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Why Mayor Johnson’s Sports Committee Will Likely Be a Wild Pitch

It's a good idea as long as you don't start pondering the particulars.
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Mayor Eric Johnson, speaking during the State of the City address in 2019. Courtesy of the Dallas Regional Chamber

Mayor Eric Johnson is on a kick about attracting more pro sports teams to Dallas, so he did what politicians dependably do: form a committee. The Ad Hoc Committee on Professional Sports Recruitment and Retention, to be specific, promises to do a whole lot of assessing, analyzing, and strategizing to bring more pro sports franchises and events to Dallas after too many years of losing out to the suburbs.

Which is sound enough in theory. Johnson seems particularly riled up about this, too. A couple weeks back, he tweeted at CBS that Dallas should have its own pro team because of how much our region—not our county—has grown. He pointedly deployed asterisks in a memo announcing the new committee, noting that the *Dallas* Wings and *Dallas* Cowboys do not, in fact, play their games in Dallas. Give him an A-plus for vigor.

It’s the follow-through that’ll be the issue. Because while the announcement is brimming with can-do attitude, it’s hard to envision what this will accomplish.

Let’s break it down. Johnson names six pro franchises in the memo along with the PGA. Only two of those entities, the Mavericks and Stars, currently play games or matches in the city of Dallas. Their joint lease at the American Airlines Center expiring in 2031, so top priority is making arrangements for them to stay here. That seems reasonable enough.

After that is when things get dubious. The Cowboys and the Rangers are locked into mega-venues in Arlington; they’re not coming to Dallas any time soon, if ever. Johnson knows this, hence the bluster about luring an NFL expansion team to Dallas. He even touted our metropolitan footprint surpassing metro Chicago’s sooner than later as justification, conveniently leaving out that the Windy City doesn’t have a second team, either. New York does, but the Giants and Jets both play in New Jersey. Los Angeles brought in Rams and Chargers in 2016 and 2017, respectively, a byproduct of a land rush among three teams (the Raiders were the third) to fill a market that had inexplicably been vacant for two decades. That set of circumstances isn’t happening again. After that, it’s one-team markets across the board.

(Sidebar: you know who played a major role in whipping NFL owners and league brass alike into making the LA moves happen? Jerry Jones. You know who would raise absolute hell at the thought of sharing his territory with another team? Mm-hmm.)

Moving down the line, good luck getting FC Dallas to come south. Sure, Johnson and Co. could sell ownership on the vision fostered in markets like Los Angeles and Atlanta, whose MLS teams are thriving in part because they built stadiums in the city rather than in the suburbs. But the on-field product is just part of FC Dallas’ operation. The team’s biggest influence comes on the grassroots level, from the 17 fields adjacent to Toyota Stadium that make them a youth sports hub to the academy that’s the best incubator going for the U.S. Men’s National team. They’re so entrenched that the National Soccer Hall of Fame relocated to Frisco four years ago to set up shop in Toyota Stadium alongside them.

The same will soon go for the PGA, which is in the process of relocating its headquarters from South Florida to Frisco to create what CEO Seth Waugh calls the Silicon Valley of golf. I recommend reading my cover story from February for what that entails, but, suffice to say, neither the PGA nor Frisco is going to such extremes only for the association to begin flirting with Dallas once they’ve set up shop.

That leaves the Wings, who certainly could use more glamorous digs than what UTA can offer. One problem: why should anyone assume Dallas would be their preferred destination whenever the team does weigh up moving, given that their ownership group just set up Panther City Lacrosse Club, an expansion team in the National Lacrosse League, in Fort Worth? Home to the newly built Dickies Arena?

So, yeah, not looking promising! (Johnson’s committee also has a priority to renovate the Cotton Bowl to “National Football League standards” and the Fair Park Coliseum to “Women’s National Basketball Association standards.” That would likely be funded with hotel tax revenue allocated to Fair Park if voters approve the Brimer Bill in November.)

Which isn’t to say things are hopeless. North Texas also will bid on being a host city for the World Cup, and maybe this committee can help advocate for that. The Dallas Open is fresh proof that this remains a city that can, should, and will compete for high-end sports properties in the years to come (and, yes, it’s actually in Dallas, not University Park—Tim reached out to SMU and everything).

Maybe there is a possibility of expansion teams of some sort—portions of Johnson’s memo seem to be banking on that possibility—but sports leagues almost always prefer to cast their nets wider than deeper, and every one of America’s six largest pro leagues has multiple untapped metros they could hit instead of doubling up here.

The good news is, right now, there’s no cause to expect the Mavs or Stars will fly the coop completely. Mark Cuban recently spent a lot of money on a new state-of-the-art practice facility, and he owns plenty of land in the Cedars. If and hopefully when those stay in town, Johnson will surely trumpet that as a victory of his committee, which is probably at least part of the point. It’s a bureaucratic spectacle. A clever spectacle, mind you, given how much people care about sports and it being a spectacular bummer that most of the big ones play outside the city limits.

But establishing a committee and naming mostly impossible names comes off less like a pathway to action than a ploy to goad people into saying something about Johnson saying something. He’s rather good at that. It’ll be even better when we have reason to suspect this will amount to more than just bluster.

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Mike Piellucci

Mike Piellucci

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Mike Piellucci is D Magazine's sports editor. He is a former staffer at The Athletic and VICE, and his freelance…