What is the economic impact of the College World Series?

Zesto Ice Cream & Grill is currently open behind the right field foul pole at TD Ameritrade Park. (Photo by Brandon McDermott)
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June 23, 2015 - 6:45am

The College World Series came to Omaha in 1950. It’s been a summer tradition ever since, but not everything is the same. Five years ago the tournament moved to TD Ameritrade Park downtown and the move has had an economic impact in both places.

Since its inception in 1947, 970 College World Series games have been played. All but eight of those games were played in Omaha. With that many people taking in the ballgames, the yearly economic impact measures in the millions.

Kathryn Morrissey is the Executive Director of the College World Series of Omaha Inc. She says moving the CWS to TD Ameritrade Park downtown has given the series an economic shot in the arm.

“It definitely did allow us to expand our horizons, on a couple of fronts,” Morrissey said. “Purely by attendance, our attendance is up roughly 1,000 more per game than it was at Rosenblatt. That is very helpful in terms of crowd experience and students-athlete experience. To be able to look out at that kind of crowd is a crowning moment in their careers.”

Roger Dixon is the president and CEO of Metropolitan Entertainment & Convention Authority, or MECA. He says the move shows what imagination can mean to innovation.

“Fifteen years ago this was a Union Pacific railroad yard and today we’ve got a Convention Center Arena, a ballpark, hotels,” Dixon said. “It’s all developed. It’s been a great transformation.”

College World Series attendance figures have risen each decade since 1950. 2013 holds the record for attendance average at the CWS.  (Graphic courtesy Mark Fideler)

Dixon says the layout and location of TD Ameritrade Park makes it easier for fans to interact with the community. The new stadium is closer to hotels, food vendors and the newly built Baseball Village across from the ballpark.

“You walk out and look around the streets you see all the people that come in, hotels are busy, restaurants and bars are busy,” Dixon said. “You know that is going to be generating a lot of economic impact to the community.”

How much of an impact? University of Nebraska at Omaha economics professor, Chris Decker, says the College World Series is now a cornerstone of Omaha’s economy.

“Attendees. That’s the key to the aggregate economic impact,” Decker said. “The more attendees, the more of those attendees are likely to be visitors from outside of the city coming and spending money. That’s the linchpin. That is the direct injection.”

Decker says, based on figures from 2007, every person who goes to a game spends about $140 in town, including tickets.

“If you multiple that out by the $140, you are talking an aggregate economic impact of $45-$50 million dollars as of last year,” Decker said.

According to Decker, as long as current trends hold, the CWS could contribute another $10-15 million per year to the local economy.

“If we continue to see this increase in attendance, my projections put total attendees at 400,000-430,000 attendees by 2020. That’s five years from now. That’s going to translate to a $60-$65 million impact on the City of Omaha,” Decker said.

But not everyone is happy about the CWS moving from its historic location at Rosenblatt Stadium. Omaha City Councilman Garry Gernandt says many in South Omaha are still hurting.

“We’ve had some businesses that unfortunately have moved to different locations, so we have some vacant storefronts,” Gernandt said. “Thirteenth Street is basically a regular street now during those two weeks the CWS is held down here. You put 100,000 people in a small area in a short period of time, it creates a lot of memories.”

Gernandt says the new CWS location is missing something intangible as well.

”When you take something out of a neighborhood that had the neighborhood flair, where the lemonade stands and the little kids on the block with coolers, selling bottled water  and moving it down to a business zone, I think that is what you see more of down there now,” Gernandt said. “That is the new chapter of the CWS, there will be a new set of memories started at its new location.”

Mike Kelley decided he wanted to make some new CWS memories as well. That’s why he and his shop, Zesto Ice Cream, followed the CWS downtown from his old location, which was across from Rosenblatt.

“I really got re-energized and involved again and the whole city wanted to make sure Zesto continued down here, so it’s because sort of a civic kind of thing as well as a profit type of thing,” Kelley said.

Kelley says when it comes to people thru the door, the CWS is an economic grand slam.

“We will do more in one day than four or five days of Garth Brooks,” he said.

Economist Chris Decker says five years isn’t really enough time to tell whether moving the CWS from Rosenblatt to TD Ameritrade Park is paying off financially. After all, the nation has been struggling through a sluggish economy since 2008.

However, Decker says from a marketing perspective, all the TV exposure the city receives for two weeks every summer can only help. He says when watching the games on TV, ‘Omaha’ can often be heard more times than College World Series

Decker says while the economic merits of moving the College World Series may still be debatable, one thing isn’t. If the CWS ever moved away from Omaha, there would be a $50 million dollar hole to fill.



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