To say that Speedway Village — a massive privately-owned indoor and outdoor sports complex that added more components in early 2018 — has accelerated the reputation of Lincoln, Nebraska, as a top-tier sports tourism destination with small-town hospitality would not be an exaggeration.
“Lincoln has high-end facilities to host larger national and international events,” says Derek Bombeck, sports sales development manager for the Lincoln Convention and Visitors Bureau, referring to the 7,900-seat Bob Devaney Sports Center and the 16,000-seat Pinnacle Bank Arena. “But Speedway Village helps us with regional events. It’s definitely brought some life back into the city for youth soccer, and now basketball and volleyball.”
Indeed, this city of 285,000 feels comfortable hosting events as diverse as the State Games of America, regional rounds of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament and exhibition NBA games, the USA Roller Sports Indoor National Championships and the World Tenpin Bowling Youth Championships.
The latest Speedway Village addition includes an 80,000-square-foot indoor facility housing eight hardwood-floor basketball courts (or 12 volleyball courts), and it complements the complex’s nine full-size outdoor sports fields and a 100,000-square-foot fieldhouse with synthetic turf and a dual sound system. There’s also an onsite 10,000-square-foot medical, rehabilitation and sports performance institute.
With the new indoor court space, which boasts two basketball courts sized for college play (plus concessions, restrooms and spectator areas), Speedway Village officials hope 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.
Local and state organizations have been breaking in the new indoor courts at Speedway Village, Bombeck says, and USA Volleyball hosted a multi-day coaching clinic there in May as part of the Fédération Internationale de Volleyball’s Volleyball Nations League, a new international competition that debuted in 2018.
Also in 2018 (as well as in 2017 and 2016), Lincoln welcomed the USA Roller Sports National Indoor Championships at Speedway Village. The 15-day competition included inline speed skating, rink hockey and roller figure skating competitions.
The indoor turf portion of Speedway Village opened in fall 2015, with the outdoor fields making their debut in 2016. The complex recently completed its third summer of operation.
What’s more, Speedway Village is located less than three miles from downtown Lincoln, and there’s plenty of free parking.
And the facility’s owners might not be done yet. “There’s always talk about more,” Bombeck says, adding that possible further changes at Speedway Village include building a championship stadium and adding lights to the existing fields.
Meanwhile, a second privately owned indoor multi-purpose sports facility is expected to break ground in Lincoln in 2019 and open in 2020. That 78,000-square-foot venue, 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.
Lincoln’s Lancaster Event Center, a 400,000-square-foot facility with five interconnected buildings on 160 acres, is undergoing new construction, too. A new grandstand for rodeos and equine shows 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, billed as the largest rodeo in the world, with an estimated 1,700 participants from 43 states and four countries.
One City, Two Arenas
The rise of Lincoln as a major player in the sports tourism market essentially began with the opening of Pinnacle Bank Area in 2013, says Bombeck, who refers to the facility as “the crown jewel” of Lincoln’s destination developments. The $179 million multi-purpose center is the cornerstone of Lincoln’s $344 million West Haymarket Redevelopment Project, which revitalized 400 acres of land and transformed the city. The facility has hosted everything from the Nebraska School Activities Association’s state basketball and volleyball championships, college basketball tournaments, WWE wrestling matches and numerous University of Nebraska events.
In 2016, Pinnacle Bank Arena welcomed the North, Central America and Caribbean (NORCECA) Volleyball Confederation Women’s Olympic Qualification Tournament, when the U.S. Women’s National Volleyball Team qualified for the Rio Games in front of a packed house that Bombeck says created a “dynamic atmosphere” for both players and fans.
Speaking of volleyball, the Bob Devaney Sports Center, located on the University of Nebraska campus, is considered one of the premier volleyball facilities in the country. That’s why the FIVB in May opted to make Lincoln the only United States stop on the Women’s Volleyball Nations League. Team USA, ranked No. 2 in the world by the FIVB, hosted No. 7 Italy, No. 12 Turkey and No. 22 Poland in a four-team round-robin pod.
Additionally, Lincoln was one of three cities that hosted (over three consecutive weekends during summer 2018) the Final X wrestling event, which pitted the top men’s and women’s freestyle wrestlers competing to earn spots on the U.S. senior world team and the opportunity to compete at the 2018 World Wrestling Championships in Budapest, Hungary, in October. Final X was held at the Bob Devaney Center, which opened in 1976 and has undergone multiple renovations.
“There are a couple reasons Lincoln is continually chosen for volleyball and wrestling events,” Bombeck says. “The first is because of the fan bases and high-profile athletes that are from here. In the case of USA Volleyball and USA Wrestling, two of the best athletes are Jordan Larson, who was a [University of Nebraska] volleyball player and on Team USA, as well as Jordan Burroughs, a two-time national champion for [Nebraska’s] wrestling team and arguably the best wrestler the USA has ever produced. They know if they bring their events here, a fan base is already in place to watch these former Huskers.”
The Bob Devaney Center also houses track-and-field amenities, including one of only four hydraulically banked tracks in the United States and eight in the world, and a 10-lane, 25-meter pool that has hosted NSAA state meets and Big 12 championships. The natatorium also boasts two 1-meter spring diving boards, two 3-meter boards and one 5-meter board.
As part of a major revitalization project, downtown Lincoln underwent more than $1 billion in development between 2005 and today, according to the Lincoln Journal Star. What’s more, several additional development projects are in the works for the next several years.
The historic Haymarket District is now home to a variety of dining, shopping and nightlife destinations, and it’s located just a few minutes on foot from The Railyard, Lincoln’s premier entertainment district across the street from Pinnacle Bank Arena.
In 2017, Lincoln hosted the first Railyard Riot, a one-day CrossFit competition that expanded to an entire weekend the following year and is now considered a premier Midwestern CrossFit event, Bombeck says.
As if Lincoln doesn’t have enough sports opportunities to offer, the city also boasts the University of Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium, the John Breslow Ice Hockey Center, Abbott Motocross Park and historic Sun Valley Lanes (which hosted the 2016 World Bowling Youth Championships).
Lincoln prides itself on a central location that is less than a day’s drive from such major Midwestern cities as Denver, Omaha, Minneapolis, Des Moines, Kansas City, St. Louis and Chicago, so it makes sense that the city also has established itself as a destination for sports car enthusiasts. In July, the outside space surrounding Pinnacle Bank of America hosted the 2018 Mustang Club of America’s National Mustang Car Show.
On top of all that, Bombeck hasn’t ruled out a bid to host another States Games of America competition. “Lincoln is a tremendous up-and-coming city,” he says. “We’re extremely proud of what we’ve accomplished.” SDM