Lincoln Boosts its Sports Presence
30 May, 2018By: Michael Popke
Lincoln, Nebraska, took another major step forward in its evolution as a sports tourism mecca in April. That’s when the popular Speedway Village multi-purpose sports complex opened its third phase — an 80,000-square-foot indoor facility housing eight hardwood basketball courts (or 12 volleyball courts).
Two of the basketball courts are sized for college play, and concessions, restrooms and spectator areas are part of the floor plan. The facility’s goal, local officials say, is to host major regional and national tournaments and eventually receive certification by the NCAA in order to bring in high school recruiting events such as AAU tournaments. Plans also call for hosting events for Special Olympics and the Cornhusker State Games.
The latest addition to the privately owned Speedway Village complements nine full-size outdoor sports fields and a 100,000-square-foot fieldhouse with synthetic turf, a dual sound system and noise-insulating curtains. There’s also a 10,000-square-foot medical, rehabilitation and sports performance institute.
The indoor portion opened in fall 2015, with the outdoor fields making their debut in 2016. The complex is entering its third summer of operation, and it has welcomed multiple events sanctioned by USA Ultimate and the United States Flag and Touch Football League. What’s more, Speedway Village is located less than three miles from downtown Lincoln and there’s plenty of free parking.
But that’s not all. A second privately owned indoor multi-purpose sports facility is under construction in Lincoln that will span 78,000 square feet and, like Speedway Village, will house eight basketball courts or 12 volleyball courts. Planners predict that the new as-yet-unnamed facility will boost the city’s economic impact by almost $1 million through basketball tournaments alone. Ground was broken in April and the new facility is slated to open in late 2018 or early 2019.
“The complexes will only be a few miles apart,” says Derek Bombeck, sports sales and development manager for the Lincoln Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We feel the demand is there to support both of them.”
Indeed, developers of the new facility cite Lincoln’s increasing population and number of area sports clubs and teams seeking space to practice and host tournaments as major factors in the decision to build. Two local organizations, Supreme Court Basketball and Volleyball Club Nebraska, are expected to take up residency in the new $6.2 million facility, Bombeck says.
Between Speedway Village and the new facility, Lincoln will be able to offer sports event planners nearly 160,000 square feet of new court sport space. The facilities likely will share courts for larger events while also operating as separate entities, according to Bombeck.
“It’s certainly creating some excitement around here,” he says.
Volleyball City, USA
Lincoln likes to create excitement, especially after Nebraska’s capital city hosted the 2015 State Games of America — 15,000 amateur athletes in 67 sports from 48 states along with an estimated 30,000 spectators.
You could say Lincoln is on a roll.
In 2016 and 2017, the city welcomed the Roller Sports National Championships at Speedway Village, and will do so again this July and August. The 15-day competition includes inline speed skating, rink hockey and roller figure skating competitions.
Lincoln also hosted the 2016 World Bowling Youth Championships at historic Sun Valley Lanes and the 2016 North, Central America and Caribbean Volleyball Confederation’s Olympic Qualification Tournament at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
“The attendance numbers for that game were really high,” Bombeck says, referring to the crowd of 10,000 that witnessed Team USA earn a berth in the Rio Games. “So USA Volleyball reached out to us to host more events.”
In May, the 7,900-seat Bob Devaney Sports Center will welcome the opening week of action in the new Fédération Internationale de Volleyball’s Volleyball Nations League. Team USA, ranked No. 2 in the world by the FIVB, is hosting No. 7 Italy, No. 12 Turkey and No. 22 Poland in a four-team round-robin pod.
“Any time we get to host any part of an international competition on American soil, we’re pumped, because we love playing in front of American volleyball fans,” U.S. Women’s National Team Head Coach Karch Kiraly said at the time USA Volleyball announced the Volleyball Nations event in Lincoln. “But getting to play a preliminary week of Volleyball Nations League in Lincoln, Nebraska, with the amazing support and love that community has for our sport, leaves us ecstatic.”
Immediately following the Volleyball Nations event, the new indoor courts at Speedway Village will host a multi-day USA Volleyball coaching clinic.
Ready for the Rodeo
The expansion of Speedway Village and the development of a second indoor courts facility aren’t the only sports-related construction projects happening in Lincoln.
In April, officials broke ground on a new 3,500-seat covered grandstand at the publicly owned Lancaster Event Center, a 400,000-square-foot facility with five interconnected buildings on 160 acres that is the site of rodeos, equine shows, trade expositions, concerts and other events.
The new grandstand is part of a series of improvements that also include expanding the outdoor arena and campground in preparation for hosting the 2020 and 2021 National High School Finals Rodeo — considered the largest rodeo in the world, with an estimated 1,700 participants from 43 states and four countries. This will be the first time Lincoln, no stranger to rodeos, will host a rodeo of that magnitude, and Bombeck says this could be the beginning of new era for rodeo events at the Lancaster Event Center.
“We’re hoping that by showing the range of all that the Lancaster Event Center has to offer — and bringing in rodeo’s biggest event — we can go to the city and receive funding for the Phase III expansion with a new 6,000-seat competition arena,” Bombeck says.
Two High-Profile Arenas
For a city its size — about 300,000 people — Lincoln stands out for having not only one but two popular arenas.
Located on the University of Nebraska campus, the Bob Devaney Sports Center is considered one of the premier volleyball facilities in the country and also houses swimming and track-and-field amenities — including one of only four hydraulic-banked tracks in the United States and eight in the world. The 200-meter track is supported by both wood and steel frames and has the largest radius (67 feet) of any indoor track in the world. Several University of Nebraska, Big 12 and NCAA events have been held there.
The natatorium with a 10-lane, 25-meter pool has hosted Nebraska School Activities Association state meets and Big 12 championships, and it features two 1-meter spring diving boards, two 3-meter boards and one 5-meter board.
Meanwhile, the $179 million Pinnacle Bank Arena opened as a multi-purpose center in late 2013 and is the cornerstone of Lincoln’s $344 million West Haymarket Redevelopment Project, which revitalized 400 acres of land and transformed the city. The facility can accommodate 16,000 spectators and has hosted everything from NSAA state basketball and volleyball championships, regional rounds of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament, exhibition NBA games, WWE wrestling matches and numerous University of Nebraska events.
Additionally, Lincoln also offers the University of Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium, the John Breslow Ice Hockey Center and Abbott Motocross Park.
Packing a Punch
Just as it did three years ago when Lincoln welcomed athletes and spectators from all over the world at the 2015 State Games of America, the city is on the brink of another major breakthrough in its sports tourism evolution.
After all, once people come to Lincoln — and more people are coming back every year because they want to come back. They also often tell others about the city. Which could be why Lincoln’s reputation appears to be growing as a destination for sports-related business events, too.
“The International Boxing Federation recently reached out to me, looking for a place to host their annual convention,” Bombeck says. “They’re coming for a site visit in July. They contacted us because they heard great things about Lincoln.” SDM