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TURF WARS

Anne Duncan was hired to put Dallas on the map as a sports capital. After a year on the job, she answers critics who say she hasn’t gotten the ball rolling.
By Dan Baldwin |

IT WAS WITH A GREAT DEAL OF FANFARE THAT ANNE Duncan came to Dallas a year ago to run the Dallas International Sports Commission. Established in 1989 as one result of the Dallas International Initiative, the commission was to help lure major sporting events-sports festivals, Super Bowls, national and world championships-to Dallas.

Worldwide recognition for the city, a healthy economic boost and, eventually, grand, new facilities would be DISC’S trademark. Funding from local individuals and corporations was put in place, and DISC loaded its board of directors like an Apache helicopter. Headed by Tom Landry, the roster reads like a mailing list from Power Brokers, Inc.: Lamar Hunt; the Cotton Bowl’s Jim Brock; Park Board President Jim Graham; Michael Jordan from PepsiCo; Roger Staubach. . . the list goes on.

Duncan, young (she’s now 30) and energetic, came from Atlanta. Fresh off that city’s startling string of acquisitions-1996 Summer Olympics, 1994 Super Bowl, to name a few-she promised to get things moving quickly. Events would be on-line by the middle of 1991, she told The Dallas Morning News soon after taking the position. Dallas would be hopping.

As 1992 dawns, it hasn’t happened yet, and some are indeed hopping-mad. Fingers are pointing-some at DISC as a whole, some at Duncan. Some critics and sports promotors have professional disagreements with DISC’s scope and style, grumbling that it poses as a civic body when, in fact, it is privately funded. They complain that groups trying to bring sporting events to Dallas actually find themselves in direct competition with the commission.

Other criticisms seem motivated by petty differences, and at least one DISC board member charges another with mounting a “vendetta” against Duncan. Some say that Duncan is underqualified to run such an important, high-profile agency (the Dallas job is a plum in the industry, advertised in the “low six figures,” according to one industry insider). It has been suggested that Duncan was not on firm footing when she left Atlanta, that her bosses were happy to let her go and that she oversold her part in Atlanta’s being named to host the 1996 Olympics.

Duncan and most DISC board members flatly reject the criticisms. They say that the sports commission is on track, that they cannot jump on every bandwagon that goes rolling by their office and that Anne Duncan has, if anything, exceeded expectations.



WHILE MUCH OF THE CRITICISM AIMED AT Duncan is undeserved, it’s not surprising, given the stakes, that she’s been second-guessed. The economic impact of large sporting events is staggering. Staging six World Cup games, for instance, can bring as much as $170 million into a community. While Dallas thinks of itself as a good sports town, it has fallen well behind other cities in attracting major events and festivals. The NCAA Final Four is the only major sports championship held in Dallas since 1985. Meanwhile, Indianapolis, Minneapolis and Atlanta, with the help of active sports commisions, have come from nowhere fast.

Here at home, at least two groups have found themselves at cross-purposes with DISC. The first is World Cup Dallas, headed by Martin Conley and Park Board President Jim Graham, also a DISC board member. The problems began in 1990 (before Duncan arrived) when DISC was doing much of its start-up fund raising while Graham and Conley were also trying to raise money for World Cup Dallas. Graham says that several potential sponsors told him they thought they had already given to World Cup Dallas when they gave to DISC.

The mistaken belief that DISC is heading the World Cup bid is understandable (partly because of Tom Lan-dry’s high-profile involvement in both), but the confusion reached the point, according to World Cup USA’s Dick Cecil, vice president of venues, that “there were mixed signals coming out of Dallas as to who was really in charge. I told Jim Graham that he and Martin Conley needed to correct this. They are who we look to.” Cecil’s evaluation of stadiums in various cities will weigh heavily when it comes to deciding which contenders get games.

The effort to bring 1994 World Cup soccer games to Dallas actually began in 1987, two years before there was a DISC. Currently there are 19 cities vying for 12 venues. Dallas has bid for every level: opening ceremonies, media center and games in every round of the competition. Funding is in place to convert the Cotton Bowl playing surface from artificial turf to natural grass (a requirement for World Cup play), and that change alone keeps Dallas in strong contention for early games. But in order for the city to have a legitimate chance for anything more than opening-round games between, say, the Cameroons and Bolivia, major improvements, to the tune of $15 to $20 million, must be committed for the Cotton Bowl, and very soon. Late in the 1991 state legislative session, an attempt to solve the problem failed when Dallas-area representatives and local officials were unable to join forces and push for a bill that would have raised the necessary millions through the county hotel tax.

