The later starts for many of this year's College World Series games may have been inconvenient for fans but boosted business at restaurants and bars in the Old Market.
Ron Samuelson, who owns M's Pub and Vivace, said Tuesday that the 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. start times for many games encouraged more people to hang out, have lunch or dinner, and shop a little before heading north to TD Ameritrade Park for the games.
His restaurants did much better compared to last year, especially at lunchtime.
“I would love it if they would have those game times every year,” Samuelson said. “It was much more conducive to getting people out and about.”
The CWS, which ended Monday, altered its game times to allow ESPN to televise the EURO 12 soccer championships. ESPN also broadcasts the CWS.
The time changes also increased sales at longtime Old Market clothing boutique Nouvelle Eve by as much as 20 percent.
After people ate, they shopped, said store owner Kat Moser.
“It was great,” she said. “We had foot traffic and buyers this year. It's like people rediscovered the market.”
Last year — the first year the series was at TD Ameritrade Park in north downtown — many Old Market restaurant owners expected big crowds, but they never materialized. Baseball fans stuck to tailgating, ate at the concession stands inside the park, hung out at the CWS Fan Fest and packed adjacent restaurants and bars like the Old Mattress Factory and Slowdown.
And Omahans who assumed the Old Market would be swamped didn't come either.
Samuelson said this year, he made a big effort to tell his regulars that they could get a table and that parking would be available during the CWS. It paid off, he said.
While data are still being compiled by CWS officials, the NCAA, the Downtown Improvement District Association and Omaha police, those involved agree: This year's series was a big success.
Overall attendance was higher — 326,734 compared to 321,684 in 2011. It helped that this year's CWS had 15 games, not 14 like last year. The extra game helped make up for the small attendance — 12,295 — at a rain-delayed game.
Kathryn Morrissey, executive vice president and chief operating officer of College World Series of Omaha Inc., said she was “encouraged to see so many fans. They were local, regional and national. It felt like this year, fans gave themselves a chance to enjoy the new stadium and the new neighborhood.”
The later game times weren't great for everyone. Bus services to and from the stadium took a hit. Metro transit Executive Director Curt Simon said business was down about 37 percent during the series. People took advantage of more available parking, he said, and they might not have wanted to be on a bus late after an 8 p.m. game.
Metro's Stadium Circulator put almost every parking spot in the downtown east of 19th Street within three blocks of a bus that took fans to the stadium's front door, the Old Market and more.
As for police, officers reported few problems this year, even though the department's CWS service area was expanded to include the Old Market, said Lt. Darci Tierney, a police spokeswoman. Tierney said a June 17 fatal shooting in the Old Market didn't appear to scare people away.
This year, vendors outside the stadium were scaled back after booths farther away failed to attract business in 2011.
Rich Tokheim, owner of the Dugout, located across the street from the stadium, said sales of team apparel were down from last year, probably because the teams qualified for the series didn't have the same loyal fan base as in years past.
All eight teams stayed in downtown Omaha this year, a change that downtown business owners said helped them out. In the past, at least one team stayed in west Omaha.
Korey Black, operations manager for the Old Market's Havana Garage, said more people came in for a cigar than last year. The business also had a cigar lounge located near the ballpark outside the Slowdown, and staff encouraged fans to check out the Old Market location as well.
“It allowed us to say, ‘Hey, the Old Market isn't too far away,'” he said. “Come on up.”
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