Hosting four consecutive U.S. Olympic Swim Trials has been transformational for Omaha, local organizers say.
Even though the city is known for a number of high-profile NCAA events, including the College World Series for nearly 70 years, landing four consecutive Olympic-qualifying swim meets has put Omaha squarely among the country's top amateur sports towns.
As USA Swimming prepares for the 2020 U.S. Trials in Omaha next summer, the Omaha Sports Commission is "knee-deep" in plans for another world-class effort. Tickets for the 2020 event go on sale today.
“I have a unique perspective coming from outside of Omaha,” said OSC President and Executive Director Josh Todd, an Arizona transplant who began his duties in February 2018, shortly before a USA Swimming contingent visited as part of planning for the 2020 Trials. “People in Omaha know it has become a major event town, but when we go to other cities or events and people see we represent Omaha, the No. 1 question is always about the Swim Trials. Omaha is synonymous with swimming. We don’t even have to say Olympic Swim Trials. We just say Omaha.”
Swim Trials in Omaha are also synonymous with success.
Just as the OSC and planning committees have continued to raise the bar with each successive Olympic Trials starting with the first in Omaha in 2008, the financial returns for the greater Omaha area have been beyond impressive, organizers says.
After coming close in 2008 and 2012, Trials in 2016 sold every ticket for every session – seven day and eight evening – for the first time in the history of the event.
They also welcomed a record number of athletes and spectators and proved to be the most financially successful ever for USA Swimming and Omaha as more than $74 million poured into metro coffers.
Todd said he expects a similar if not greater financial impact next summer based on these 2016 Trials numbers:
• 1,500 swimmers competed in the 2016 Trials and similar numbers are expected to compete in 2020, making it the largest and most exciting swimming event in the world.
• Fans booked more than 23,000 hotel room nights in 2016, ate tens of thousands of meals at local restaurants, generated millions of dollars of merchandise sales and visited numerous area attractions. Associated taxes provided a huge boost to local and state tax revenues.
• All eight nights of the Trials were broadcast live on NBC in prime time, providing positive media exposure for Omaha to millions of viewers worldwide.
When you add in the deepest, fastest group of swimmers in the sport competing in Omaha – headlined by Katie Ledecky, Caeleb Dressel, Ryan Murphy, Matt Grevers and Lilly King, among others – it’s looking a lot like 2016 and then some, financially even without the tremendous draw of Michael Phelps.
“We are lucky to have most of the same people at the table this time around,” Todd said. “It’s a well-oiled machine, but that doesn’t mean we can rest on past successes. We’re knee-deep in planning, and we have lots of cool ideas on the table (for 2020). Water, fire, lasers. We will do whatever we can to put on an amazing show as always."
Doug Parrott, public relations consultant and member of the OSC executive board, said the eight-day swim meet is significant because it brings thousands of people from nearly every state to Omaha, welcoming them with Nebraska Nice hospitality and exposing them to a city they may fly over but probably wouldn’t otherwise visit.
He also sees the overlap with the CWS that will happen in 2020 as it did in 2016 as highly positive because Omaha stays on prime time TV with ESPN and then NBC for more than three weeks — having a huge impact on image to the nation and the world.
“Trials isn’t a big tent event like the World Series, so visitors walk to the Old Market to shop and eat and also visit the zoo, the Joslyn and Durham museums and other places and attractions between morning and evening session gaps,” Parrott said.
“If we can just do what we did last time, 2020 Trials will be a big deal because it brings a lot of people and revenue to Omaha. Add in great swimming from the greatest swim team in the world, and you’ve got another winning event in Omaha.”