In the first quarter of 1992 the 12 venues will be announced. Then the race will begin, among the dozen happy cities, to see who gets the more important-and lucrative- later-round games. World Cup officials made it very clear in November that a city’s level of commitment to its venue will play an important part in deciding who gets what.

It will take a lot of arm-twisting to get those additional funds from the city, and a unified front is crucial. That’s why, when Anne Duncan was quoted on a local news report saying that Dallas was out of contention for the World Cup, more than a few members of World Cup Dallas were upset.

“I spent the next two weeks on the phone just doing damage control,” explains Conley, the president of World Cup Dallas, who is adamant that he is not looking for a fight with DISC. “I want to keep everything on an even keel, but it was just so frustrating to be working so hard on something and then have a comment like that come out.”

Duncan says the remark was taken out of context. She says she never meant that Dallas would get no games, only that it was understood that the opening ceremonies and finals would go to the best stadiums in the country. Since the bond election for the Cotton Bowl renovation had failed, Dallas would not rank among the “best.”

Conley, who is on loan to World Cup Dallas from the Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau, has helped other bid committees with the myriad logistical details involved in putting bids together. Such efforts entail knowing the number of available hotel rooms, being able to explain the transit system and pinpointing support groups to help with the cause. At World Cup Dallas, he is a staff of one, and he often feels overwhelmed.

“Anne Duncan has never called me on the phone and asked how she could help,” he explained a week before World Cup officials made their final site visit to Dallas in early November. It was not until that same month that Conley, sitting in for Jim Graham, attended a DISC meeting and gave the group an impromptu report on the status of World Cup Dallas.

Graham, who is still a DISC board member, shares Conley’s frustration, but is more diplomatic. “I think through trial and error it [DISC’S role] will be clarified,” he says.

Graham is reluctant to go on the record with serious criticisms of DISC- Like everyone involved in marketing Dallas as a sports venue, he knows that the success or failure of future projects depends heavily on DISC. However, when I asked several DISC board members to comment on the negative buzz about Duncan, most automatically assumed it was Graham who was leveling all the charges (not so). That reaction, and a general sense that there is bad blood between Graham and Duncan, stems in part from a memo put in DISC board packets that was critical of World Cup Dallas and questioned its ability to land the games. According to a DISC board member, the memo was generated by a DISC staffer with Duncan’s consent.

“I’d have been upset, too,” says DISC board member Scott Bennett of Graham’s reaction. Bennett, a partner with Paradigm Strategies, a Dallas-based leveraged buyout firm, emphasizes his support of World Cup Dallas. “But you have to get over it. Graham is thin-skinned and he’s vindictive, and it gets in the way of doing a good job. Plenty of people say Graham is spending more time with a vendetta against Anne Duncan rather than getting the World Cup here.”



THE OTHER GROUP GIVING DISC LESS THAN glowing marks is a bid committee headed by Dallasite John Ernst, an independent consultant who wants to bring the International Special Olympics (ISO) competition to Dallas in 1995, In the summer of 1991 Ernst sought an endorsement of his bid from DISC, but instead received a copy of a DISC letter sent to Doug Single, former SMU athletic director and current president and CEO of Special Olympics International. The letter, signed by Anne Duncan and Tom Lan-dry, asked that the Ernst bid not be considered. Especially galling to Ernst was the – . letter’s suggestion that if the bid competition were reopened, DISC would be interested in submitting its own bid.

Bennett believes that the DISC letter was in the best interests of the city. “[Ernst’s] bid document was, at best, sloppy. It was a poor bid. He was doing it as a promoter, not as a civic project. You’re talking about something that would be making him money.

“When some guy who we don’t know and couldn’t find much about says he is going to raise $20 million dollars, we have to take a hard look. We couldn’t develop the confidence level that Ernst could get this done. We felt there were some misrepresentations. Do we ignore it or come out and say it shouldn’t happen? We decided to be a traffic cop.”

