When Jerry Jones snagged the 2011 Super Bowl last week for his new stadium in Arlington, the Cowboys’ owner and his contingent held a press conference at Love Field in Dallas.
And standing next to Jerry, with a Cheshire cat grin on his face, was Fort Worth’s very own Mayor Mike Moncrief. It was kind of odd to find a politician who’s been so indirectly involved in such a big sports event announcement pushing his way so close to the action. There weren’t any other mayors up there with Jerry, as the protocol seemed to be to let Arlington Mayor Robert Cluck have his own separate spotlight. As I watched, I wondered how the management of the old Fort Worth Brahmas must be feeling.
The Brahmas basically got run out of town in 2006, couldn’t get Moncrief to meet with them to discuss a city lease dispute. The city’s last lease offer, for use of the convention center, even included a provision that no member of the Brahmas organization could talk with any elected city officials. The Brahmas had to suspend operations for a year but are coming back this fall. They are moving into the old Blue Line Ice facility in North Richland Hills, and Fort Worth’s name will no longer be on the uniforms. They will now be called the Texas Brahmas. Brahmas managers have been careful in their comments about Fort Worth, since they’d still like to play a half-dozen games at the Will Rogers Coliseum this season.
“We don’t want to dwell on the past, because we are ecstatic about our new home and our future,” said Brahmas General Manager Mike Barack. “And it has been wonderful working with a city like North Richland Hills. The mayor, council, and the city staff in the economic development department have been very helpful. It is nice to be appreciated by a community.” Read between the lines: “Appreciated by a community” is the operative phrase here. Even though minor league hockey had been around in Fort Worth in some way or another since 1941, Moncrief and the city staff thought this sport wasn’t an important part of Cowtown.
Putting down ice at the convention center took time and effort, and the Brahmas’ crowds didn’t fit in the faux-cowboy image the city likes. So the city kept raising rent for the Brahmas and changed a bunch of contract provisions for advertising and other revenues. And then the kicker: The National Basketball Association wanted to put a developmental league team in Fort Worth, and the new team – the Fort Worth Flyers – wanted some of the Brahmas’ prime weekend dates. The mayor seemed enamored with the NBA logo, so guess who won? A logo won’t put butts in the seats, though – and guess who’s laughing now. The Brahmas drew an average of 2,000 actual in-the-house fans for their games (not the announced attendance), and the Flyers during the past two years have drawn about a third of that. The city is out about $200,000 from the Brahmas in lease and tax payments, and there are signs the Flyers may be leaving soon as well.
The end result may be that a city policy favoring basketball over hockey leaves the city with neither. Off-duty police won’t be getting their extra work, ushers will be losing paychecks, and downtown businesses will miss out on a little extra income. And all because Mayor Mike Moncrief didn’t think hockey was a desired part of the social fabric here. Therein lies the relationship of the Super Bowl, the Brahmas, and Moncrief. Hockey fans here are just fans of the game, both northern transplants and homegrown aficionados. They’re not six-figure-income folks who like to hang out with the cocaine and fake boob crowd at the Dallas Stars games. They tend to be a little more down-home, like wanting to bring their kids to games with them. Which brings us to Super Bowl XLV. Tickets will be $1,000 each, and almost all of them will be spoken for, either by NFL teams or corporate sponsors. The NFL has required that several high-end hotels in Dallas be reserved for the league and its corporate guests, and the other events will likely be near the stadium in Arlington.
Fort Worth might get a few scraps, the most likely being some clichéd country-western media party at Billy Bob’s. It kind of boils down to this. Our mayor worked hard to help land a game that hardly anyone in this city can afford to attend, which will have marginal economic benefit for the city, and is a once-in-a-decade thing. On the other hand, Moncrief worked against a team that had a hardcore group of average-income fans, who brought tangible economic benefits downtown for 33 nights a year, a team that worked within the community on free youth events and charities. It’s easy to see which basket the mayor felt more comfortable putting his eggs in. Follow the spotlight and see if Jerry Jones slips Mike a few good Super Bowl tickets. Grin, grin.