Friday, October 12, 2007

The Road to MECA

With the question of the College World Series and a new stadium hitting the fan, we here on Leavenworth Street have our thoughts. (And that's not just because Paulie's is located on that street in the Big "O".)

First, if you would like to hear a very full discussion on the issue of the CWS and the stadium and MECA and "Parking Lot D", listen to Matt Perrault and Travis Justice on the Big Sports 590 interviews with Mike Fahey and Hal Daub (separately). Both interviews took their time, the speakers were unfiltered and pretty good questions were asked. Of course, we felt that the former mayor ran rings around the present mayor with his depth of responses, knowledge of the issues, and of course the ever-present ideas whizzing around from all directions. (What was that about a Great Wolf Lodge?)

But in the back and forth on the pages of Omaha's newspaper one item in David Kotok’s (copyrighted!) story went like this:

But in December, (MECA Board Chair, David) Sokol dropped out of the effort in a dispute with (Omaha Mayor Mike) Fahey over whether MECA, which operates the
Qwest Center Omaha, would also take over management of Rosenblatt. Fahey wanted to change the makeup of the MECA board, and Sokol said that would be tantamount to turning “MECA into a branch of city government.” (Italics added.)

So let's dig into this nugget: Who is on MECA’s board of directors (which is chosen by the Mayor and City Council)?

Well, there’s Terry Moore, local union head and perennial Democrat supporter.

But then…

There’s David Sokol, local City Father, big-wig, and also Chairman of Republican Attorney General Jon Bruning’s U.S. Senate campaign finance committee.

There’s Hal Daub, former mayor of Omaha, and possible future Republican candidate for the Mayor of Omaha.

There’s Gail Werner-Robertson, (daughter of C.L. Werner of Werner trucking) and Republican financial supporter ($7,500 to the Nebraska GOP, $2,100 to Jeff Fortenberry and $1,500 to Adrian Smith in 2006).

And there’s David Kramer, former U.S. Senate candidate and former Executive Director of the Nebraska Republican party (and current sorta-spokesman for the Mike Johanns Senate campaign).

Hmm, we wonder what Fahey's REAL problem with the MECA Board is?

Take a look at what Fahey is doing. He's taking what is a "best for the city" issue, and making it political. You can bet that Fahey and Paul Landow cringe at the idea of responding to a board made up of Hal Daub and David Kramer. And the stadium deal will most likely be THE issue of the next Mayor's campaign. Why would they want the Republicans on the MECA board -- especially Hal Daub -- to get any credit?

Well, now that everyone has been kept in the dark -- the public, the city council until a week ago, MECA, the Royals, Creighton -- Fahey has discovered that not everyone's crazy about a tax hike and his ultimatum of Where the Stadium Will Be Placed.

So now? A Super-High-Falutin-Blue-Ribbon Stadium Committee to "Figure it All Out". And who's on that Blue Ribbon Committee?

Ken Stinson of Kiewit
David Sokol of MECA
Alan Stein of the Royals (who, by the way, wants TWO stadiums...)
Mike McCarthy and Sue Morris of "the prospective private donors"
Bruce Rasmussen of Creighton

But who's missing? Hmmm. Could it maybe be someone representing...THE TAXPAYERS! Oh yeah, them.

Well, they've got Mike Fahey, right? Well, at least until the next election...


An aside on a view of Rosenblatt Stadium and the CWS.

There were a few interesting comments by the NCAA and Fahey regarding Rosenblatt and the CWS. First, Fahey, in his discussion on Big Sports 590, stressed that the CWS is NOT Omaha's event. It is the NCAA's event that Omaha has the privilege to host.

Now, of course this is technically true. But the NCAA has a myopic view on this. They would like to strip any and all flavor out of the CWS and make it just like its other sterile events. Note their big demand of a "Clean Zone". Well, that's all well and good. But of course their zone is only "clean" of any non-NCAA approved vendors. It's not as if a fan is free from overbearing sponsors in said Clean Zone. The fan is just free from any locals getting a cut of the revenue. A good chunk of what makes going to a CWS game at Rosenblatt interesting is the hub-bub along 13th street. You can wander in and check out a "Geaux Tigers" shirt, get a brat, some beads, whatever. (And if they don't want the alcohol, which may be OK, the city can regulate that out -- which they have.) You'll get none of that in the Clean Zone. At least not without a big fat "NCAA APRROVED" stamp on it.

So what does this mean? Well, it means the NCAA would like the opportunity to fly in, drop their traveling circus in Omaha's stadium, then fly out -- all with their own people, and every nickel of it going to them. Ever been to the Ringling Bros, Barnum & Baily circus? That's the model for the NCAA. They bring in their own concessions. Their own souvenirs. Their own people to sell everything. And then they pack it all up and move to the next town. The NCAA is moving ever closer to doing just that. Familiar with the ticket-managing people (not the ones behind the windows) at the CWS ? That has always been an area run by Omaha area volunteers who handle the sales, much of the marketing, and the distribution of tickets. Well, the NCAA is moving in to take complete control of that. How about the local grounds crew? It's likely that they will soon be gone, replaced by a group overseen by MECA, and ultimately the NCAA.

So in other words, once you take Rosenblatt, and the charm and tradition and memories and local flavor out of the equation, you could have the CWS anywhere. Oh sure, Omaha would offer a brand new stadium. But in the not too distant future, it will be just another five or ten or twenty year old stadium. And some other city will have a newer stadium, and maybe better weather (or a dome?), and the NCAA can simply fold up their tent and take the circus to the next town.

