For the first time since it opened nearly a decade ago, the naming rights for Ralston Arena have been sold.
And city officials say it’s one of many ways things are looking up financially at what as of January will be known as Liberty First Credit Union Arena.
Liberty First Credit Union will pay nearly $1.7 million over 10 years for the right to have its name on the arena, which first opened in October 2012.
“It’s a big step forward in our arena journey,” said Don Groesser, Ralston’s longtime mayor. As soon as the announcement was made Wednesday during a ceremony on the arena floor, Liberty First’s name and logo went up on video boards throughout the arena.
Liberty First has long had a presence in Lincoln, but it a year ago opened its first location in Omaha near 108th and L Streets. Having its name on the 4,000-plus-seat Ralston Arena is part of its effort to get its name out in its new market.
Ralston City Administrator Rick Hoppe credited Ralston’s new arena management company, Spectra Venue Management, for the sale of the rights after Ralston for nearly a decade was unable to secure a rights holder.
Two members of Spectra’s marketing staff who formerly worked in Lincoln knew about Liberty First and helped secure the deal.
“This has been a pretty lengthy process, and it’s something that took a lot of effort and nose to the grindstone for those two to get something in place,” said Brian Krajewski, who manages Ralston Arena for Spectra.
The deal is a big one for Ralston, which since the arena first opened has used its keno proceeds and other funds to help subsidize arena operations.
The original financial plans for the arena had called for annual naming rights dollars of $250,000, but that never materialized. A new arena manager hired in 2015 at one point said the arena was in negotiations on a $150,000 annual naming rights deal. Nothing happened.
In April 2019, city officials hired Spectra to manage the arena. It was ultimately able to secure the 10-year deal with Liberty First that will pay the city arena $160,000 a year for five years, escalating to $185,000 a year over the final five years.
Hoppe said the naming rights are one of many ways Spectra has worked to improve the bottom line at Ralston Arena. As a manager of more than 150 venues across the country, Spectra is able to book single acts for venues all over the country.
Ralston recently had a sellout show for rising country music artist Cody Johnson, and it has already sold out shows in February by comedian Fluffy and country singer Walker Hayes.
The arena is also the home arena for the Omaha Lancers hockey team and Omaha Beef arena football team.
“The world changed when Spectra entered the doors of the arena,” Hoppe said.
It’s unclear when, but the Liberty First name will eventually go up on signage outside the arena. The credit union will pay for those changes.
Liberty First Credit Union has its roots as a credit union serving Burlington Northern railroad employees. In addition to its new Omaha branch, it has four in Lincoln and one in Seward.
Frank Wilber, president and CEO of Liberty, said his company is thrilled to partner with Ralston because of the sense of community surrounding the facility. Wilber, a recreational hockey player, actually travels to Ralston from Lincoln once a week to play in a league based at the arena.
“It is more than just an arena,” he said. “It’s a community hub that brings people together.”