Efforts to transform the Super Bowl XLV host committee into a regional sports commission fizzled more than two years ago.
But ordinary sports fans would find it difficult to see how that missed opportunity hurt the area. North Texas has been able to score many of the most prestigious events — including next month’s NCAA Final Four — and can make a case for being the nation’s sports capital.
“It’s hard to argue with the résumé this area has built up over the last five years,” said Tony Fay, who worked on the Super Bowl and Final Four committees. “It’s second to none.”
In a few years, the largest region without a sports commission will have hosted the Super Bowl, the NBA All-Star Game, the NCAA men’s basketball Final Four and the new College Football Championship Game. That doesn’t count championship boxing, the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision title game, international soccer matches and Big 12 Women’s Basketball Championship.
This area is also a finalist for the men’s and women’s Final Four for 2017 to 2020.
Bob Estrada, a member of the Super Bowl host committee, said he expects the Dallas area to one day have a sports commission, but it’s hard to argue with the results it has achieved without one.
“I don’t think it’s a disadvantage to have a sports commission, but it doesn’t seem that bringing big-ticket events like the Final Four has been hampered,” he said.
Estrada said the approaches taken by local governments, tourism officials, facility managers and others have served the area well. He said someone with a particular vision assembles a team and “goes after it.”
“You don’t have to check that extra box of getting that approval from an existing sports commission,” he said. “That might be a benefit in some circumstances. It might keep some events from getting to second base.”
The cities, their tourism arms and venue managers compete when necessary and collaborate when possible. At times, Big 12 Conference and Cotton Bowl Classic officials join in.
Allen and Frisco have recruited a college football all-star game and smaller college football championship game to their stadiums, in addition to large amateur wrestling and gymnastics events at other venues within their city limits. American Airlines Center officials have been pitching themselves as a destination for NCAA women’s basketball. The $1.2 billion AT&T Stadium has booked the mega-events and scheduled major college football and basketball games.
The Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau, which has its own four-person sports division, lured the USA Volleyball Junior National Qualifiers and often works closely with the Cowboys on events at the team’s stadium in Arlington.
The area has had two previous sports commissions since the late 1980s. Neither lasted longer than seven years.
Russ Bookbinder, CEO and president of San Antonio Sports, that city’s sports commission, said Dallas is a major presence no matter how the efforts are organized. He said Monica Paul, the Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau’s vice president of sports, is as much a competitor as executives at sports commissions.
“We see her about every place we go,” Bookbinder said. “Whether you want to call that a sports commission or not, her group is really serving, in essence, that role.”
Don Schumacher, executive director of the National Association of Sports Commissions, said there’s no way to know what the region has missed or will miss without a commission. But he does have a few guesses.
“You’d see more of the United States Figure Skating Association championship-type events or USA Gymnastics national championship or USA Volleyball,” he said. “There is a lot of business that is not a Super Bowl or a Final Four.”
Schumacher said huge events such as those are generally attracted by facilities. Other NCAA championships and national amateur events, he said, have community outreach and quality-of-life components that go beyond the money and newness of the facilities.
That emphasis on community impact — and not just room nights — was a factor in a winning bid for the women’s basketball Final Four when he was leading a sports commission in Ohio, Schumacher said.
“It became a female empowerment and business effort here in greater Cincinnati, which was tremendously successful,” he said about the tournament. “[The NCAA is] not particularly interested in invitations from something other than the entire community. They really want to know that everyone wants them to come.”
At San Antonio Sports, officials boast about hosting Final Fours as well as serving 260,000 schoolchildren with fitness programs. They have fitness programs targeting children in the ZIP codes with the highest rates of obesity.
Can we do better?
Paul, the sports specialist at the Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau, said sports commissions that she has studied have missions that include generating new spending but also promoting community.
She said some of that is expected to go into the CVB’s new mission statement and rebranding of her department.
“Part of our goals will involve the community and how sports and hosting these events boost quality of life,” she said.
The bureau also had an outside committee that helps with community outreach when that’s needed as part of hosting an event.
Tara Green, a former Super Bowl host committee member and now president of Klyde Warren Park, said the area has essentially privatized a sports commission for the Final Four effort.
Fay + Sawers Productions, a firm led by two former host commission executives, was hired to take on some of the Final Four host committee roles. And that effort includes many others who worked on the 2011 Super Bowl.
Estrada described the group as a “de facto sports commission without portfolio.”
Green, who was expected to head the post-Super Bowl sports commission, said she still thinks a commission will emerge from the Dallas CVB. For now, she said, the region’s success is probably making it harder to convince people a commission is needed.
“We’re having luck the way we’re doing it,” she said. “That’s probably why I was unsuccessful in the past. We have found a way to make it work.”
But with a commission, she said, “Wouldn’t it be more streamlined? Wouldn’t it be more efficient? Wouldn’t it be easier on everyone? Think of how much more business we could book.”