The 2019 debut of Dickies Arena was a long-anticipated milestone for Fort Worth that was greeted with fervent fanfare.
Four years had passed from the time Fort Worth voters overwhelmingly approved the proposal to build a world-class multipurpose arena where residents could enjoy headliner concerts, sports and other events without leaving town.
The new venue did not disappoint. The result was a resplendent facility from renowned Washington, D.C., architect David M. Schwarz, whose imprint in the Dallas-Fort Worth area includes Sundance Square Plaza and other Sundance Square projects, the Sid Richardson Museum, the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame, the American Airlines Center and Globe Life Park (now Choctaw Stadium).
With seating for up to 14,000 for concerts, 13,000 for basketball, 12,200 for family shows and hockey, and up 9,300 for rodeo performances, the new arena was a welcome arrival for eager fans who quickly started snapping up tickets to a dizzying lineup of events.
Despite all the anticipation and enthusiasm, the timing of the $540 million venue’s debut couldn’t have been worse.
“Here we have this great venue built and opened at the end of 2019 and everyone is really excited,” said Matt Homan, Dickies Arena president and general manager. “We had a few great months and then had to shut down because of the pandemic.”
The venue managed several top events in its opening months, including a rare performances by country music superstar George Strait and the arena’s 2020 debut as the featured venue for rodeo events held as part of the Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo.
The six-month shutdown forced by the pandemic scrambled the venue’s operations, resulting in postponement or cancellation of many events, but it didn’t temper the determination or commitment of Homan and his staff to making the best of the situation.
The result of that can-do spirit has allowed the arena to turn a profit every year – even in 2020 when the facility was shuttered for six-months.
“It is a great source of pride for me that we didn’t have to furlough or lay off any employees,” Homan said.
Helping to keep those employees on the payroll were a couple of pandemic-related Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration.
While the venue was closed from March through most of August, Homan and his staff spent their time coming up with ingenious ways to safely reopen when the closure was eased.
Dickies resumed operations on a limited basis in August 2020.
“When we were able to reopen, we had a lot of safety regulations in place like social distancing, mask requirements and seat spacing,” Homan said. “Even though we could have had 50 percent capacity, we stayed closer to 35 to 40 percent.”
Events that year included college basketball games, catering events for the National Finals Rodeo at Globe Life Field and Disney on Ice.
For Homan and his staff, the challenges went beyond safety considerations for event-goers. To prevent an outbreak of COVID-19 that could have curtailed recovery operations, staff protocols were put in place to keep everyone safe, including COVID testing, proof of vaccination or negative test results. A staggered in-office work schedule was also adopted to prevent a staff-wide outbreak of the virus.
“Doing all these is what kept us going and we are still doing some of them,” Homan said.
It isn’t surprising that Homan was able to navigate a path to success despite the pandemic. When he was offered the job of Dickies Arena president and general manager in 2015, Homan was general manager of Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center, one of the five busiest arenas in the nation and home venue for both the National Hockey League’s Philadelphia Flyers and the National Basketball Association’s Philadelphia 76ers.
As a 30-something at the time, Homan was already an accomplished veteran in the arena management industry and he had achieved his dream job in his hometown of Philadelphia.
But he was lured to Trail Drive Management Corp., the nonprofit corporation that manages Dickies Arena, by the prospect of getting in on the ground-floor and being able to make crucial decisions that would impact operations of the arena once it opened.
The pandemic forced cancellation of the 2021 Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo but the new momentum continued and more events were scheduled.
“Texas and Florida are different from many of the other states and we are proud that we were able to host some of these big events,” Homan said.
Among those events were the NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championships and the U.S. Olympic Team trials in wrestling, both in April 2021. Dickies Arena landed the wrestling trials when they were moved from Penn State University.
With the public vaccination rate rising, the Dickies concert schedule also filled in during 2021, headlined by artists such as Eric Clapton, James Taylor, Jackson Browne, Blake Shelton, and Parker McCollum.
There have been periodic spikes of the virus but higher vaccination rates and new treatment options have made it possible to keep drawing enthusiastic crowds eager to experience live entertainment.
This year’s schedule boasts a stellar lineup of concerts, sports, family entertainment, charity balls and community events.
Among the sports highlights in 2022: the American Athletic Conference men’s and women’s basketball tournaments; Professional Bull Riders World Finals, transplanted from Las Vegas, Nev.; the 2022 NCAA Women’s National Collegiate Gymnastics Championships; and Panther City Lacrosse Club matches.
But for sheer excitement and fan frenzy nothing in sports can top college basketball’s “March Madness” – and Dickies Arena is right in the thick of it as the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament gets underway this week. The local venue will host four games on Thursday (March 17) and two on Saturday (March 19).
Concert highlights this year include performances by New Edition, Eric Church, Steely Dan with Snarky Puppy, Rod Stewart with Cheap Trick, The Killers, Keith Urban and Chris Stapleton.
None of those acts, of course, can top the arena’s biggest concert coup of ’22, the May 17 arrival of music legend Paul McCartney’s Got Back Tour.
Landing McCartney sends a message that Fort Worth and Dickies are firmly entrenched in the big leagues. Dickies is the only Texas stop on the former Beatle’s 13-city tour, with other performances mostly on the East and West coasts.
Although McCartney performed a sold-out show at Globe Life Park in 2019, he has not taken the stage in Fort Worth since he performed with his band, Wings, in 1976 at the Tarrant County Convention Center.
“We are one of the smaller venues to get this show,” Homan said. “It’s a big win for Fort Worth.”
With even more event announcements on the horizon, Dickies is positioned to become an even bigger draw for big-name performers, major sporting events and other entertainment.
While the arena gears up to swing its doors open even wider, Homan and his staff continue to shake off residual challenges of the pandemic, including staff shortages, which are endemic across the hospitality industry.
Before the pandemic, Dickies had a part-time staff of more than 1,400, which then dropped to 700 and has recovered to about 900.
“We would like to have a pool of 1,900,” Homan said.
The pandemic has been disruptive, to be sure, but one upside, Homan said, was the chance for the arena staff to improve its food and beverage operations and introduce better service during the this year’s Stock Show & Rodeo.
“Our reset in food and beverage allowed us to grow by more than $4 per person this year,” Homan said. “We are really happy with where we are right now, all the way around.”