College football kicks off with all eyes on Fort Worth

Originally Featured on the Fort Worth Star Telegram on Aug 30, 2019

When nearly 2 million people tune in to ESPN’s “College GameDay” on Saturday, Fort Worth will be front and center.

The game between Oregon and Auburn will be played at AT&T Stadium, but Rece Davis, Lee Corso and crew will be in Sundance Square. That’s good for DFW sports fans, but it’s great for Fort Worth as the city looks to boost tourism and national attention.

“You can’t pay for the kind of free advertising ‘GameDay’ gives us,” said Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price.

“College GameDay” averaged 1.9 million viewers last year and it’s safe to assume that number will be the same or better for broadcasts this year. That’s priceless exposure, said Mitch Whitten, executive vice president for marketing and strategy for Visit Fort Worth.

Studies have shown most outsiders imagine Fort Worth as a much smaller city, between 30th and 40th in size — think Albuquerque, New Mexico, or Fresno, California — instead of as a top 20 city, larger than Seattle, Denver or San Francisco, Whitten said.

“There’s no question that nationally people associate Dallas-Fort Worth as one big area,” he said. “This helps us elevate Fort Worth as a city of its own.”

Cowtown welcomed 9.4 million people last year, some through conventions and others through traditional tourism. The hope is when people tune in for “GameDay” at 8 a.m.

Saturday shots of scenic Sundance Square, the skyline and footage from around town will pique curiosity about Fort Worth. Last year when ESPN visited TCU, traffic to Visit Fort Worth’s website shot up 200%, Whitten said. Ideally some of those who search for Fort Worth will be enticed to visit.

Most of what people will see Saturday is Sundance Square.

That’s thanks to a delegation that included the mayor and business leaders who convinced ESPN to shoot in Fort Worth nearly a decade ago. ESPN has been here for the Super Bowl, the College Football Playoff National Championship and two other “College GameDay” broadcasts.

“The area is a great melting pot of football fans with all the local colleges and high schools in the vicinity,” coordinating producer Drew Gallagher wrote in a statement. “Those fans had always provided great energy for the show. Combine that with the backdrop and the surrounding area, it is a location we love coming back to.”

It’s not clear how many will come downtown for “GameDay,” but Johnny Campbell, president and CEO of Sundance Square, said he expects “a few thousand.”

Visitors will shop and dine downtown, which is great for local businesses, he said.

Folks should also have an easy time getting around. There are a few street closures between 5 a.m. and 3 p.m. Saturday: Main Street will closed from Second to Fifth streets and Third and Fourth streets will be closed from Houston to Commerce streets. Parking is free in the Sundance Square garages.

Designers consulted with ESPN to get a feel for the best way for TV broadcasters to shoot out of Sundance, Campbell said. Instead of trucks, wires and satellites cluttering up the plaza or adjacent streets, fiber optics run to a nearby parking garage. That keeps the plaza pedestrian friendly, he said.

“People often ask whether that view down Main Street is real or a backdrop, which I think says a lot about our downtown,” Campbell said.