OMAHA — For one week, Omaha has become the epicenter of American swimming.
“We’ve become as synonymous with swimming as we are with college baseball, which is great branding for the city and makes it a great place to live and visit for sure,” said Josh Todd, executive director of the Omaha Sports Commission.
Visitors like Janet and Jo Piccirillo from northern Kentucky who are watching their daughter Ally swim at the trials have noticed.
“I really give a lot of kudos to the city of Omaha, their chambers and USA swimming for pulling this thing together,” said swimming fan Janet Piccirillo.
Pulling it together didn’t happen overnight, but Todd says the impact on day one of the trials has been immediate.
“If you do the math, with 1,500 athletes and all the coaches and fans, it still is a major economic impact for Omaha,” said Todd.
With the arena at half capacity, the revenue won’t reach the nearly $80 million in revenue Omaha had in 2016, but Joe Wells, the co-owner of Annie’s Pub, sees the trials as a significant boost.
“It’s getting back to normal. There’s concerts being scheduled, and we are in a space where events drive a lot of our revenue,” said Wells.
Located across the street from the arena, Wells says much like the athletes, his bar is peaking at the right time.
“March, April, May, each month was better than one before, so now we are into June and hope to continue that trend,” said Wells.
Athletes are even giving back after feeling the love locally.
“It’s really cool because swimming isn’t always a sport that gets a lot of attention, but they really put on a big show here in Omaha,” said Sophie Sorenson, a swimmer at the trials.
With the uncertain year, the boost doesn’t stop with the local economy. It’s boosting the athletes’ self-esteem. For many, it’s the first event they’ve had fans in the stands cheering them on.
“It really does bring a lot of people together. The swimming community may be small, but we are loud and proud,” said Janet Piccirillo.
It’s a pride that’s not just felt in Omaha.
“It kind of signifies we are back, not just for economic impact but social and boost our confidence as a city community and country,” said Todd.
And more confidence is heading Omaha’s way. On Saturday, it will host the annual College World Series taking place across the street from the swim trials at the same time.