Dancing in Sundance Square

Fort Worth city leaders are over the moon with excitement about TCU’s move to the Big 12.

Dancing in Sundance Square

The Jett Building’s famous Chisholm Trail mural in Sundance Square will be a familiar sight to Big 12 fans flocking to Fort Worth, beginning in 2012.

Dancing in Sundance Square

Fort Worth city leaders are over the moon with excitement about TCU’s move to the Big 12.

Remember back in early 2011 when Super Bowl XLV was in town?

Despite the icy conditions, the media gushed over Fort Worth’s charm, cleanliness and authentic Texas feel, especially Sundance Square, where ESPN set up its headquarters and broadcast live for about 110 hours with the Jett Building’s famous Chisholm Trail mural as a backdrop.

“It was like a two-week commercial for Fort Worth,” said David DuBois, president and CEO of the Fort Worth Convention and Visitors Bureau and, incidentally, the father of two Horned Frogs.

But even better, downtown hoteliers booked more than 16,000 total nights in the 10 days leading up to the big game. It was an all-time city record.

“Now, with TCU in the Big 12, I imagine it will be like five or six mini-Super Bowls here every fall,” Dubois said. “We’re both going to be winners.”

Hotel room nights are the No. 1 metric to measure economic impact for the city. Guests who stay overnight typically also dine in restaurants, visit museums and area attractions, buy merchandise, pay for entertainment and spend on transportation. Out-of-towners are good business for everyone, and college sports fans are among the best.

“They are well-educated and good spenders. They’re more in a tourism mode,” said Johnny Campbell, president of Sundance Square. “College athletics is definitely a big part of our tourism economy.”

That’s even more evident with Cowboys Stadium now in Tarrant County, attracting top-flight college matchups and National Football League games.

“We can see them because they’re walking around town wearing team colors,” Campbell said. “We really noticed around Labor Day when LSU and Oregon were here.”

For years, Homecoming was the one weekend a year Fort Worth could count on hotel demand for TCU games. “Occasionally, there was a blip for Family Weekend and when BYU was in town, but not with any of the other Mountain West schools,” DuBois said. “Now, because of the Big 12, I believe we’ll see high demand for all TCU games.”

When the Frogs were invited to the Big East in 2010, it was good news — a whole new set of schools (and their fans) were coming to Cowtown from huge, metropolitan markets, including New York, Washington, D.C., and Chicago. Visibility on the East Coast was tantalizing. Fort Worth had something different to sell. The city “Where the West Begins” was exotic, warm and growing fast in population and business opportunities.

The tradeoff was the expense. “Media costs in the Big East markets were daunting,” DuBois said.

PhotoSo it was even better news when the Big 12 invited the Frogs. Visiting schools are closer, larger, travel in big numbers and have a better knowledge of Fort Worth. Plus, the city’s marketing approach already was aimed at many Big 12 areas: Tulsa, Austin, Oklahoma City, Kansas City, San Antonio, Houston.

“Fifty percent of our business is tied to weekend travel packages,” said DuBois. “TCU football fits perfectly in our strategy. We were very excited about the prospect of inbound visitors with the Big East, but we’re even more thrilled with the hometown Horned Frogs in the Big 12.”

Fort Worth offers the Big 12 a destination city, far different from Stillwater, Lubbock and Ames.

“Fans are going to love coming here,” said Bill Thornton, president of the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce and former coach at TCU under Jim Wacker in the 1980s. “They’ll arrive on a Wednesday for the TCU game on Saturday, but while they’re here, they’re going to see the Texas Motor Speedway, go to the Fort Worth Zoo, explore the Stockyards and Sundance Square, visit the museums and stay until Sunday to watch the Cowboys game.”

“One thing we learned from the Super Bowl is that we’re a great host city,” Campbell said. “We have a package of amenities within walking distance that is unique and extremely attractive.”

As a result, the city also is in a strong position to attract conference events, convention business and company relocations, said Andy Taft, president of Downtown Fort Worth, Inc.

“Big 12 fans are also going to be thinking about doing business in Fort Worth,” he said. “We’re game-ready. We offer a world-class destination in terms of cleanliness, safety and opportunity. That’s the downstream of hospitality. It generates commerce and create jobs, which in turn is good for TCU.”

Mayor Betsy Price has vowed to continue the city’s support of TCU, including the Purple Fridays promotion, painting the Trinity River banks and generally trumpeting the Frogs’ value to the city.

“TCU’s success has been a source of pride for Fort Worth,” said City Council member Jungas Jordan ’70, who represents District 6. “The whole city is cheering for their success and is excited for them joining the Big 12. The school has validated how important it is to the city. I think we might have to change our slogan to ‘Cowboys, Culture and Horned Frogs.’ ”
Related stories:
Home conference home – From SWC castoff, through five leagues in 17 years, to BCS credibility, and, finally, into the Big 12
The original conference call – A century ago TCU fought to play in the Southwest Conference. With the Big 12, they won their way in.
Dancing in Sundance Square – Fort Worth city leaders are over the moon with excitement about the hometown Frogs’ move to the Big 12.

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