Omaha has been chosen as a host city for an NCAA Tournament regional final for the first time. CenturyLink Center Omaha will be home to the Midwest region of the Sweet 16, where Kansas, Duke, Syracuse and Clemson will battle for a spot in the Final Four next weekend in San Antonio.
The city had previously hosted the rounds of 64 and 32 in 2008, 2012 and 2015.
Deb Ward, vice president of marketing and communications for Visit Omaha, said the city is “moving up in the world” by getting to host the Sweet 16.
“We have hosted the first and seconds round before, and have done obviously a great job,” Ward said. “(The NCAA) has decided to elevate the city, and have us host the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight games.”
Both Sweet 16 games are played on Friday evening with No. 1 seed Kansas facing No. 5 seed Clemson at 6:07 p.m. central, followed by No. 11 seed Syracuse squaring off with ACC foe and No. 2 seed Duke at approximately 8:37 p.m.
The winners will play in the Elite Eight showdown on Sunday.
While Clemson hasn’t ever been to the Final Four, the Jayhawks, Blue Devils and Orangemen have combined for 32 total appearances.
Roger Dixon, president and CEO of Omaha’s Metropolitan Entertainment and Convention Authority (MECA) sees the potential for great tournament action with these perennial powers going to battle.
“Syracuse had the play-in (game), so there’s a lot of excitement there to get where they’re at,” he said. “We were very fortunate we got the draws that we did.”
Syracuse snuck by Arizona State 60-56 in a First Four play-in game on Mar. 14, upset No. 6 seed TCU 57-52 two days later, then shocked everyone with a 55-53 upset over No. 3 seed Michigan State last Sunday.
The state of Nebraska has never hosted a regional final of the NCAA tournament. That might be part of the reason why ticket prices in Omaha are higher than any other regional site, with tickets for the entire session starting at $260 on StubHub and $270 on Vivid Seats.
Single-game tickets start at $162 and $170 on these ticketing sites respectively.
For fans unable to attend, Ward said Omaha’s Capitol District, which just opened this month, will provide a game-like atmosphere for both the city’s residents and visitors.
“The New Capitol District area inside their town square, they’re going to have a giant big screen there,” Ward said. “And it’s an open container area. So, folks can go to the brand new bars that have opened up, maybe buy an adult beverage and take it out to the plaza and enjoy it while they’re watching.”
As for the atmosphere inside CenturyLink, Dixon said crews have worked around the clock since last Saturday night after Kid Rock finished a show with 11,000 spectators.
Creighton University, the host school, has been leading the charge in getting their arena up to NCAA standards.
“Crews have been working 7:00 o’clock in the morning until 8:30-9 at night each day since then,” Dixon said. “So, a lot of manpower, putting in a lot of hours to make sure that this facility is right. Let alone what the city has done in the downtown area to make sure everything is all spruced up and welcoming to all of the visitors from out of town.”
The other three regional host sites, Atlanta, L.A., and Boston, are used to national exposure through sports. Each city is home to at least three professional franchises.
Outside of the College World Series each June, Omaha has arguably never hosted something as highly watched or sought after than the men’s Sweet 16.
The overall impact and benefit of this event on Omaha is seemingly incomparable.
“Sweet 16 games, last year, averaged 5.7 million viewers per game,” Ward said. “That almost doubles for the Elite Eight games with an average of 10.2 million viewers per game. So, millions of folks will be hearing the name ‘Omaha’ over and over again. That type of promotion is priceless.”
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