There’s been a lot of talk. For a long time.
For Brad Barnes, president and general manager at the Southwestern Exposition and Livestock Show, talk of a new rodeo arena has been taking place since he took the reins at the Stock Show in 2005.
“And it was going on before that, too,” he said during a media tour of the new $540 million facility a few days before the official opening on Oct. 26.
Now the gum-flapping can stop. Fort Worth has put its money where its mouth is.
And it’s here, a 14,000-seat venue conceived and developed by Fort Worth businessman and philanthropist Edward P. Bass and a public-private partnership between the City of Fort Worth, Tarrant County, the state and a group of private-sector participants including foundations, individuals and organizations.
Located in the city’s Cultural District and adjacent to the Will Rogers Memorial Center campus, the venue will be owned by the City of Fort Worth and managed by a not-for-profit operating entity, Trail Drive Management Corp.
The partnership was approved by Fort Worth voters in November 2014, capping taxpayers’ portion at $225 million. The $540 million project will complement the current Will Rogers Memorial Coliseum, which will continue to serve as a major equestrian show arena.
What does it mean for Fort Worth?
The state-of-the-art arena will host concerts, sporting events, and family entertainment that have been all-too-rare in Fort Worth for many years. Now, as one of the fastest-growing cities in the country, the city now has a new, first-class venue attractive to events and performers that have gone elsewhere in the past.
It will mean plenty for those attending the new venue.
“Our last row of seating is equivalent to the American Airlines’ Center’s Platinum seating,” said Matt Homan, president and general manager of TDMC. “There’s not a bad seat in the house.”
Also taking a seat are plenty of companies that have added their names to the project.
The most prominent is Dickies, the Fort Worth-based workwear brand that is nearly 100 years old. It took naming rights to the project in 2016.
In 2017, VF Corp. acquired Williamson-Dickie (which includes the Dickies brand, Workrite and Kodiak, among others).
“Dickies Arena is a draw for Fort Worth and ensures it remains one of the fastest-growing cities in the nation,” said Craig Errington, vice president of marketing at Dickies. “We couldn’t feel more pride about having the Dickies brand name on a state-of-the art venue that will provide entertainment in the community where our employees live and work.”
Simmons Bank has landed naming rights for an entertainment plaza and pavilion at the new Dickies Arena and will also become a major sponsor of the Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo. Simmons Bank Plaza, located on the east side of the arena, will host a number of events throughout the year, including pre-event parties and fan festivals. The plaza will accommodate up to 3,000 guests.
The plaza also will be home to the Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo’s Bud Light Roadhouse, a live music venue, as well as The Corkyard, a new destination where Stock Show guests can enjoy a wide selection of award-winning wines served by the glass.
“The Simmons Bank Plaza provides another layer of entertainment for guests coming to Dickies Arena,” said Homan,. “The plaza will be home to activities before and after many of our major events, and it offers one of the best views of downtown Fort Worth.”
Powering the center is Reliant, part of NRG Energy Inc. Reliant is the official energy provider of Dickies Arena and a founding sponsor. The agreement also makes Reliant a major sponsor of the Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo.
Artists announced for the new arena span the gamut.
George Strait is coming for two nights to give the arena his Western Swing baritone blessing in November. The Black Keys will attempt to shake the rafters loose, also in November, while singer-songwriter Pepe Aguilar will bring his popular brand of Regional Mexican music to Dickies Arena on Saturday, Dec. 14.
And there’s sports. Fort Worth and Dickies Arena will be the host site for the 2020 U.S. Gymnastics Championships June 4-7. The announcement was made in the Reliant Club at the arena.
This is the first appearance for the championship in the city, and the fourth in Texas. The return to the Lone Star State is thanks largely to the efforts of the Fort Worth Sports Commission, a division of Visit Fort Worth, and Dickies Arena.
“What better place to be than here then June of next year?” Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price said, noting that the gymnasts competing in Fort Worth could go on and win medals for the USA in the 2020 Olympics.
The arena seats just under 14,000, and Olympic gold medalist Carly Patterson, from McKinney, said she expects a capacity crowd for the competition.
“Let’s pack this place and show them what an amazing place Texas is,” she said at the announcement. “This is going to be an amazing experience you’re not going to want to miss.”
Homan said there’s a lot more sports on the horizon, including the near future.
He said the American Athletic Conference has committed to have its postseason basketball tournament in the arena from 2020-2022, along with the NCAA Gymnastics Championships those same years, and the first round of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament in 2022.
But the sport that will get the spotlight for Dickies Arena initial year will be the rodeo.
And the new arena will change how the rodeo does things.
“We’re developing a new system that’s a bracket tournament style, so it’s a new fan friendly format,” said Barnes. “So, you’ll be able to follow it after each performance and know who’s moving on to the wildcard round or the semifinals or the finals, which is something that we traditionally have not been able to do. It’s been hard even for me to keep up with rodeo and who’s moving forward.”
The new arena will also allow for more fan-friendly interaction with the rodeo contestants.
Everybody’s used to seeing a bracket progress, noted Matt Brockman, communications manager for the Stock Show. “I’m really hoping people will start getting engaged in the process. And you can come back and watch a fan favorite. You start wanting to see how this guy really does.”
Barnes said the contestants will pay virtually no entry fee.
“They’ll pay an entry fee, but we’re going to give them a way to earn it back while they’re here by signing autographs,” he said. “We’re going to develop a fan zone in here for interviews and autograph sessions and so forth, which we’ve not had in the past.”
“The cool thing about it, these are men and women who, 52 weeks of the year, are driving all over the West, getting on bulls, riding horses, riding broncs, roping, bulldogging, or whatever,” said Brockman.
“The average person from Fort Worth that’s going to come in here, they can’t wrap their mind around that. If we give them a format where they can come and interact with these people, we’ll begin cultivating a larger fan base for them,” he said.
– Rick Mauch contributed to this story.