2014: The Business Forecast: In The Game

Betty Dillard bdillard@bizpress.net

Sports fans in Fort Worth and across Tarrant County and beyond will have more to cheer about in coming years thanks to the Fort Worth Convention & Visitors Bureau’s grassroots efforts to establish the city as a major contender for sports business. Fort Worth is the playing field for numerous high-profile sports programs and events: Texas Motor Speedway, Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl, Texas Christian University athletics (Big XII), Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial, Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo, Davey O’Brien Award (National Quarterback Award) and the National Cutting Horse Association Futurity.

As home to the Ballpark in Arlington and AT&T Stadium, Tarrant County can host heavy-hitting sporting events such as the 2014 NCAA Men’s Final Four basketball tournament and the 2015 College Football Championship Game. Sundance Square, the site of ESPN’s live television coverage during Super Bowl XLV in 2011, is back in the line-up for 2014 as the backdrop to ESPN’s national coverage of the NCAA Men’s Final Four. ESPN is expected to draw thousands of people to the 35-block entertainment destination in downtown Cowtown during its telecasts for the April event. “Our central U.S. location, connected roadways and quick access to the rest of the country via D/FW International Airport attracts planners to our area, and makes it easy for fans to get here,” said Bob Jameson, president and CEO of the Fort Worth CVB. “Fort Worth is part of the fourth largest U.S. metropolitan area and the fifth largest media market. These rankings put our area in a position to attract big-name events with the opportunity for high-profile media coverage and the quality of experiences fans and athletes can enjoy. All these assets set Fort Worth apart and sports organizers are taking notice,” he said. On Dec. 10, the National Collegiate Athletic Association announced that Texas Woman’s University along with the CVB will host the 2015 and 2016 NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championships at the Fort Worth Convention Center Arena. The championships will be in Texas for the first time April 17-19, 2015. The three-day event consists of awarding a team national champion and five individual champions.

TWU and the Fort Worth CVB will follow up the inaugural year by also hosting the championships on April 15-17, 2016. Knight Eady Sports Group, an event operations company, is part of the local organizing committee charged with promoting and managing the championships. The bid process was a competitive event in itself. “We owe this win to our strong partnership with Texas Woman’s University and Knight Eady Sports Group,” Jameson said, adding that securing the championships was truly a community effort. “Local partnerships with athletic organizations, school districts and universities are key in promoting Fort Worth as the ideal destination for tournaments, championships and sports centric meetings,” he said. “As a thriving sports destination, we look forward to showcasing all our athletic and visitor amenities to the competitors, coaches and fans.” Looking ahead to 2014, Jameson said the bureau is excited about the opportunity that NCAA March Madness brings to Fort Worth and Tarrant County. “ESPN headquarters in Sundance Square Plaza provides a visually stunning focal point to increase our messaging and promotion of Fort Worth as a sports destination,” he said. In addition to the NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championships, Fort Worth also will host the American Cheerleaders Association 2014 and 2015 National Championships, USA Football 2014 International Bowl and the Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coaches Association’s annual conferences in 2016 and 2018. Last year, Fort Worth hosted the 2013 Travel Classic Bowling Association of America Play-Off Bowling Tournament, the 2013 National High School Rodeo Association Mid-Winter Meeting, the American Vaulting Association’s annual convention and the state convention of Ducks Unlimited.

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All these sports programs and events help increase demand for Fort Worth as a business and tourist destination. For 2014, the bureau has confirmed 10 city-wide conventions with more than 1,100 peak room nights – the highest level since downtown hotel inventory expanded in 2008. As of Aug. 31, 2013, year-to-date Fort Worth hotel occupancy was 64.8 percent, up 2.7 percent over the previous year. The average daily rate was $94.23, up 2.1 percent over the prior year, while demand was up 4.5 percent over 2012. During the past year CVB representatives traveled to Australia and won the bid to host the International Electronics and Electrical Engineers’ Geoscience and Remote Sensing Society International Conference. In July 2017, this meeting will bring more than 1,500 attendees from more than 60 countries. Fort Worth competed against Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., for this business. “This is just one example of the groups that committed to coming to Fort Worth in future years during the past 12 months,” Jameson said. He said the bureau will further elevate the city’s credibility as a sports destination by planning to host and sponsor key events at trade shows and sports conferences nationwide. Throughout 2014, bureau officials will attend multiple sports trade shows and conferences, including the National Association of Sports Commissions’ Sports Event Symposium in Oklahoma City; the US Sports Congress in Savannah, Ga.; Big 12 Conference meetings in Phoenix; the United States Olympic Committee’s Olympic Sports Link in Colorado Springs, Colo.; and the TEAMS Conference in Las Vegas, Nev. “This type of integration allows us to engage in deeper conversations with key decision makers and stakeholders and puts Fort Worth at the forefront of attendees’ minds,” Jameson said.

In addition to marketing Fort Worth for school and professional sports, Jameson said the area also has a strong appeal as a fit city, with outdoor venues for such activities as biking, kayaking and golf. “We are increasing our promotion of the city’s healthy array of trails, river and activities for all athletic levels,” he added.