Readying for the BIG Encore
It may seem calm at the Dallas Sports Commission HQ, but plans for the next decade of major events are underway.
By Tony Fay
If we were talking in Hollywood terms, April's runaway blockbuster, also known as NCAA Women's Final Four, was the conclusion of Phase 1 of the Dallas Mega-Events Universe. It's a storyline that began back in 2010 with the largest-attended NBA All-Star Game ever, rolled into a Super Bowl, a Men's Basketball Final Four, a College Football Playoff National Championship, WWE WrestlemMania – and for those who just like to hear some good music and gawk and red carpet arrivals, even included the ACM Awards. And, of course, it didn't hurt that the Rangers made their way to two World Series or that Dirk and the Mavericks dethroned LeBron en route to a champagne shower.
What a decade. What an opportunity ahead to continue, and perhaps expand upon the narrative that Dallas is America's greatest sports city.
"That's a challenge we're up for," said Monica Paul, Executive Director of the Dallas Sports Commission. The organization didn't even exist as a stand alone unit until two years ago, when a small group of veteran sports executives was spun off from the Dallas Convention & Visitor's Bureau to create an organization that works with local venues, host institutions and pro teams to coordinate efforts to secure sports and entertainment events that boost the local economy.
Paul and her team are hard at work on Phase II, plotting a storyline that would – as good sequels often do – repeat a beloved formula, while upping the stakes and maybe adding a dash of international intrigue. If all goes as hoped, North Texas will remain sports championship destination for at least the next 10 years.
"We're putting puzzle pieces together," said Paul. "We first had to see what major events are coming up for bid and when. Then, we needed to talk with our partners – AT&T Stadium and the Cowboys, the American Airlines Center and the Mavericks and Stars, the Big 12 Conference – and see what they wanted to do. Without them, we can't do anything. At the same time, we've done a deep dive into availability of things like hotel rooms and the convention center, checking for potential conflicts. We're piecing together a game plan. Of course, you have to execute against it. That means writing a successful bid that will result in the region being awarded the event. So, nothing is guaranteed, but we feel good."
"Monica is driving the bus," said Dave Brown, Chief Operating Officer and General Manager of the American Airlines Center, who also serves as Chairman of the Board of the Dallas Sports Commission. "She's an expert and a pro. There is a real science to this. The landscape has changed so much over the years. Back in 1986, when I was at Reunion Arena, we hosted the NBA All-Star Game and Men's Final Four two months apart from each other. That couldn't happen today – there are too many logistics that go into these major events. You can't really host them that tightly bunched anymore. Monica understands the nuance of all this, the way things have to work together."
Tara Green, President of Klyde Warren Park and past chair of the Dallas Sports Commission, wrote the bid that helped the region secure the right to host Super Bowl XLV. She believes how these events fit together, how they compliment each other in the context of an overall calendar, is key to building the capacity needed for success. "Each one of these events is its own business unit, its own entity," she said. "They require professional staffs made up of shared employees – but also employees dedicated only to that event. And there is burden put on your corporate contributors to make it all happen. You need to space out the events so not to lose their support."
One key factor often overlooked by novices is the availability of the buildings where games won't be played. "Dallas is a huge, huge destination for trade shows and conventions," said Paul. "While we may be looking at sporting events that are five, six, seven years down the road, a lot of conventions – corporate, medical – are booked farther out than that. The convention center already has events booked for 2027, so do our hotels. Those are things we have to work around."
While Paul declines to mention what events are being eyed for which years, she does volunteer that 2021-26 should be primetime. "Maybe starting as early as 2020," she added, "But we'll see."
In the meantime, the Dallas Sports Commission still has plenty on its plate. AT&T Stadium will host a CONCACAF Gold Cup semifinal on July 22 – with Frisco's Toyota Stadium the site of a Group A doubleheader on July 14. Both will add to the region's international soccer legacy, which includes hosting of World Cup games in 1994. It's a resume, organizers hope, will bolster Dallas' chances of the marquee event returning in the near future.
And next March will bring the return of the NCAA Men's Basketball tournament, as the American Airlines Center plays host to first- and second-round games.
"We've got plenty going on right now," said Paul. "We just need to continue to execute and let our venues, partners, corporate leaders and amazingly friendly citizens do their thing. If we do that, we're going to be just fine."