When the 2020 Census figures were released, Lincoln emerged as one the fastest-growing cities in Nebraska, with its population increasing at almost double the rate of the state as a whole.
“Lincoln is growing, so the facilities and the sports amenities have to grow with Lincoln,” says Derek Bombeck, sales development manager for the Lincoln Convention and Visitors Bureau.
To that end, Nebraska’s capital city is home to three large sports facilities: the Kinetic Sports Complex, the Lincoln Sports Foundation and the Speedway Sports Complex. They collectively offer 20 indoor basketball courts, 35 indoor volleyball courts, two indoor synthetic turf fields and almost 30 outdoor synthetic turf and natural grass fields.
“Multiple organizations across the country have heard about us from other organizations that have hosted events here and are reaching out to me,” Bombeck says. “For people seeking a potential venue in the Midwest, we are definitely able to accommodate them.”
Three Complexes, One Goal
Lincoln’s indoor/outdoor sports complex renaissance began in 2015, when the Speedway Sports Complex (originally called Speedway Village) opened its indoor facility, followed in 2016 by the outdoor fields. All told, Speedway offers eight basketball courts, 12 volleyball courts, a 100,000-square-foot indoor turf facility and nine full-size outdoor fields.
The 93,500-square-foot Kinetic Sports Complex opened in 2020 and includes eight indoor basketball courts and 12 indoor volleyball courts. That facility will host the 2022 Nebraska AAU Grand Prix volleyball tournament in April, with winners moving on to the AAU National Championships in Orlando, the West Coast Championships in Las Vegas or the Volleyball Festival in Phoenix.
Meanwhile, the Lincoln Sports Foundation recently underwent major renovations and a rebranding. Originally known as the Abbott Sports Complex, the facility offers 20 outdoor multi-purpose sports fields. Inside, there are four basketball courts, 11 volleyball courts and one indoor field.
“That facility has been in Lincoln for decades, but its quality started to fade,” Bombeck says. “Now it’s under new management that recognizes it can be a major tournament destination for large events, and slowly but surely they’re investing a lot of money into the facility, from the indoor and outdoor fields to the indoor courts to the HVAC systems.”
According to the facility’s website, other planned improvements include upgrading all indoor areas with energy-efficient LED lighting; repairing existing complex roadways, parking lots and lighting; and refurbishing outdoor training and competition spaces.
“The timeline is very fluid,” Bombeck says, adding that the Lincoln Sports Foundation is a nonprofit organization. “They’re making enhancements as they receive funding. Right now, a lot of local clubs are using it for basketball, volleyball and soccer, as well as Special Olympics.
We have yet to bid any regional or national events for it but hope to eventually do so.”
The presence of three giant sports complexes already has proven to be a boon for Lincoln, and the city is coming off a record year in 2021 for hotel room nights. Bombeck credits that, in part, to the increasing number of high-profile events the city is hosting at the facilities.
“They are similar yet unique, and they all offer different amenities,” Bombeck says about the complexes. “Plus, a lot of tournament directors want a specific number of courts under one roof. So, these three locations, with their square footage and the amount of court space they provide all in one location, have definitely put Lincoln at the top of the list for basketball and volleyball locations.”
Beyond Courts and Fields
In addition to court and field sports, Lincoln has established itself as a destination for several other sports events, including high-profile wrestling, rodeo and roller sports competitions.
In 2021, Lincoln hosted the USA Wrestling Senior World Team Trials at Pinnacle Bank Arena. The $179 million facility 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 high school basketball and volleyball state championships, regional rounds of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament, exhibition NBA games and numerous University of Nebraska events.
Additionally, the Bob Devaney Sports Center on the University of Nebraska campus welcomed the 2021 USA Wrestling U23 National Championships. That facility also is renowned for its volleyball, swimming and track-and-field amenities, including one of the few hydraulically-banked tracks in the United States. 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.
Meanwhile, the addition of a 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) was completed in time for Lincoln to host the 2021 National High School Finals Rodeo. The city also was slated to host the 2020 rodeo, which was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic; it will host the event again 2026 and 2027.
“Lincoln is one of the largest cities to host that event,” Bombeck says of the week-long rodeo, which attracted more than 1,800 participants from almost every state. “They didn’t know if that fact would deter people or attract people. But that was the most well attended high school rodeo in history.”
The city also is home to USA Roller Sports and the National Museum of Roller Skating, which contains the world’s largest collection of historical roller skates, as well as patents, medals, trophies, photos, art, film, costumes, archival materials and skating memorabilia. It makes perfect sense, then, that Lincoln is a frequent host of the USA Roller Sports National Championships. The 2022 event will take place at the Speedway Sports Complex in July and will include inline speed skating, rink hockey and roller figure skating competitions.
“We’ve hosted that event quite a bit over the past 50 years,” Bombeck says. “With different disciplines occurring each week, it draws a tremendous number of spectators from all over the country.”
An event with a shorter history in Lincoln is Gravel Worlds — a series of bicycle treks ranging from 50K to 300 miles on rural dirt roads just north of Lincoln. Scheduled for August 2022, Bombeck says Gravel Worlds is expected to draw about 4,000 participants from every state and multiple countries.
“It started about a decade ago, and it’s grown exponentially,” he adds. “Obviously, the past few years have had a low number of international riders, but they’re expecting a lot for 2022. This has become a major event for us.”
With more facilities and more events come more hotels, and Lincoln will add a significant number of rooms this year to its current inventory of approximately 5,300.
“One of the biggest things about Lincoln that people need to know is that we have the amenities of any Tier One city, from facilities to restaurants and the arts. You name it, we have it,” Bombeck says. “We can provide a very low cost, great quality-of-life environment for your event. Because when you’re here, your event is ‘the event.’ We can find all the volunteers, we can find all the sponsors, we can get you all the media coverage you want. We make sure you’re getting the attention that your event deserves.”
That’s why Lincoln enjoys so much repeat sports tourism business.
“Event owners are like family to us,” Bombeck says. “That’s ultimately where we want to get with our relationships with our clients: We can just call one another and ask how things are going, as opposed to trying to pitch facilities, pitch events and pitch our destination. We just want to have a good relationship with them.” SDM