In Bennett’s view, DISC’S intervention was justified for three reasons. First, he says, Ernst’s group did not have the endorsement of the Texas Special Olympics. Second, Bennett and other board members believe that Athens, Greece, has a virtual lock on the event. And finally, he doubts that Ernst and his group could make good on their pledge to raise the $24 million (later reduced to $22 million) Ernst claimed it would take to host the games.

In November, Single said that Dallas was still in the running for the ISO competition. He also went on to explain that it is not unusual for local and state chapters of Special Olympics to balk at efforts to bring the international event to their area. The event stretches those groups’ resources and has a history of losing money. Both Ernst and Single stress that the 1991 ISO, held in Minneapolis, made money for all concerned and provides a model for future bids, a model Ernst says he followed closely.

As for fund raising, Ernst admits that Minneapolis had something he doesn’t have: a big underwriter, the Irwin Jacobs Companies. (An Athens program would be federally subsidized by the Greek government.) Bennett is convinced (and has convinced DISC) that Ernst and his group would be hard pressed to raise the money. The result, he believes, would be a sloppy event that would make Dallas look bad. Even if Ernst got the bid and got the backing (in-kind or cash) to put on his event, DISC members stress that would mean $22 million less for sponsors to spend on other activities that DISC believes would be better for the community.

So was DISC treating Ernst as a competitor? “I can see how you can draw that conclusion,” Ernst says. As to whether it was DISC’s role to ward off an unwanted competitor, Duncan refers inquiries to Scott Bennett.

As D Magazine went to press, the ISO site selection was set for the beginning of December. The effects of the DISC letter are hard to gauge. “You can’t overlook something like that,” Doug Single says. Says Ernst: “At a time when we needed some support, it showed dissension. Our competition shouldn’t be from ourselves.” But he says that if Dallas loses out, he won’t blame DISC. As for Bennett’s jabs about self-interest, Ernst says that he has no lock on any staff jobs that will be created if Dallas has the winning ISO bid, So far, he says, the entire bid effort has been carried out by volunteers.

So just what is DISC’s role in the city’s sports initiative? And what is Anne Duncan’s role in DISC? The answer depends on who you talk to.

David Whitney, the president of the Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau, also wrote Doug Single a letter-in support of John Ernst’s bid. Whitney, who worked with Ernst on the proposal, wishes that DISC would broaden its focus beyond Big Events.

“Our position was that we wanted to bring the event [ISO] to Dallas,” Whitney says. “It was frustrating when DISC took that position. We look for any event which will have a positive impact on the city.”

Whitney is among those who, when DISC was being formed, thought it would not only replace the Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau in its unofficial role of assisting local bid groups, but would be more aggressive in seeking a variety of small and midsize attractions.

“I had some personal expectations,” Whitney explains. “We would like to see them more proactive with individual governing bodies and build a base that way. But they have chosen to go after bigger events such as the Goodwill Games. If they can do that, it would be fantastic. I want to stress that to date we’ve had a good working relationship with DISC.”

Anne Duncan insists that DISC should not be “throwing our resources into five little events which will sweep into our community and not leave lasting impressions.” She says that DISC junior staff members will give assistance to smaller events, but she wants the commission to be “focusing on the bull’s-eye’1-and she believes it is. If DISC’S aim is true, the 1998 Goodwill Games, the brainchild of broadcasting giant Ted Turner, will be held in Dallas. According to Jack Kelly, Goodwill Games president, Dallas will more than likely be announced in January as one of five finalists. DISC has produced an impressive, encyclopedic bid for the Games, and draws rave reviews from Kelly, who says, “They really know what they are doing.”

If Dallas wins the bid, and all happens as planned, a natatorium and velodrome would be built, fitting in with Duncan’s long-range plan to lure events that will themselves create future opportunities. With those facilities in place, Dallas could then compete for world-class swimming and cycling events.

Yet even this promising step has drawn fire from some quarters. Nye Lavalle, chairman and managing director of Sports Marketing Group in far North Dallas, predicts that Turner’s losses in the 1990 games, held in Seattle, and likely losses in St. Petersburg in 1994 will put an end to the games. Kelly says he put that question to Turner himself and came away with an understanding that Turner was committed for the long haul.

