AT&T Stadium (Cowboys Stadium) may just be the best thing to happen to sports in North Texas. True, we have the Mavericks and the Stars, but nothing says ‘Sexy Sports Town’ like a monstrous steel and glass superstructure glowering at Ranger’s Ballpark from across the parking lot.
Why this bold statement about AT&T Stadium? Because after seven years of waiting and preparation pitch, the NCAA Final Four will take place in Arlington, TX in April, 2014.
North Texas last hosted the Final Four in 1986. True, we have the Cotton Bowl, but since Jerry Jones built his new stadium in 2009, the area has seen an uptick in high profile sporting events as AT&T Stadium has garnered a reputation as one of the premiere sports venues in the southwest, if not in the entire country.
The venue welcomed Super Bowl XLV in 2011, as well as NCAA Basketball’s Sweet 16 and Elite 8 in 2013. In 2015, the stadium will make history as the site of the first College Football National Championship game.
“Obviously the region has …a great infrastructure – the hotel industry, airport and now with AT&T Stadium, American Airlines Center…I think the best days for North Texas (are ahead). As regards a national sporting events thing, I think we’re just seeing the tip of the iceberg. I think as we go into the next decade this area will continue to attract the biggest and best sporting events.” said AT&T Cotton Bowl’s CEO, Rick Baker, at the North Texas Commission’s Annual Member Luncheon at the Irving Convention Center on Sep. 13.
Jerry’s got it going on.
Thanks to Bracket Town, fans not able to get a seat in Jerry’s shiny AT&T Stadium can still get a piece of the action. Residents may remember Super Bowl XLV’s NFL Experience. Games, autographs, celebrities – it was a football convention of epic proportions.
It pales in comparison to what the NCAA has planned. Besides the sports memorabilia, Bracket Town offers a one stop shop for a fan’s entertainment needs.
“One of the things that I love most about the NCAA is they really truly want to include people, (even if) like Rick said, they don’t have a ticket to the game,” said Dallas Cowboys Executive VP and Chief Brand Officer, Charlotte Jones Anderson. “They stage the biggest concert/game-watching party over those three days…and bring in headline acts like Kenny Chesney and Jimmy Buffet and Maroon 5 and Sting and the list goes on and on.
“They take a break for the game, put the games on the big screen. And it’s an attraction that many people here don’t get to see.”
The icing on the cake? It’s free.
Even if the host committee is still googly-eyed over the prestige the Final Four will bring to the region, they hope it will not only be a sporting event, but spark a wave of grassroots community service, as well.
“To be able to have an event like this…(to) spur people to action is going to be a great, great opportunity for us in North Texas to really be impactful,” said Rolando Blackman, former Dallas Maverick, four-time NBA All-Star and member of the local organizing committee for the Final Four.
Planned projects include educating minorities on opportunities for higher education, awarding grants to local sports programs to provide scholarships for underprivileged kids and building new parks and basketball courts around the city.
Initiatives like this are significant for Blackman on a very personal level. Before setting an 18-year record for most points scored by a Maverick, he was a scared immigrant kid from Panama.
“It’s important to know that a kid like me came from Panama City speaking Spanish, having to go to remedial English, and trying to understand what this culture is all about…,” Blackman said.
“I was given an opportunity, was given a chance and performed (in) a community program that had us becoming student athlete leaders,” he continued. “At the time I didn’t know what he (the program leader) was talking about. All I knew, I had to show up in the morning to the park at six o’clock. He had me running, doing pushing, sit-ups and shooting this thing with my hands and there was a basket – I didn’t know what that was.
“But (he) also just tried to talk to me about education, school, class – being part of society, being a bright light…things I experienced as an 8-year-old continued on through 9,10,11 – by the time I was 11,12 years old my shoulders were back, chest popped out – I was thinking about things that would help the community.
“I’m saying all of this to say you never know who you might help… The things we want to have happen are possible at present in our society. So please be involved. Please take these thoughts and create and continue the program even after this great event has passed us.”
“For myself, I just would like to ask everybody in this room to feel like they’re on a bigger team,” said host committee member and Basketball Hall of Famer, Nancy “Lady Magic” Lieberman. “Anybody who’s ever made anything in life has never done it by themselves.
“And to have this power, this vision…we can affect the next generation by what we do, what we give, how we serve…So we’re just trying to do our part of the vision of the NCAA to be a solid partner and to be great servants.”