Promises made, Beef looking for a home
05/21/03 NIFL Fan Article by Andrew Hoyle
I made a promise to somebody this week: if the Beef made it three wins in a row by beating Tri-City, I'd lay off "Colonel" Sanders for a while. Well, Tri City forgot to put some gas in the Diesel, and the Beef rolled to a convincing 81-14 victory on Sunday afternoon before an announced crowd of 3706 (this reporter estimates it was more like 1706). The Beef scored 53 unanswered points, racked up 338 total yards of offense, RB Clinton Childs had another great game (14 rushes for 107 yards and 2 touchdowns), QB Troy Travis threw the ball better than he has all season (13 completions on 20 attempts for 158 yards, 2 interceptions, 7 touchdowns total, and another mystery fumble), DE's Dwayne Harris and Richard "Big Sexy" Johnson had a field day with Diesel quarterbacks, yadda, yadda, yadda. The only thing missing for the Beef during this one was Mr. Everything Steve Lovell, who broke his cheekbone in three places during practice this week. He's expected to be on the injured list for about four weeks, and doesn't want to say who laid the wood to him in practice, but my bet is it was somebody big. Really big, by the looks of it. The loss of DB Dontae Jones to an ACL injury for the rest of the season was the only thing to mar what was an otherwise complete game for the Beef.
So I sat there during the fourth quarter, trying to think of what I would write about this week. Suddenly, inspiration hit me. Just about the time Jay Noddle, head of the ownership group for the Beef, wandered through the player's bench doing his best impersonation of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, shaking hands and talking with players, laughing it up like he was just one of the boys, only in a suit. It reminded me of a recent radio interview Jay did for the Omaha Beef coach's show. Looking back on my notes from that interview, I found I had a whole plethora of subjects to talk about, from the fan's perspective. So I'll keep my promise and talk about something other than Colonel Sanders this week. As long as Jay and Heartland Sports keep their promise.
When Judy Klimschot sold the Omaha Beef to Jay Noddle and Heartland Sports, LLC, it was with the understanding, or promise if you will, that the Beef would remain in Omaha. Now fans are finding out that that may not necessarily be the case. "We don't know where we are going to play next year; the venue must have flexibility," said Jay during that recent interview. There appears to be a short list of three places in the running for the home of the Beef: the Mid-America Center (MAC), Omaha's new Metropolitan Area Recreation Center (MARC), and the Civic Auditorium, current home for the Beef. The least favorable of the three apparent choices would be for the Beef to move into the new Mid-America Center. Why? The last time I looked in an atlas, that venue was located in Council Bluffs, Iowa. That means it's not in Omaha, the home of the Beef. The MAC, with its truly outrageous concessions prices (it equals or exceeds the pricing at Madison Square Garden), terrible parking arrangements, and its steadfast refusal to become ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant, has already managed to lure the River City Lancers (formerly known as the Omaha Lancers) of the United States Hockey League across the Missouri River, and Lancers fans are rebelling. Just ask any Lancer fan about the MAC, and they'll get a real sad look in their eyes. "It seemed like a good idea at the time, but now that I've been over there for a season, I don't think I'll be going there next year. It's just not a good place," one Lancer (and Beef) fan told me Sunday at the game. Take that to heart, Jay.
Omaha's newest arena, the MARC, is just down the street from the Civic Auditorium. Scheduled for completion this fall, the MARC already has the University of Nebraska at Omaha Mavericks hockey team and the Creighton Bluejays basketball team as primary athletic tenants, and numerous conventions and concerts scheduled. It could become very crowded down by the river next year, if that's where the Beef want to move to. With over 14,000 seats available, is that really where we want the Beef to play, in what could be termed as a half-empty arena? I don't think so. Parking already looks to be a mess there, too.
The most obvious choice is to keep the Beef within the friendly confines of the Civic Auditorium. If the Civic needs to have a second tenant to stay open, buy out the River City Lancers' contract with the MAC and move them into the Civic. There's still ice-making equipment leftover from the UNO hockey days at the Civic. The Lancers could pay half their parking and concessions revenues to the Beef until such time as the contract buyout is paid back. That would meet the Civic's requirement to have year-round tenancy, and make both Beef and Lancer fans happy. Omaha lost one historic landmark in Aksarben Coliseum when the Lancers left town. Don't be the cause of another one, Jay.
If that doesn't work, try running an ad: roommate wanted for boisterous, athletic group home. Must be into sports. No vegetarians.
Mr. Noddle also said he intends to form a focus group, made up of fans, at the end of the season to find out what they liked, what they didn't like, and what can be done to improve Beef football. "We want to do what the fans want," Jay said in the same radio interview. Since yours truly probably won't be invited to this little soiree (can't imagine why), I'll share my thoughts here and now. After all, this "focus group" sounds suspiciously like the United Nations: all talk and no action. Here's the chance to get a jump start on the action, Jay.
To say, "The newness has worn out," isn't an entirely accurate assessment of Beef football. What wore out was the giving away of good stuff to the fans. In the first two years, fans got Beef coozies, gym bags, bandanas, schedule posters, mini megaphones, mini footballs, all sorts of stuff. Even the beer cups were good souvenirs, with the schedules printed on them. What ever happened to all that good stuff? Now all we have is fat guys and cheerleaders who can't throw t-shirts past the first two rows, if they don't just hand them to their friends. I appreciate the gift box of Omaha Steaks that I got for renewing my season tickets, but that's nothing I can keep forever. Give us something that will last as long as the memories, something that says, "I remember the night I got this." You'll get more people in the door if you're giving away free stuff, trust me. Go ahead, start printing up those orange t-shirts that say "2003 Pacific North Division Champions" and watch how many people you get the night you give those away…
You want fans to be more involved in the game? Borrow a page from Pokey Allen, the former head football coach at Portland State University. Fans were given placards before PSU home games; one side of the placard said "RUN," the other said "PASS." One offensive series per game (or half, depending on Pokey's mood), fans got to call the type of play by holding up their placards and voting. Pokey would then call a run or pass, depending upon the majority vote. This would be a great way to get fans involved in the game. Besides, Colonel Sanders said he doesn't let anyone else call the offensive plays because he "doesn't let anyone else play poker with his chips." Those are OUR chips, coach. Ooppss, I promised…..
Let's talk about affordability. The average price of a ticket at any venue in the NIFL, in a seat comparable to mine, is $23.34. I pay a whopping $37.50 a seat at an Omaha Beef home game. Granted, it's my choice to sit where I can really let the zebras and opposing players have it, but it never ceases to amaze me that I start the game in a section all by myself (again, I really can't imagine why), but by halftime, I've got a whole bunch of new friends around me. While I will never begrudge anyone wishing to partake in the close-up experience and enthusiasm of the front row, I have to imagine these seats would sell more often at a cheaper price.
So I’ve kept my promise, and given the Beef ownership just a few things to think about. We now resume our regularly scheduled griping…
A belated Bad Sportsmanship Award goes out to those Lincoln Capitols fans that made the journey to Omaha a week ago Thursday. With the final outcome looming, several Craps fans took exception to the Omaha Beef’s mascot, Sir Loin, pounding on a drum near them. They took the drum away from Sir Loin and threw it on the field of play. Don’t have a cow, man….
The Wyoming Cavalry visit the Slaughterhouse this week; it looks to be another “Pacific Air” versus “Pacific Ground” contest. Cavalry head coach Tyrone Fittje spoke in awe of the noise factor at Omaha’s Civic Auditorium in a recent interview. Beef fans will be sure to not disappoint him and QB Matt Strand as they prepare to send the Cavalry off to the glue factory.
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