To counter the rap that DISC is fixated on national events. Duncan points out working contacts with such groups as the Dallas Figure Skating Club, Southwest Conference Post Season Basketball Classic and the Dallas Team Sports Council, and she is confident that these seeds will bear fruit. Duncan stresses that she has never meant to imply that DISC itself would be luring a scries of smaller competitions to Dallas. According to Duncan, when she told the Morning News that she would “have events on-line by midyear,” she meant she would have programming in place so that DISC would be ready to go after events. Whatever the expectations that accompanied her to Dallas, Duncan says, she arrived to find herself virtually starting from scratch.

“When I got here there was a checkbook that had had about six checks written out of it,” Duncan explains. “That was about it.” She had no staff, but within three months had received more than 1,000 inquiries from people wanting to work for her. Landry and his board had done plenty of fund raising so they would be flush when the time came to set up shop, but they forgot the shop.

“We had no mission statement, no clear objectives,” Duncan says. Much of what Duncan has been doing is organizational, such as developing the “DISC Strategic Plan.” an impressive document that outlines long-term objectives and specific, step-by-step ways of achieving those objectives.

’It’s like looking at an investment portfolio where you only look for short-term gains,” Duncan says. “Our goal is to develop over the long term. Two years from now I hope to have put on the map two mega-events.” Says DISC chairman Tom Landry: “It would be great to get a Final Four or Super Bowl here but that’s not going to happen overnight.”

While DISC’s focus on the long term has left more than a few groups impatient, it’s clear that DISC, with its staff of six, cannot run to support each of the estimated 50 to 60 ideas they receive each week from promoters, marketing groups and earnest individuals. As Scott Bennett says, “Anyone who has a dream and we don’t support it, we’re doing the wrong thing.”



THE MORE SNIDE, CARPING SUGGES-tions-that Duncan is unqualified, that she oversold her participation in the Atlanta Olympics effort and that her bosses were happy to be rid of her-appear unjustified. Duncan’s supervisor in Atlanta says, “She was one of our stars-one of the brightest, sharpest young managers I’ve ever known in 20 years in the business.”

When Duncan left Atlanta after six years, she was the executive director of the Atlanta Sports Council and director of sports for Atlanta’s organizing committee for the 1996 Olympic Games. Her primary responsibility, according to Charles Van Rysselberge, executive vice president of the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, was to coordinate more than 30 major amateur events over a three-year period. Essentially she was charged with creating a track record for Atlanta to show the International Olympic committee that the city could handle everything from team handball to equestrian events. The record would show that her mission was accomplished.

This, of course, does not mean that Duncan single-handedly delivered the Games to Atlanta; nor did she ever claim to have done so. People involved with the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games offer varying judgments as to the extent of Duncan’s influence, though no one remotely suggested that she was not good at her work.

What is more relevant is that Duncan’s hiring was the result of an eight-month search involving 250 to 300 candidates. It’s unlikely that she topped such a field with nothing but glittering promises. “We were impressed by her knowledge and maturity at her age,” says Landry. “We were all very impressed with how she handled herself during her interviews.”

It’s tempting to assume that some of the bumps in Duncan’s road result from the simple fact that she is a woman working in a traditionally male Field. But if good-ol’-boyism has reared its Stetsoned head, Duncan says she hasn’t noticed.

“Did I have a fear? No. Did everyone warn me about it? Absolutely. But I love challenges. Put me in cold water, and I’ll swim. What I think I was brought here to do was change things a little, change the way we’ve approached sports activities in this community.

“It [the criticism] slides past me,” Duncan says. “I learned in Atlanta that when you’re in the kitchen, it’s going to be hot sometimes. So I deal with that. I’m going to have a group that’s going to be supporters and a group that’s going to be detractors.”

Reasonable people can-and, obviously, do-disagree over what DISC should be. Some say the group should be supporting bids rather than preparing their own. Others say they should be wooing the directors of, say, fencing or equestrian events, luring their national championships to Dallas, But the great majority of DISC board members are confident that Duncan is doing the right thing for Dallas and that Dallas will profit in the long run.

As Hoop-It-Up founder and DISC board member Terry Murphy says: ’If you had asked me a year ago if we would be farther along at this point, I would have said, ’yes.’ Am I disappointed? No. The degree of difficulty in what we are doing is incredible. It’s a much harder process than any of us thought.”

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