Michael Phelps and Katie Ledecky are winning gold medals for Team USA at the Olympic Games, and they also helped Omaha, a stop along their way to Rio de Janeiro, to a big win.

The Omaha Convention and Visitors Bureau says the total economic impact of hosting the U.S. Olympic Swim Trials in June was more than $74 million. In addition, Omaha continues to gain international exposure during the Rio Games.

The sold-out Swim Trials were not only a win for America’s Olympic athletes now competing in Rio but also a huge economic victory for Omaha and its residents, said Harold Cliff, president and executive director of the Omaha Sports Commission.

The Trials are a showcase for the best swimmers in the sport, and the event also is a community gathering, said Chuck Wielgus, USA Swimming executive director.

“With nearly 90 percent of the ticket sales coming from outside Omaha, that means families stayed in hotels, ate in restaurants and supported local businesses, which makes us equally proud,” he said.

Based on the Convention and Visitors Bureau’s economic impact calculator, the total economic impact of the 2016 Swim Trials totaled $74,545,759. Visitors spent $38,109,672 during the eight-day event. That visitor spending multiplied as it trickled through the local economy, adding $36,436,086 in indirect spending and $4,780,824 in local taxes paid.

The Convention and Visitors Bureau contracted with Destination Marketing Association International to conduct the economic impact study on behalf of the Omaha Sports Commission, spokeswoman Deb Ward said.

Comparisons with two previous Swim Trials in Omaha or other national sporting events are not available because the study’s economic impact calculator was only recently created for sporting events, she said.

Creighton University economist Ernie Goss, who was not involved in the Swim Trials study, said its apparent economic impact rivals the annual 12-day College World Series in Omaha. Goss said the 2016 CWS probably had a $60 million to $70 million economic impact on the community, based on past studies that he conducted.

Goss said the $36.4 million in trickle-down, or indirect, spending noted in the Swim Trials report seemed a bit high but probably was a reasonable estimate.

Goss said about 60 percent of CWS fans come from outside Nebraska. He argued that categorizing fans as being from Nebraska or outside Nebraska — compared with the Swim Trials study’s Omaha or outside Omaha categories — produces a more rigid test in determining indirect spending.

“I know Beatrice is outside Omaha, but is (suburban) Bellevue?” he said. “Are Papillion or Council Bluffs considered outside Omaha? I don’t know.”

Still, the economic impacts of the national sporting events at the CenturyLink Center and TD Ameritrade Park are “absolutely fantastic.”

“I’m an economist and I’m a resident of Omaha. I drink the water,” he said. “These things build on each other. The Swim Trials build on the College World Series and the College World Series builds on the Swim Trials. And you also have NCAA basketball and volleyball championships — and state high school wrestling championships. Each one is a piece of the puzzle.”

Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert said sports tourism is an important component of the local economy.

“Our city’s ability to attract a growing number of sporting events means more visitors spending money in Omaha and more revenue for our local businesses,” she said.

Roger Dixon, president and CEO of the Metropolitan Entertainment and Convention Authority, said the Swim Trials put the CenturyLink Center in the national spotlight.

“This exposure helps us draw more big events and more visitors to our community, which in turn creates a greater economic boost,” he said.

Keith Backsen, executive director of the Omaha Convention and Visitors Bureau, said Omaha continues to reap the rewards of the Trials. Omaha is being mentioned repeatedly to an estimated audience of 16.2 million viewers during television coverage of the Olympic swimming events in Rio.

It’s worth $120,000 in publicity value every time Omaha is mentioned during the coverage, according to TVEyes, the Convention and Visitors Bureau’s media monitoring service.

Contact the writer: 402-444-1127, david.hendee@owh.com

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