Television viewers of recent Big Ten baseball tournaments couldn't help but notice that empty seats greatly outnumbered fans, though that could change next year.
Only 6,444 people were in the stands over 11 total games at this season's tournament in Minneapolis, and the 39,500-seat Target Field did little to mask the poor attendance. Nearly every camera angle revealed the sparse crowd.
Event organizers in Omaha are betting the view will be different in 2014, when the tournament comes to TD Ameritrade Park for a one-year run.
“We want to advance that tournament to another notch,” said Butch Hug, Nebraska associate athletic director for facilities and events.
If Hug sounds confident, one reason is that he knows the community's support of college baseball all but guarantees larger crowds than the conference is used to.
Attendance at Nebraska's games alone should improve the event's track record.
NU is no stranger to TD Ameritrade. The Huskers played there five times this past season, in front of average crowds of 6,868.
Another encouraging sign: TD Ameritrade hosted the Missouri Valley tournament in 2011 and drew 15,795 fans over five days.
There wasn't that kind of buzz in downtown Minneapolis two weeks ago.
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Despite perhaps the most talent-filled and balanced field — coaches gushed over the quality of play for five days — clashing in back-and-forth games at one of the nation's nicest baseball facilities, where an average of about 30,000 have gathered for Twins games this year, the longest line at the Target Field box office was the one for Nebraska players' will call.
About an hour before the Huskers faced Ohio State in a Saturday afternoon elimination game, there were seven people dining at Gluek's Restaurant and Bar — located a block away from the stadium. Across the street, at Kieran's Irish Pub, management had learned just a week earlier that the Big Ten tournament was coming to town (an employee saw it on Twitter).
There were no “B1G” logos around downtown. No signs or billboards.
“I'm sure Minneapolis has people (with ties) to Indiana or Illinois or Ohio State that maybe if they'd heard about the tournament, they might have come out,” Hug said. “That's why we think that Omaha, being a college sports town, having Nebraska people following (the sport) — we think we can drum up some better interest and get some more people out.”
They do want to advertise more locally, Hug said, while also making a strong push to NU season ticket holders and TD Ameritrade suite holders.
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Tweaking the tournament structure so that the home team — Nebraska — plays night games is one of a few proposals Hug and his staff will make to the Big Ten this fall.
But the event should be well-supported regardless, said Roger Dixon, Metropolitan Entertainment and Convention Authority president and CEO.
Dixon said through a spokeswoman that TD Ameritrade also hopes to host the Big East tournament now that Creighton's joined a new league.
Future partnerships with the Big Ten are uncertain at this point. The league hasn't discussed its 2015 tournament.
The league coaches are also considering expanding the six-team field to eight, though that change may not occur until 2015 when Maryland and Rutgers join the conference.
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