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Mac Engel: Fort Worth, Texas, is the weirdest 'major league' city in the United States

Mac Engel, Fort Worth Star-Telegram on

Published in Baseball

FORT WORTH, Texas — Fort Worth’s ability to grow exponentially while few notice remains one its greatest strengths and fatal flaws.

There remains a loyal sector of the population who love Fort Worth and would prefer it not be listed on a map, and blocked to GPS. There are those who love Fort Worth and would prefer it take the “Austin” or “Nashville” track to growth.

According to the latest report of America’s cities ranked by population, Fort Worth is now the 11th largest city in the U.S. If you include Major League Soccer, Fort Worth is by far the largest city in the U.S. that does not feature a major professional sports franchise.

There are multiple reasons, tops among them the city has never really flirted with trying to recruit/start a major pro sports franchise.

While Dallas mayor Eric Johnson lobbies hard for his city to house another NFL franchise, which will never be allowed as long as anyone named “Jones” owns the Dallas Cowboys, Fort Worth continues to take a quieter approach to pro sports.

Fort Worth’s leadership has been consistent over the years that it never felt the concessions necessary to land a pro sports franchise are worth the trade; you can always find an Ivy League economist, usually the same one, to make the case for and against the value of a pro sports franchise to a city.

The city’s involvement in “bigger” sports as a means for tourism, growth and recruitment of potential businesses remains in hosting a few games, and being a part of the event held east of town.

Fort Worth will get another “big league test” when the Major League Baseball All-Star game and its week’s worth of events come to Arlington beginning Friday, July 12 and running through Tuesday, July 16.

On Sunday, MLB will conduct its 2024 amateur draft from the Cowtown Coliseum in the Stockyards. MLB will announce other local events on Monday.

“It is difficult without an anchor sports team,” Fort Worth mayor Mattie Parker said in a phone interview. “There is a lot of intention (to attract sports-related events). The NCAA gymnastics championships has been a boon for us. But if you are not a ‘Major League’ sports hub it does make it harder.”

Shortly before MLB officials scouted potential spots for its All-Star related events, Fort Worth city officials leaned on the league to make sure it stopped at a few places in Fort Worth before making any decisions. That sales pitch did change some minds.

One of the bigger challenges over the years is stopping people long enough to come to Fort Worth to scout the area.

ESPN and ABC used Sundance Square extensively as its anchor for multiple football events, most notably the Super Bowl and major college games, held at AT&T Stadium. The visual of Sundance Square is the best accessible backdrop for a TV open-air “studio shot” in the entire region.

With the creation of Dickies Arena, and its plaza that features a good view of the Fort Worth skyline, that’s become a solid alternative, if not superior, angle.

 

The planned expansion and development of the Fort Worth Stockyards will provide more opportunities for tourism, and to attract potential events.

The other organic thread to this is that over the last 10 years this region has morphed into a seamless series of developments, people and cars. Does Fort Worth “need” a pro sports team when maybe the sign should read: “Welcome to DallasFortWorthFriscoArlingtonNRHAledoRockwallHEB.” Who cares if a team is in Fort Worth or Frisco when it’s all one parking lot?

“There is a distinct difference between the communities, and that has always been Fort Worth’s struggle. If you come here, you see it. But you have to come here,” Parker said. “Nationally, they lump Fort Worth in with the rest, until they come here.

“Since I have been involved (as the mayor) I do think there is national interest in the development side, and we’re continuing to push that.”

Fort Worth remains a home to some minor league teams, which are always a hit and miss property; the Texas Brahmas have created a successful niche in minor league hockey played in North Richland Hills.

The Fort Worth Vaqueros FC continue to do OK in low level pro soccer. The Panther City lacrosse team has struggled to find a wider audience.

There had been discussions to build a soccer complex in north Fort Worth to potentially attract a women’s professional soccer team. Those appears to have stalled; Dallas Trinity FC is slated to start play this fall in the USL Super League.

Fort Worth’s immediate future in sports will include the races at Texas Motor Speedway, and events at Dickies Arena. The building received rave reviews when it hosted the 2022 NCAA men’s basketball regional. The NCAA has found a good home for its gymnastics championships at Dickies.

Fort Worth’s future with pro sports, at least for the next 15 to 20 years, will be as a complement to the big events that come to the area. Expect Fort Worth to host a handful of World Cup related events when the tournament comes to North America in 2026.

When/if the Super Bowl returns to Arlington, Fort Worth will be involved.

Despite its logical size as a “big league” city, Fort Worth remains a part of one without being one.

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©2024 Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Visit star-telegram.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

 

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