Host committee president and CEO Bill Lively (photographed at Cowboys Stadium) and his team are taking extra measures to make the business community feel welcome at the big game. Photography by Tadd Myers

Why the 2011 Super Bowl Is a Game Changer For North Texas

When as many as 30,000 CEOs gather here in February for the Super Bowl, they’ll find that a positive, newly unified North Texas boasts the most put-together business community in the world.

The Super Bowl is not only a football game. If it were merely a game, I wouldn’t be devoting a special edition to it—especially months before the event.

The Super Bowl has become, instead, an outsized cultural phenomenon. The actual game is only the centerpiece. Next February, North Texas will find itself hosting the largest convocation of business executives in the world. Some 100,000 are expected to attend; among them, as many as 30,000 CEOs.

When Bill Lively, president and CEO of the host committee, came to see me over a year ago, I was at first puzzled why a game—even this game—should require planning so far in advance. I am puzzled no longer. Yes, Super Bowl week will produce a very welcome $600 million boost to the local economy. But the real benefit is bigger and longer-lasting. The host committee’s mission is nothing less than to demonstrate that Dallas-Fort Worth is the most put-together business community in the world.

Bill Lively and Roger Staubach have carefully laid the groundwork in making our first Super Bowl a new high mark in regional cooperation.

The timing could not be better. The relative performance of the Dallas-Fort Worth economy in the recession has not gone unnoticed in Europe and Asia, in the Northeast and in California. Joel Kotkin, the author and Forbes columnist, has written about “emerging world cities” such as Shanghai, Mumbai, Moscow, and Dubai. In North America, he ranks Calgary, Houston, and Dallas in the same category. It is not just a matter of demographics, even though Houston and Dallas are the two fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the country. Rather, it is our cities’ rising corporate power: “Together, the two Texas cities account for about as many Fortune firms as New York, once home to almost a third of the nation’s largest companies.”

Can a single event—even an event as spectacular as a Super Bowl played at the new Cowboys Stadium—really have an impact on our long-term development as an emerging world center? For an answer, let’s go back in history.

In 1936, Dallas hosted the Texas Centennial Exposition, celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Texas Revolution. At the time, Dallas was little more than a provincial oil town on the prairie. It had only two real assets: a visionary banker named R. L. Thornton and 285 empty acres in Fair Park. By pulling together his business colleagues and competitors, Thornton raised $10 million (this was the Depression), won the bid to put the Exposition at Fair Park, and in one year’s time installed the world’s greatest collection of Art Deco buildings on its grounds.

The Centennial brought 7 million visitors to Dallas and catapulted the city into the national limelight (the Exposition was featured on Life magazine covers twice that year). But the most important effect was long-term. After World War II, many of those visitors decided Dallas was the coming place and moved here, propelling a post-war boom in population that has not yet ended.

Amon Carter, publisher of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, was so infuriated by the Dallas coup in getting the Exposition that he hired Sally Rand and Her Fan Dancers—the most risque show imaginable—and put up a billboard with Sally’s picture across from Fair Park’s entrance that read, “Stay in Dallas for education. Come to Fort Worth for fun.”

Carter and Thornton long ago went to their respective rewards, but the rivalry they engendered between Fort Worth and Dallas managed to outlast them. The time has finally come to bury them both and let them enjoy the peace they deserve. As Thornton himself used to say when corralling the Dallas business community, “It’s time to stop squabbling over who will get the biggest slice of the pie. The easiest solution is just to make the damned pie bigger.”

Bill Lively and Roger Staubach have carefully laid the groundwork in making our first Super Bowl a new high mark in regional cooperation. I’ve visited with leaders in Dallas, Fort Worth, Arlington, Irving, Richardson, and the other major suburbs. For the first time I can remember, there is a palpable sense of excitement in how the two cities and its suburbs can build this region together. Civic leaders understand that Fort Worth and Dallas actually complement one another, and their suburbs—as Alliance Airport and Plano’s Legacy show—are as important to corporate development as the cities themselves.

This is now a big, sprawling place—maybe too big and too sprawling. But the energy and the optimism here are hard to find in other cities in America. Our business ethos is even rarer: encouraging, dynamic, and fully committed to growth.

The Super Bowl presents an unparalleled opportunity to put these qualities on display for the world’s business leadership to see and experience. That’s why we have produced this special edition. And that’s why we hope it will convince you to join in the effort.


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