Local giants gather to talk sports, economy

DALLAS -- A lively discussion took place on a stage on floor of the American Airlines Center with a star-studded panel of the area's biggest sports movers and shakers.

The National Sports Marketing Network North Texas Chapter held its inaugural event and attracted to its panel Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, Texas Rangers general managing partner and CEO Chuck Greenberg, Hunt Sports Group chairman Clark Hunt, and Bill Lively, the president and CEO of the North Texas Super Bowl XLV Host Committee.

The umbrella discussion topic was the economics and growth of sports in Dallas-Fort Worth. Take for instance, the major sporting events in here just in this past calendar year starting February 2010: The NBA All-Star Game, the World Series and coming in 32 days, the Super Bowl.

Other topics ranged from selling tickets to social media to broadcast rights. The first portion of the discussion dealt with the difficulties of attracting fans to games during the continuing economic downturn and in the face of steep sports competition with all four major professional sports, Texas Motor Speedway, plus Major League Soccer's FC Dallas and even TCU and SMU.

Cuban, whose Mavs continue a sellout streak that's surpassed 300 games, but have had to hustle more to keep it going, put it this way: "I liked it when the Stars sucked. I liked it when the Cowboys sucked. Life was easy."

Greenberg is the new guy in town, a Pittsburgher who took over the reins of the Rangers franchise along with Nolan Ryan and a group of investors. He came on at the perfect time. The team was young and on the rise. The franchise successfully traded for ace Cliff Lee and advanced to its first World Series, attracting and re-attracting a bandwagon of fans.

Now, he said his job is to cater to a fractured fan base from the previous ownership that is rejuvinated and to get them to buy seats at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. The team has concentrated on selling newcomers on smaller ticket packages and then escalating to full-blown season tickets. "It's like a first date and building it up to a marriage," Greenberg said. "If in this community we can't draw 3 million people, we're just not very good. We think we can do that."

Gossage has seen a drop-off of casual fans that catapulted NASCAR to a major boon not too long ago. Selling tickets to the massive superspeedway has become more difficult and in no small part to the sports competition in the area.

Gossage didn't hold back when he said, "That giant sucking sound you hear is Cowboys Stadium. The Cowboys are sucking up all the money and making things more difficult."

Lively eloquently dished on the coming of Super Bowl XLV to Cowboys Stadium. He stressed that once the game comes and goes, the North Texas Super Bowl committee won't pack up and go away. They will be busy on their next bid, which he said will come in 2012. The next possible Super Bowl back here? 2016 -- Super Bowl L.

Lively also announced the hope for a sports commission for North Texas to work collectively and bid on major sporting events to bring to Cowboys Stadium, Rangers Ballpark, American Airlines Center, Texas Motor Speedway, Pizza Hut Park in Frisco, among others.

And, oh, there is also a push to bring the 2020 Summer Games to Dallas-Fort Worth.