With Dickies Arena drawing crowds and big events, the sports world flocks to Fort Worth

Caroline Garcia celebrates after winning the singles championship at the Women’s Tennis Association Finals at Dickies Arena. (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)

If the TCU Horned Frogs are able to get Fort Worth’s 2023 sports scene off to the greatest of starts with a college football national championship next week, that auspicious beginning will come on the heels of one heck of a Cowtown sports year in 2022.

“2022 was a banner year for sports tourism in the city of Fort Worth,” said Jason Sands, Executive Director of the Fort Worth Sports Commission.

The evidence is irrefutable. Not only did TCU become the only Texas team ever to reach the College Football Playoffs, the city hosted some of the most prestigious national and international tournaments in the world, including the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) Finals, as well as the NCAA Men’s Basketball first and second rounds, along with the Professional Bull Riders (PBR) World Finals. The NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championships returned. Even the video game industry fell in love with Fort Worth as the Rocket League World Championships came to town.

And from those men’s regional basketball tournaments came the two teams that ultimately met in the championship game as Kansas defeated North Carolina for the title. The local competition also featured one of the tournament’s most exciting March Madness moments as defending national champion Baylor overcame a 25-point deficit before eventually losing to North Carolina in overtime.

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As in past years, of course, Colonial Country Club grabbed the national sports spotlight as host of professional golf’s prestigious Charles Schwab Challenge. And let’s not forget the successful return of the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo in 2022 following its cancellation in 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Few cities in America can say they have hosted as many high profile events as the city of Fort Worth,” Sands said.

The Fort Worth Sports Commission was involved in hosting more than 66 sporting events in 2022, Sands said, and those events brought in more than $105 million dollars to local hotels, restaurants and retail outlets.

“The visitor dollars we are bringing to the community through sporting events is at an all-time high, and the exposure and brand awareness for the city of Fort Worth is unprecedented – and we are only just getting started,” he said.

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Sands also noted that in 2022 his team secured more than 75 events for future years, equating to an estimated “direct spend” of more than $110 million dollars.

“Fort Worth is THE place to host a sporting event right now and we are doing everything we can to capitalize on this amazing momentum,” Sands said.

A major reason for the sports success Fort Worth enjoyed in 2022 was Dickies Arena. Though it opened in late 2019, the world-class venue’s full effect wasn’t felt until last year because of COVID-19. Nearly half the direct spending his group saw in hosted events came from activities at Dickies, according to Sands.

“Dickies Arena is one of the main reasons for this meteoric rise in sports tourism,” he said. “We’ve talked to international organizers who have told us that Dickies is the best arena they have been in – on the planet! It literally checks all the boxes, and time and time again the customers we are working with are blown away and tell us they want to come back. Dickies Arena has been an absolute game changer for our city.”

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A prime example was the move to Fort Worth of the PBR World Finals after being held in Las Vegas for nearly three decades.

“Fort Worth was able to wrangle it away from there and provide a new home for one of the biggest Western lifestyle entertainment brands in the world,” Sands said. “This was a huge win for our city and it’s an event we hope to grow into a must-attend Western lifestyle event over the next 30 years.”

Also new to town last year was the Women’s Tennis Association Finals, which had never been played in Texas before. In fact, the WTA’s showcase event hadn’t been held in the United States since 2005 in Los Angeles.

Sands said the events the city hosted in 2022 equated to more than 439,000 visitor days and more than105,000 total room nights for area hotels. That’s a lot of people and money pouring into Fort Worth, buying food, gas, souvenirs, etc.

“Our hospitality partners have seen the impact of sports tourism since the pandemic shut things down three years ago,” Sands said. “Once we hosted the National Finals Rodeo in December of 2020 it’s been non-stop ever since.”

“I think people are finally starting to understand why other cities like Indianapolis, Kansas City, Louisville and Houston have created a sports commission and invested time, money and resources into efforts to support sports tourism,” he said. “We are in one of the best markets in the world when it comes to sports tourism and Fort Worth has been able to build a name for ourselves in a very short amount of time as one of the best places in the country to host a sporting event.”

And there’s no sign of a letdown in 2023. Numerous events are already planning their return, including the PBR World Finals, NCAA Women’s Gymnastics and the American Athletic Conference (AAC) men’s and women’s basketball tournaments. The city will also be hosting the USA Track & Field Half Marathon Championship in partnership with the Cowtown Marathon at the end of February, another first for Fort Worth.

The city has built strong relationships with United States Olympic and Paralympic governing bodies such as USA Wrestling, Fencing, Taekwondo and Table Tennis and will be hosting championships for all of those this year.

“We also have a big e-sports event we’ll be announcing in the coming weeks,” Sands said.

“It’s truly been an epic year, and our continued success would not be possible without the unbelievable team of leaders we have here in Fort Worth,” he said. “Between our great hotel and venue partners and the support we receive from elected officials and community leaders as well as our board of directors, it’s truly a team effort and one of the main reasons we are seeing such success in sports tourism.”