Omaha Sticks Around For College World Series This Time
A new experience awaits the thousands of fans making the annual pilgrimage to Omaha this month to take in the College World Series. A shiny new ballpark, with improved sight lines, wider concourses and state-of-the-art amenities, has taken the place of beloved Rosenblatt Stadium.
Well, make that two ballparks.
Yes, most college baseball fans can tell you all about the hoopla and controversy surrounding the College World Series' new $128 million home at TD Ameritrade Park Omaha. But do they know there is another game in town, the Triple-A Omaha Storm Chasers, who also play at a new ballpark constructed for a bargain $26 million?
And perhaps this fact will be the biggest surprise of all to College World Series patrons: Minor league baseball has been in Omaha all along, right under their nose at Rosenblatt Stadium . . . Except they had to look awfully hard to find any evidence it existed.
That's because the previously named Omaha Royals annually left town on a three-week road trip just as the College World Series was set to kick off, and literally moved out of their home ballpark. But for the first time in as long as most anyone can remember, Triple-A Omaha will be in town during college baseball's biggest event.
"We won't be playing head to head very often during the College World Series," Omaha Storm Chasers president Alan Stein said. "When we're playing, only two teams might be playing of the eight that are there. So there might be a bunch of fans there interested in seeing some of their former (college) players on the Triple-A level. There are off days during the College World Series, so we will have a lot of out-of-town baseball fans that we will do the best to attract."
The Storm Chasers will depart for an eight-game road trip during the CWS, but will be at home, just 25 minutes southwest of TD Ameritrade in Sarpy County, for four dates between June 24-28. And for the Storm Chasers, those dates at home this year—with potential for more in the future—have significant implications.
Home, Sweet Home
For starters, it means the team gets more home dates in June and July, minor league baseball's prime-time months. In past years, Omaha would typically average between six and 10 home dates in June, general manager Martie Cordaro said. This June, the team will be home for 16 games.
"Now we are not heavily loaded in April and August like we always were," Stein said. "In April, it's cold and the kids are in school. And in August, they are heading back to school. That's not prime time for us. We will have more June and July dates now . . . And just by that, our bottom line will improve."
The Storm Chasers also hope to attract fans beyond those in town for the CWS. The Omaha region also hosts a large gathering of youth baseball tournaments during the College World Series, and the Storm Chasers has worked in advance on attracting those teams to the ballpark.
"A lot of our pre-sales are working with traveling Little League teams that will be in town," Cordaro said. "If our pre-sales are any indication, we will have a strong month."
The Storm Chasers also expect not to experience the post-College World Series hangover typical of past years. After being out of town for over two weeks, the team would return to Rosenblatt Stadium and often need to reintroduce itself to the fan base.
"Our marketing and branding and everything ceased to exist for two to three weeks," Cordaro said. "Then we come back to the exact ballpark that the College World Series had been in. People had been in that stadium nonstop for two weeks. People were baseballed out . . . Now, with our own ballpark, it is a different type of fans. We will be drawing other entertainment goers."
And perhaps what the team will miss the least is what had become their annual midsummer nightmare of moving out of Rosenblatt Stadium to clear space for the College World Series. Virtually anything Omaha Royals-related was put on moving trucks and placed into storage—from family photos on the walls of Cordaro's office, to the team's computers and ticketing systems, to all ballpark advertising and signage.
"It was a dramatic thing to do," Stein said. "We had to go to our outfield and take down all of our advertising."
There is no commercial advertising at the College World Series, Stein noted, meaning that Omaha could not sell any permanent advertising. At Werner Park, the team has already sold close to a $1 million a year of permanent signage, including naming rights, Stein said.
In past years, the team had worked out a deal with the city on a dislocation fee as compensation for moving out of Rosenblatt.
"But that barely covered our cost having to move out of Rosenblatt," Stein said. "We'll make back in one or two games that fee."
Room For Everyone
Stein insists that there is no bigger supporter of the College World Series than him. He was on the local task force that recommended a new ballpark be built for the event. He's been a regular at Rosenblatt for the College World Series and is confident that both the CWS and the Storm Chasers can thrive in the same market—even at the same time.
"I hope the College World Series sells every ticket for every game for 25 years," Stein said. "I'm a firm believer that rising tides lift all boats. The College World Series is great for the Storm Chasers, great for college baseball and great for high school baseball. I'm rooting for their success and don't see any reason they won't have it. Their facility is as good as it gets for what they do."
What the two venues do is actually quite different. The College World Series typically attracts diehard supporters of specific teams or fans of college baseball in general. Meanwhile, minor league teams have thrived over the past 20 years by attracting families to the ballpark with affordable ticket prices and a variety of entertainment away from the action on the field.
"The whole experience at our ballpark is so different. The College World Series and Triple-A baseball are different animals," Stein said. "The College World Series is really about the spectator experience and the partisan support of the teams. People come there to root for their teams and watch the competition.
"Not to say fans don't watch the competition or care about it at the minor league level. But we know fans are coming for the fan experience and the amenities that come with it. It is not necessarily about sitting in your seat and watching the game."