Matt Homan had his dream job and was on top of the world.
He had worked his way up to become general manager of the Wells Fargo Center, one of the top five busiest arenas in nation and home of the National Hockey League’s Philadelphia Flyers and National Basketball Association’s Philadelphia 76ers.
No small accomplishment for a 30-something guy who loved sports and especially sports in his hometown of Philadelphia.
But then he got an offer in Fort Worth he couldn’t refuse.
So he packed up and moved his family from the land of cheesesteaks to the land of barbecue to become president and general manager of Dickies Arena, a 14,000-seat multipurpose arena that will be the new home of the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo.
When Homan arrived in 2015, ground wasn’t broken yet for the new facility. That was two years away.
But that fact was the real appeal of the job, he said, beaming his signature mega-watt smile.
“In my career, you don’t see that many opportunities where you’re given the opportunity to come in early on a project and actually have influence on decisions being made on the setup,” he said.
“We thought Philadelphia was going to be our final destination,” said Homan, 40. “It’s where I was from and my wife is from Virginia so were very close in proximity to her home.
“But this opportunity came up and I just fell in love with it and couldn’t turn it down,” he said.
Homan wasted no time putting his imprint on the plans.
For instance, his input will translate into additional usable event and conference space in an outbuilding intended for animal holding during the rodeo. He also suggested adding more dock space and lobbied for concession stands to bring food preparation closer to serving areas.
Details, even small ones, are important to Homan. He has an intuitive sense of seeing the big picture and focusing on details to bring his vision together.
This was a skill began developing as a child. Because his father worked for Ticketmaster for many years, Homan grew up attending lots of events, including lots of sports, and hanging out in arenas.
“It wasn’t always about the event itself,” he recalled. “It was about watching everything else going on around the event – watching people’s buying pattern, watching security, watching food and beverage, merchandise.
“That’s what I really enjoy,” he said.
Homan savors every step in the planning process with his goal of creating an arena and fan experience that is unique and will make Fort Worth proud.
Unlike other arena centers, Dickies Arena will bypass hiring outside vendors for food and beverage, security, parking, customer relations and other services.
“Those are all going to be our employees because we feel that provides the best fan experience at the facility,” he said. “We truly believe that customer service is going to really be something that makes us successful.”
Under his watchful tutelage, a complex seating system was created that will allow seating for 9,300 for rodeo and 14,000 for basketball games and other sporting events as well as concerts. Retractable seating will make this possible to maintain the long-time tradition of box seating for the rodeo and arena-style seating for other events.
The facility will also have 40 suites, including boxes with loge seating in the four corners on the suite level. Two clubs will also be located on this level.
“Our south club will be more of our casual club and our north club will be more of our fine dining club with white tablecloths. That will be unique,” he said.
Homan hasn’t hesitated on expressing his opinions on any of details that will contribute to creating an exquisite facility that will stand out among the competition in Dallas-Fort Worth and beyond.
Homan was recruited for this job after working 17 years with Comcast Spectacor, which manages arenas, stadiums, convention centers and other large public facilities through the United States and Canada, including the Wells Fargo Center.
He was the first hire for Trail Drive Management Corp., the not-for-profit corporation that will manage the $540 million arena. The facility is being developed as a partnership between the City of Fort Worth and private investors.
Homan said he was especially intrigued with the not-for-profit financial arrangement that will allow the arena to grow and thrive throughout the years.
“There’s no money being pulled out,” he said. “There’s no developer cost being pulled back. Excess revenues go back into the facility so it’s here for a long time.
“I’d worked in these arenas for years and we’d make a lot of money and those dollars would never go back into the facility,” he said. “I thought that this was such a unique concept that really just showed what Fort Worth is about, and I fell in love with that.”
Nevertheless, he said, the facility needs to operate like a sustainable for-profit venture because there is no one to ask for more money.
Homan’s name came up early in a national search.
Besides the Wells Fargo Center, his career has also included a stint at the Colonial Life Arena in Columbia, S.C. He earned his bachelor’s degree in sport and entertainment management from the University of South Carolina in Columbia, so moving there with wife Paige, who he met in college, was like a homecoming.
During a later stint at Iowa Event Center in Des Moines, he transformed the Midwest city from an entertainment desert into a destination market for sports and events. His work there landed him back in Philadelphia, home base of Comcast Spectacor.
“Matt’s experience in the arena management field runs deep,” said Brad Barnes, president and general manager of the Southwestern Exposition and Livestock Show. “His name surfaced as operating one of the most financially successful arenas in the country.”
Homan said he and Barnes have seen eye-to-eye from the very beginning to ensure a successful transition for the rodeo in 2020.
Besides preparing for the first rodeo, Homan and his team are busy planning for other events, too.
Already announced are the American Athletic Conference Men’s Basketball Championship in 2020-2022 and the 2022 NCAA Men’s Basketball First and Second rounds and NCAA Women’s Gymnastics competition.
Homan said his goal is to keep the arena booked with at least 140 events a year, including concerts, sporting events, family shows such as Disney on Ice and Cirque Du Soleil as well as high school graduations, charity events and more.
Re-establishing Fort Worth as a destination for marquee entertainment is a top priority.
“A lot of people here in Fort Worth will tell you they don’t want to head over to Dallas on a regular basis and they won’t,” Homan said. Instead, he would book top acts to play in both markets.
“You can have a concert play American Airlines Center on a Monday or Tuesday night and come play us on a Wednesday or Thursday night,” he said.
Although he is keeping mum on pending event announcements, he has plenty to say about the fan experience when the arena opens.
The plaza will bustle with food and drink concessions and live entertainment will take place outside to help build anticipation for the main act in the arena.
As a serious foodie, Homan said food and beverage was his first task at hand.
On the menu will be typical arena fare such as hot dogs, burgers, pizza and chicken nuggets for the kids. There will also be healthy fare such as wraps and salads as well as some upscale options such as steak.
“I added a pastry kitchen so we could make our own fresh pastries,” he said. And there will be a smoker onsite.
“We didn’t have a smoker in the building,” Homan said. “I say, ‘We live in Fort Worth. We’d better be able to do our own barbecue in the building.’ ”
Homan has already begun hiring his “dream team” to turn his vision into reality. Operations manager Bill Shaw was hired away from Soldier Field in Chicago and food and beverage director Julie Margolin came from the Honda Center in California, home of the NHL’s Anaheim Ducks.
He has already hired 11 employees and expects to have 18-full-timers on staff by the end of the year. By the opening, the staff count will reach 57 full-time employees and more than 200 part-timers.
“To date, knock on wood, we’ve stuck to that plan and it’s worked out well for us,” he said. “The next 12 months, they’re going to be exciting.”