There’s always a first time for everything.
And for Lincoln, that will be the case during the week of March 5-12. That week is set to be one of the busiest of the 2022 calendar year as the city will welcome in the Big Ten Wrestling Championships from March 5-6 and the Nebraska Schools Activities Association State Basketball tournament from March 7-12.
For Big Ten wrestling, it will be a new adventure for everyone involved as this marks the first time Lincoln will be hosting the event. The Big Ten rotates the tournament to all 14 conference schools so this is the first appearance in Lincoln since Nebraksa joined the conference back in 2011.
The nearly sold-out event is bringing some of the premier college wrestlers in the country to one location.
But in terms of how it affects the city, that part is more unknown. For those around Lincoln, traffic will not be much of an issue as the tournament crowd will be limited to downtown. In terms of economic impact for the Lincoln area, that is not clear. With this event being in Lincoln for the first time and the scale of being a multi-day competition, it is hard for anyone to set expectations.
“A significant number of our guests are going to be across the country,” said Pinnacle Bank Arena General Manager Tom Lorenz. “We’re seeing wrestling fans not only from Big 10 cities, but also just wrestling fans in general from across all states. So, those are the types of events we really love to see come to Lincoln.”
Lorenz wouldn’t disclose Pinnacle Bank Arena’s financial prediction for the Big Ten tournament, but says they have favorable rental agreements between the city and UNL. He did confirm they will turn a profit.
On the contrary, the NSAA Boys and Girls State Basketball Championships are nothing new to the capital city. Lincoln has hosted two events since the first championship in 1911. However, there have been some exceptions as Lincoln wasn’t the host in 1931, 1965 through 1967 and 1970.
This year is an especially unique challenge.
Usually, each of the boys and girls state tournaments would occur over a five-day stretch in the first and second weeks of March. The girls would play the first week and the boys would play the following week.
However, due to the Big Ten wrestling championships during that first weekend of March, state basketball has had to pivot, combining both tournaments to be played at the same time over a six-day stretch.
While this shift may be significant, Lorenz and some of his staff have been putting together state basketball tournaments for 25 years dating back to when it was hosted at the now torn down Pershing Center.
But as a result, Lorenz and his staff have been talking with the NSAA for over a year planning out the tournaments. The biggest challenge, however, has been staffing as they now are hosting basketball tournaments that run six days straight compared to three days straight spread over two weeks.
“Finding staff right now is very difficult,” Lorenz said. “Not only for our business but across the city. Food service workers are difficult to find. Our ushers, door guards, security people, food service, cleaning and operation. While we have full time staff and very dedicated people a lot of people we have this is a good second, third, fourth job and post pandemic it’s been very, very difficult to find the kind of numbers that we would like to have for staffing.”
And despite their struggle to attract workers, Lorenz mentioned that they have a comfortable amount of workers for both events.
In terms of economic impact to the Lincoln area, Derek Bombeck of the Lincoln Visitors Bureau expects state basketball to bring in $2 to $3 million to Lincoln which is up to par in previous years.
Traffic on the other hand will be a different story. As per usual, the NSAA will use local high schools around the Lincoln area to host first round games to alleviate the pressure from Pinnacle Bank Arena and the Bob Devaney Sports Center.
The Big Ten Wrestling Championships take place at PBA from March 5-6, while the NSAA State Basketball tournament is from March 7-12.