Omaha may be latest to warm to ice skating

By Steven Pivovar
WORLD-HERALD STAFF WRITER

U.S. Figure Skating Championships

• When: Jan. 19 through 27, 2013
• Where: Century Link Center
• TV: NBC

Bob Dunlop knows Omaha hardly is considered a hotbed of figure skating.

Neither was Spokane, Wash., nor Greensboro, N.C., before U.S. Figure Skating brought its championship event to those cities the past two years. Given the way those cities embraced the event, Dunlop figures he’ll see the same kind of reaction when the championships are held in Omaha in 2013.

“When we took the event to Greensboro, they were really excited about hosting it because it was something new and different,” said Dunlop, senior director of events for U.S. Figure Skating. “It was something outside of the norm that they see every day.

“They really got engaged by it, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the same thing happened here.”

Dunlop spent the past two days in Omaha, laying the groundwork for the event that will come to the city from Jan. 19 through 27, 2013. He met with officials from the Omaha Sports Commission, which helped land the championships.

He toured Century Link Center, where about 250 of the country’s elite skaters will compete for spots on the U.S. national championship team, and the adjacent Hilton Hotel, where many of them will stay.

That set-up — the hotel is connected to the arena by an enclosed skybridge — will be particularly appealing, Dunlop said.

“I would argue that it will be one of the best layouts in terms of what the starting point looks like,” Dunlop said. “There’s a lot of tweaking here and there to make the full plan of the event run but it really is one of the best layouts.

“The ability to have the hotel connected to both rinks makes weather a non-issue.”

Dunlop said the size of Omaha’s arena and convention center will allow U.S. Figure Skating to expand the championships to include its youngest competitors in the juvenile and intermediate groups. The older skaters will compete in the arena, with two additional sheets of ice in the convention center — one for practice and the other for the younger skaters’ competitions.

“We’ll have a bigger contingent coming in ’13 than we’ve ever had,” he said. “It’s good for us to bring them all to one city and it will add to the impact of the event, as the younger group will come with families.”

The economic impact of the event already is sizeable. Dunlop said Greensboro recently completed a study that gauged the 2011 championships had a direct economic impact of $27 million, with an additional $24 million of media impact. The championships will be broadcast by NBC.

The 2012 championships will be held in San Jose, Calif., another nontraditional site in terms of figure skating.

“Where we’ve had our most success in running championships have been in nontraditional communities for figure skating,” Dunlop said. “People are excited to see something new. We hit home runs in Spokane and Greensboro, and people were saying the same thing in those cities that they’re saying here.

“Why Spokane? Why Grensboro? Why Omaha? We could go to bigger cities but you get lost when you go to bigger markets. Not every city is right for this event. I think Omaha is right for this event.”

The city’s ability to stage major sporting events such as the College World Series annually and the U.S. Swim Trials in 2008 was also noted by Dunlop. The Swim Trials will return to Omaha in 2012.

“Omaha has amazing facilities that fit our needs especially well,” he said. “And what Omaha has done in recent years, with an event like the swimming trials, was noticed by us and others.”

Tickets for the championships won’t go on sale until early next year, but when they do, Dunlop anticipates interest in obtaining them will be high.

“Knowing what I know about Omaha now and particularly the success the city has had in the ability to draw fans, I think it will be,” he said. “Our athletes will be at their prime, and it will provide people with the opportunity to come out and see some fantastic skating.”

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