The Lincoln economy gets a boost each year from standbys like the high school state tournaments, Cornhusker State Games and Husker sporting events, none bigger than fall football Saturdays.
But in the past year, new events took spots on the calendar. An NBA exhibition game, Olympic-qualifying volleyball tournament, the State Games of America.
Local officials are always looking for new opportunities that provide entertainment options for local residents -- a qualify-of-life component -- but also fill hotel rooms and restaurants and add to sales tax coffers.
A collaborative effort between the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Pinnacle Bank Arena and Lincoln Convention and Visitors Bureau has helped bring new events to town.
The international volleyball tournament at the arena last month was a good example. The three-day event wrapped up with the U.S. women’s national team, including three former Huskers, winning and clinching a spot in the 2016 Summer Olympics.
Derek Bombeck, a sales development manager with the Convention and Visitors Bureau specializing in the sports marketplace, had previously been in conversations with USA Volleyball about bringing a junior tournament to Lincoln.
So when it became clear that the U.S. national team would be playing in -- and hosting -- an Olympic-qualifying tournament, Lincoln made its way onto the list of possible sites. Officials, and the community, made it happen.
Lancaster County committed to spending $275,000 in lodging tax revenue to cover some of the expenses.
And volleyball fans took note. When USA Volleyball hosts international tournaments for its women's national team, it shoots for crowds of 6,000 to 8,000 fans. In Lincoln, the crowds topped 6,000 on three straight nights and hit it out of the park on the final day with 10,213.
“The officials talked about it being one of the best-run tournaments that they’ve been involved with, and it wasn’t a question of if they get to come back, it’s a question of when,” said arena Manager Tom Lorenz. “We made really good progress there.
“We had certain expectations about what attendance would be and what revenue would be and we did way better than what we thought. The USA Volleyball people were really pleased with the attendance and the strong support that Lincoln provided. It’s nice to come into a community like Lincoln and have knowledgeable fans.”
Last fall, the arena hosted an exhibition game between the Chicago Bulls and Dallas Mavericks, and the standing-room only crowd numbered 15,297.
“The Bulls had a terrific experience,” Lorenz said. “It’s not going to happen every year, but as they rotate those games around, Pinnacle Bank Arena and Lincoln are certainly high on their list to come back soon.”
He said he'll be in contact with other NBA teams in the region, including Oklahoma City and Denver, about playing exhibition games in Lincoln. Arena officials are also working to draw a WNBA exhibition game involving a team with a former Husker on its roster.
Lorenz has also reached out to boxing promoters.
“Boxing seems to be kind of on a comeback, so we’d love to see an event like that happen here,” he said. “We’re set up well for that with the video boards and the ability to have some premium seating.
"I’d love to see UFC some time, and ... we continue to work with those folks. There are maybe some things that we haven’t even thought of yet that would work within the building.”
A tennis match that included Andy Roddick worked well there, Lorenz said, and he could see another ending up on the calendar.
The list of sports events extends beyond the city's still-new arena. This summer, Lincoln will host a world championship for youth bowlers, with 300 competitors expected from 45 countries.
The city also will host a stop on the major league triathlon series in August at Holmes Lake, with more than 1,000 athletes from across the nation expected to compete.
Ant the USA Roller Sports national championship will return this summer, with competition likely to be held for the first time at Speedway Sporting Village after countless summers at Pershing Center.
Bombeck would like to see wrestling come to town as well.
“I think Lincoln could put together a strong bid for the World Trials for USA Wrestling,” he said. “With two former Huskers on the team, and a newly renovated facility in Devaney, we could make a strong case for Lincoln.”
Last summer, Lincoln hosted the State Games of America, and will probably try to do so again. The Convention and Visitors Bureau is already working with the Nebraska Sports Council on a bid for the 2019 or 2021 event, Bombeck said.
This spring, he'll go to three conferences across the nation to meet with representatives of the many different sports organizations.
“The Lincoln CVB is constantly maintaining relationships with event planners to make sure that when an event comes up for bid, Lincoln is putting its best foot forward,” Bombeck said.