fortune this year, with the University of Southern Indiana making the Division II basketball finals and Murray State bringing future NBA draft pick Ja Morant to the OVC tourney, and both events brought record crowds.

The words of Diesing and Holman on Tuesday left Evansville officials thinking they are on the right path.

“It was great reinforcement that it takes a lot of collaboration in a community, and multiple corporate leaders and nonprofits have to be engaged and involved in building on a robust sports development platform,” said Marvin.

“One of the most interesting things was that there’s so many local entities supporting the sports development movement in Omaha, and we have continually heard over and over that their business leaders are driving all of those efforts. It’s a reminder it takes a great deal of energy behind any single effort to be successful, and we’re going to have to continue to have multiple entities and organizations working together cohesively but also independently to be successful long-term.”

Evansville doesn’t have Omaha’s 70-year hold on a sports event, but the Web.com Tour committed to make the United Leasing & Finance golf event its tour championship for the next 10 years, giving the city an opportunity to put a long-term stamp on it.

Diesing said it was important several years ago for the College World Series to create its own nonprofit board. That’s what the United Leasing & Finance Championship has done, as well.

In its earlier years, the golf tournament was run through the Evansville Sports Corp. Operating with its own board has enabled the tournament to secure more sponsorship and distribute more dollars to local nonprofits.

“It’s helped us focus on it,” said Ron Romain, CEO of United Leasing & Finance and a member of the tournament’s board. “The Sports Corp. understood that it was going to take a second board. We had to focus on player hospitality. We have 6-8 committees working toward making the tournament what it is.”

The College World Series regularly draws large crowds and is embraced by Omaha community leaders, businesses and residents. But the event faced a crossroads in the mid-2000s.

At that time, historic Rosenblatt Stadium was showing its age. The NCAA wanted improvements. Initially, Omaha leaders eyed about $16 million in upgrades.

Those plans were shelved in favor of a new downtown venue, $128 million TD Ameritrade Park. It seats about 24,000, and it can be expanded by about 9,000 more seats.

Rosenblatt Stadium was torn down.

Officials from Evansville, who have seen one old sports venue razed (Roberts Stadium) and another remain standing (Bosse Field), asked Diesing if the decision to tear down Rosenblatt created some hard feelings among Omaha residents.

“Some of the input wasn’t real positive about what we were doing,” Diesing said. “But you can only add on to your home for so long before you have to start talking about building a new one.”

“Some still walk around with Rosenblatt t-shirts, nine years after it happened,” he added. “But most have seen the vision.”

The NCAA praised the investment and granted Omaha an unprecedented 25-year contract for the College World Series when TD Ameritrade Park opened in 2011.

The city previously had five-year contracts with the NCAA.
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