Last week, the Fort Worth Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) announced it had formed a sports marketing department. The focus will be promoting the mayor’s bid to become the first elected municipal official to win a spot on the U.S Olympic track cycling team.
OK, just kidding about the mayor, although Ms. Price does seem to highly value athletic pursuits. In truth, the initiative hopes to attract new sporting events of all kinds to Cowtown with an eye to boosting tourism revenue.
Josh Dill heads the sports marketing initiative. He has actually worked on sports matters for the CVB since 2013, but now will head his own division as Sports Marketing Director. A study released in January by the Huddle Up Group took a comprehensive look at Fort Worth’s sports landscape and has helped guide some of the strategic directions Dill and the CVB plan to take.
Dill came to North Texas from Lubbock, where he worked in a similar capacity. He listed equestrian events, gymnastics, cheer, and motor sports as current strengths Fort Worth has in the sports world. He, like many of us, grew up loving all sports, however, and wants to bring as many different kinds of sporting events to the city as possible. We sat down with him for a Q&A session about what his department hopes to achieve.
Fort Worth Weekly: How is this different from what the CVB was doing before?
Josh Dill: We’ve slowly been devoting more resources to sports. I came in with a mission of this, of creating this department. Fort Worth was a convention town and had worked with sports. We had a few guys here who handled it on a reactive basis, but this is more of a proactive, relationship-building, figuring out what we do well and doing it, and carrying that through to the national level. I don’t want to bid of lacrosse right now because I don’t know that we have a strong lacrosse base here. So the idea is that we grow sports at the local level, build fans around it, and then we can go out and bid on these events. And then also just supporting what we already have, because we have a great sports history and a lot of great sporting activity already going on here.
Fort Worth Weekly: What do you want to accomplish?
Josh Dill: The end goal is always to create economic impact for the citizens of Fort Worth. I think the Texas Comptroller’s office has said it and it’s pretty universally true that the best way to grow your economy is by bringing people into it, having them spend money, and then leave. They come in, they’re not a strain on your resources, they’re not a strain on your infrastructure. They come in, they spend their money, and they leave. And that allows us to use that money to do more and more here locally. The end goal is that we start hosting more and more sporting events. I think eventually what I’d like to see is that we are more operational with our events, where we help operate the events and maybe, in the future, even owning our own events, so that we control that event, we put it in a time whenever Fort Worth’s calendar supports it, maybe a down time. And we start an event that’s really important to Fort Worth. We can kind of own and run that event and we don’t have to worry about bidding against other cities to host it.
Fort Worth Weekly: What resources do you have at your disposal?
Josh Dill: We’ve been slowly devoting more and more resources here internally. I think we have great resources in that we’ve been building great relationships with TCU and Parks and Community Services. Then kind of educating about what it is that we want to do. And people have embraced it at both those organizations and I think we’re starting to get a lot more support and headway in utilizing their facilities and bringing opportunities that benefit all parties.
Financially, we’re devoting more resources internally to sports. It allows me to hopefully add some additional staff members, but also promote Fort Worth in the right places as a sporting destination.
We’re really close to maybe expanding our staff. The overall goal is we want to be very methodical and do something that is very sustainable. Watching the national trends, sports commissions have popped up all over the country. A lot of them, if they’re not set up correctly, and if they bite off more than they can chew, they fail. A lot of them are independent, but the model that works is a blended sports commission, which is it’s a department of the CVB. We can share resources the CVB already has, but it’s separate marketing, different branding, I guess you would say. That plays better with the national governing bodies of sports.
We’re paying attention to sports more because it’s somewhat recession-proof. People will cut out vacations. They will cut out business trips based on the economy. Not many people will cut Johnny or Susie’s baseball, softball, lacrosse tournament. That’s the last thing they want to cut when times get tough. It’s proven to be a really recession-proof sector of our industry.
Fort Worth Weekly: What is the balance between “big-time” events and the grassroots variety?
