Tri-City Storm needs community support

Tri City Storm Logo

Tri City Storm Logo

Minor league hockey team faces relocation as crowd numbers dwindle


The center ice may be empty if something doesn’t change in the next few seasons for the Tri-City Storm. It won’t be because of lack of performance, either.

This is a call to arms for the Kearney community, and more notably UNK students. Want primary entertainment to visit UNK so students don’t need to travel two hours to Lincoln or five hours to Denver? Support the local athletics. 

UNK students are generally blessed to have the opportunity to see a semi-professional team within a ten minute drive from relatively anywhere in the Kearney area. The benefits are abundant: lowered ticket prices for daily admission and season tickets ($10 student ticket prices compared to the usual $17.50 for general admission), free skate events put on by the university and other organizations, and other entertainment traveling to Kearney, such as concerts, event shows, etc.

But without the Tri-City Storm, the main tenant of the Viaero Center, not much of this is feasible. 

For those that are unfamiliar with event center contracts, the simple narrative is usually along these lines; a stadium, event center, concert hall, whatever you wish to call it is constructed and built by a community. To make this new community monument feasible, the owners of the building must rent out and contract with entertainment brands to fill the seats and obtain profit. But, for consistent and constant earnings, a good owner finds someone looking for a home. More often than not, this is where sports lines up with the interests of the owners of these event centers. 

Want primary entertainment to visit UNK so students don’t need to travel two hours to Lincoln or five hours to Denver? Support the local athletics.

In large scale examples, this is the same as the Denver Broncos operating at Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium. For a more local sample, the Nebraska Danger (Nebraska’s own professional indoor football team) reside inside the wings of the Heartland Event Center. For the Viaero Event Center, the Tri-City Storm have made their home on the ice in Kearney.

An event center that houses a potential of 5,000 roaring fans, including glass side seating and luxury boxes, had Central Nebraska residents foaming at the mouths back in 2000 when the team announced its start-up. As a resident of Kearney at the time, I myself remember going to games as a child. I recall owning the purple and gray Storm t-shirts and foam fingers. Games were always a family event, and at relatively low cost.

That attendance waned through the years, and has hit lows this season especially. The home opener for the Storm this season on Oct. 12, 2018 had an attendance of 1,689. And yes, I hear you sports fans in the back. That number does sound good for team in Kearney, Nebraska. Let’s break down that number more, shall we?

By taking the season opener’s attendance of 1,689 and dividing into the maximum capacity of the Viaero Event Center of 5,500, the percentage attendance on Oct. 12 was 30.7%. Still think that sounds okay? Apply that to Memorial Stadium in Lincoln for a home Husker football game. The beloved Huskers, at 30.7% capacity of around 90,000, would be playing in front of 27,638 scarlet and cream clad fans. That’s comparable to a home game at Troy University in Alabama, who did beat the Huskers in Lincoln this year (sorry for bringing that up again).

I hear you again, peanut gallery. The other major entertainment options in the area that weekend included: an away Kearney High football game at Lincoln High (a two hour drive away from Kearney), a Fleetwood Mac concert at Pinnacle Bank Arena (nothing against the artist, ‘Dreams’ is still a classic), and to top it off, the Huskers played a road game in Evanston, Ill. the following day. There simply isn’t a viable excuse for the low numbers at a season opener, a game that the Storm won 3-0.

That doesn’t follow the recent trends of the Storm’s owner and Las Vegas businessman Kirk Brooks. Brooks recently had installed an estimated $250,000 center ice scoreboard to enhance fan experience, is a constant philanthropist to the community donating well over $75,000 in 2018, and has kept an engaging and competitive team on the ice. 

Brooks is a businessman first and foremost, so being able to turn a profit is always his main concern as any business would be. The Antelope made contact with the Tri-City Storm for this piece, but any questions regarding relocation were not answered. Although there was not an official answer from the team, one must wonder where it sits on the mind of Kirk Brooks.

Be ready UNK students and Kearney community, because if the Storm pass through and leave town, your ten minute drive south of town may turn into a two hour excursion. And we’ll have no one to blame but ourselves.