And you don't need to look much further than the NCAA's comments that "the affordability of tickets for what makes the CWS so special, not the stadium." Now, if you follow that logic, the NCAA should be able to put the game anywhere that offers the cheapest tickets. Indianapolis may just be willing to offer seats at five bucks apiece just to get the rest of the revenue involved. And if they have the newer stadium, well, why not? It's not as if there's any tradition in a new stadium in Omaha. And the newer one in Indianapolis (in this theory) has an even BIGGER jumbotron!

Now all this being said, we're very familiar with the realities going on here: The NCAA wants A, B and C and if they don't get them, they'll leave. Hmm, well if that's what Omaha's up against, and there's no other way to go, then Omaha will just have to suck it up, apparently. But here's a suggestion to all the movers and shakers in the City-County building, and in the MECA boardroom, and on the double-super-secret committee that has been anointed to determine what's best for Omaha: You better get the NCAA to invest something in the idea. They better have ownership of something in Omaha, that can only be in Omaha and can only be accomplished in Omaha.

Why? Because the NCAA is headquartered elsewhere. They've invested elsewhere. You don't think it would be a coup for some NCAA official to go home to his family and friends and neighbors and tell them that the CWS is coming to their hometown now, and he's the hero who did it? Why then they could actually drive to the games, instead of watching on ESPN or flying to something called Eppley Airfield.

But, if the NCAA is invested in Omaha, and has a reason to keep it there, then things change. Then there's a reason to leave the tent stakes in Omaha. There's a reason for NCAA guy to tell his neighbor, while it would be great to have it here, we HAVE to have it in Omaha -- we have too much invested in it there.

So what is that investment by the NCAA? Well, we don't know -- not at this moment anyway. But apparently the smartest guys in the city are working on this, and it is the sort of thing they should figure out. Heck, with all the ideas ricocheting around Hal Daub's cranium, this is just the sort of thing he can and should come up with.

But in any case, wherever the stadium ends up, especially if it's not Rosenblatt Stadium, they better make the NCAA's investment happen. Otherwise Omahans will be sitting at home watching the Road to Indianapolis/Orlando/Oklahoma City play out on ESPN instead of in the bleachers.


Eric said...

Renovating Rosenblatt is just throwing good money after bad. They're going to spend the money in the long run, so we might as well get a ballpark designed for the purpose it is serving.

I personally don't care if they level Rosenblatt and build on the same spot or go downtown, but a new stadium is needed. However, either way, if we spend over $100 million, we should make sure NCAA is in for the 20 year contract that Fahey is claiming he can get.

These things happen. Even Yankee stadium is going the way of Comiskey. The tradition will transfer to the new stadium, especially after a 20 year run. It's the road to Omaha, not the road to Rosenblatt.

Neal Obermeyer said...

Bravo, Sweeper. Great post, but one tiny correction - not everyone has been kept in the dark. The Henry Doorly Zoo was involved very early in the new stadium talks, as the OWH reported back in the spring.

What everyone seduced by this 20-year contract needs to remember is that a 20-year contract is never a 20-year contract. It's usually something like a 20-year contract with the option to start shopping around after 5.

Look at San Diego, where the city entered into a deal in 1995 with the Chargers, where the team agreed to play there until 2020 if the city agreed to pay for huge expansions to Qualcomm Stadium and enter a ticket guarantee. The fine print was that, even though the team agreed to play there until 2020, there was a trigger clause that allowed them to start shopping themselves to other cities a few years later.

In the early 2000s, the Chargers were already claiming they needed a brand-new stadium, and if the city wasn't going to pay for it, they were going to leave. Currently, San Diego suburbs are scrambling to keep the team in the metro area.

So right now, San Diego will likely lose the Chargers (at least San Diego proper) but they still have millions and millions of dollars in bond debt that they'll be paying off until 2027.

curbfeeler said...

The way people talk about this, you'd think the CWS is run 52 weeks per year, driving the bulk of the city economy.

The CWS comes here out of habit. And that habit will be easy to break after CWS fans make thier first trip to Omaha's new FAHEYBLATT STADIUM.

OmaSteak said...

Neal Obermeyer hits the nail on the head in his post as does Street Sweeper in his analysis of making the NCAA have some "investment" in keeping the CWS in Omaha in return for anything more than they get already. Landow/Fahey are the same team who expertly negotiated the current police/fire union contracts that produced the "spiking" which overly inflated pension payments which are already seriously underfunded. The CWS is good for the city of Omaha but the bottomline cost/benefit needs to show some direct measurable benefit for the all the citizens of Omaha before I even consider supporting any major new ballpark renovations/construction. Sokol has said that the NCAA had signed on to a 10 year deal for $26 million of renovations for Rosenblatt and $10 million in donations had already been signed up. So that's $1.6 million/year extra from the taxpayers for the 10 years versus at minimum $2 million plus/year for a new ballpark for 20 years. It looks pretty obvious to me that the 10 year deal is the best option. The new downtown ballpark is Landow/Fahey attempt to secure a third term with lots of "goodies" to hand out to their friends and a great way to distract the voters from their complete failure to address any of the serious public safety problems in both North and South O...among their many other failures.

Anonymous said...

Turn on the Bat Signal: We need Hal Daub's vision and leadership on this.

What say you, Hal?

Anonymous said...

The CWS is small potatoes. It just isn't important enough to our city to be worth even the debate over the stadium issue. Rather than Omaha taxpayers paying for a new stadium, the NCAA should be paying the city of Omaha for the privilege of playing here. Our profligate mayor is at it again.