Josh Dill: The big, flashy events help us gain some notoriety and they put us on the map. They don’t always create the most impact for Fort Worth. I think it’s really important that we support grassroots events because those are kind of the bread and butter of sports tourism. But you get notoriety by hosting some of the bigger events. It’s a balancing act. We try to look at events that we feel fit best for Fort Worth and our future goals. For instance, the NCAA Gymnastics event that we are having next month, and that we hosted last April, was one of the first things that came across whenever I got here. I looked at it as an opportunity to show the NCAA that Fort Worth is serious about sports and that we know how to host major events. It’s also, in turn, led to a few prospects, but also a few events like USA Gymnastics Junior Olympics. That was our way of saying, “We’re serious about gymnastics.” And people have responded by bringing a lot of gymnastics events here in the last three years.
Fort Worth Weekly: What is the ceiling for Ft Worth sports?
Josh Dill: A lot of cities get into this going, well, “We want to host the Olympics.” I think there’s a chance we could be a part of a regional potential to host something on that scale, but that’s not what I’m working towards per se. Honestly, a lot of our regional partnerships with the Arlington Convention and Visitors Bureau and with the Dallas Sports Commission and with our friends up in Frisco, we have a good group that gets together and discusses some major regional events, and we all benefit from them.
We’re looking strongly at bidding for more NCAA championships in the next cycle, which is this year. Over the next couple years, we want to host more national championships and we want to play a part in the regional events that we do. With Wrestlemania coming in, we don’t necessarily have an active role in that. That’s more of an Arlington and Dallas thing, and really it’s more Dallas than it is anyone else. Whenever that came up, my first thing was I went and looked at what ancillary events go on around Wrestlemania in which we can play our part. When we met with college football, the national championship committee there, that’s what we said. We saw, “The stadium’s in Arlington. Arlington is your running back. Dallas is doing this, they’re your quarterback. But we can be your left guard because we are very much a player in this and we have a lot of resources and we have the Texas feel that so many people from outside the region want.”
Fort Worth Weekly: What line do you walk in competing with, but also working with, the other cities in this area?
Josh Dill: I use the term “coopetition.” There are times when it’s us versus them. Luckily I feel like I have a strong relationship with a lot of the people in the cities that I’m competing against. I’ve always taken the approach that I want what’s best for the event. If the event works better in Arlington, then I want it to be in Arlington, because I know that there’s another event that fits for me. We all understand where we are and what we do well. I’ve sent events to Arlington and I’ve sent events to Dallas and said, “You should really look at Frisco,” but I’ve had the same thing returned, a lot of times more than I’ve sent. It’s not as contentious as one might think. That’s a good thing.
Fort Worth Weekly: What is your role in working with venues in Fort Worth?
Josh Dill: A lot of what I do is I go to trade shows and I go and meet and make relationships with national governing bodies or people that own events. I’m more of a broker. I broker deals. If I think something really fits at the speedway, then I take that opportunity to them. I try to make it advantageous for everyone.
We incentivize groups to come here, but I’m really adamant about not doing any kind of incentive that just lines someone’s pocket. We want to make sure that we are offsetting expenses to make sure that it shows that doing business in Fort Worth is good for the event owner and it’s good for the facility to get the benefit of hosting the event, whether it’s notoriety or it’s concession dollars, whatever it could be. We just try to make it as pleasant to do sports business in Fort Worth as possible.
Fort Worth Weekly: Do you have thoughts on Fort Worth having additional professional sports teams within the city limits?
Josh Dill: Professional sports is one of the things in our industry conferences we talk about a lot. They can be very helpful and they bring a lot of notoriety. I don’t think that it’s something that someone who’s tasked like we are, with creating economic impact, can really subsidize. I don’t think that it’s a good use of our funds to do that. But I do like the idea of having more professional sports teams here.
Is it something we’re going to actively pursue as part of our strategic plan? Probably not.
I can’t really get involved in subsidizing a professional sports team. I just want to have them there so I can bring them opportunities.
The Fort Worth CVB will host an event it is calling the Fort Worth Sports Huddle on April 7. This first event will honor the Texas Motor Speedway for its 20 years in Fort Worth. top-level NASCAR driver Kevin Harvick will speak. Eventually, they hope do a few such events each year to create dialogue around sports in Fort Worth. One can purchase tables or individual tickets for the April 7 event by contacting the CVB’s Elizabeth Story at ElizabethStory@FortWorth.com.