With a year and a half to go before the University of Nebraska at Omaha pulls its hockey program out of CenturyLink Center, arena officials are already running the numbers and figuring out how they'll make up for the loss.
Losing one of the main tenants of its premier facility is just one of the big changes ahead for the Metropolitan Entertainment and Convention Authority. The City of Omaha is gearing up to close the Omaha Civic Auditorium, the smallest of the three properties that MECA runs.
Officials say it's possible that the Civic could keep hosting events for a while, but the city put the property on the market last week and hopes to pick a developer by August.
When UNO hockey leaves the CenturyLink, MECA will be able to save some money when it doesn't have to create ice and keep it cold through the winter, said Roger Dixon, MECA's president and CEO. The dates once reserved for hockey games could open up opportunities for other sports events and concerts.
Still, Dixon said, it likely won't be enough. Though he didn't provide specifics, the end of hockey — in addition to the Civic's closing — means MECA will probably end up cutting some staff positions and will have to find other savings.
No decisions have been made, and officials hope they'll be able to let positions go unfilled, rather than lay off anyone. But Dixon said he has already been telling staff members there will be more belt tightening in the future.
“We've been having somewhat regular meetings now, and we've instructed the management staff,” he said. “Because we're looking at everything.”
The CenturyLink Center Omaha has provided the home ice for the UNO Mavericks since it opened in 2003. But starting with the 2015-16 season, the university plans to hold games in a new $87.9 million arena on campus. The facility, which will be near 67th and Center Streets, also is to host basketball and volleyball games.
Dixon said the moving of hockey will give the CenturyLink about 20 extra open dates on its calendar, most of them Fridays and Saturdays. He said some of those might end up as options for Creighton University basketball games; the move to the Big East has sparked interest in moving games to Fridays and Sundays.
“Then we have Saturday nights that are open, and we think we could go out and be more attractive to the touring shows,” Dixon said.
Officials haven't seen a rush of club seat holders looking to get rid of their tickets. If some suite holders leave because of hockey, Dixon said, other people are on a waiting list to get those spots. MECA has also recently renewed some of its major sponsorships, and the companies knew the arena would soon be without hockey.
The Civic's calendar is busy with dance recitals and graduations through the spring.
But Dixon said it's clear that changes are ahead. MECA has 95 full-time employees. About six people work at the Civic.
“When we lose that, we're going to look at everything and make sure we're efficient as we can be,” he said. “There are good people that work there, and we're going to try to accommodate them somewhere in the organization.”
Dixon said he hopes there will be enough losses through attrition to avoid any staff cuts.