The Dallas Cowboys will move into a new headquarters in Frisco by 2016. Barry Wilner looks at how the set-up could be a best practice model for sports franchises looking to secure public funding for stadia and facilities.
Frisco, the Texan city of population 140,000, is already home to the FC Dallas soccer team, minor league baseball team Frisco RoughRiders, National Basketball Association Development League franchise Texas Legends and the training facility for the National Hockey League’s Dallas Stars. Soon, however, it will also become the headquarters of the Dallas Cowboys NFL (National Football League) franchise.
The Cowboys’ practice facility and team base will be completed by 2016 at a cost of $115 million to the city. This includes $90 million for the sports venue – $30 million each from the city, the school district, and the community development corporation – and $25 million for the headquarters.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is responsible for any costs beyond that, including maintenance of the buildings that stand on 25 of the 91 acres of the development, which is estimated to cost $1.5 million per year. The team will have approximately 275 full-time employees at its new headquarters, not including players.
“Frisco’s a city that thinks big and acts bold. It has a vision and acts on it,” Stephen Jones, Jerry’s son and the Cowboys’ CEO, told SportBusiness International. “It gives us great comfort to do business with people who think like this.”
In other areas of the country, teams can’t get the tax breaks to do something like this
The Cowboys headquarters have been in Irving for four decades, opening in 1985, but few NFL teams have a training complex that predates that. “There are only so many things you can do with locker rooms, access to the field, weight rooms and training rooms [in Irving],” adds Stephen Jones.
“We saw many other training facilities at several colleges and NFL clubs. We saw some good ones, and that’s what we are aiming for – the best facility for the Dallas Cowboys Hopefully, [the Frisco facility] will be state-of-the-art and best in class. We’re excited to get with it.”
The Cowboys’ deal with Frisco could become something of a trendsetter for professional sport and the public sector, as it gives exclusive, and also some non-exclusive, rights for the city’s schools to use the 12,000-seat practice stadium on Thursdays and Fridays.
“The NFL connection is very exciting, but the Cowboys are bringing so much more to the table than [American] football and their reputation. They will be making a connection to all aspects of the schools,” says Frisco’s assistant city manager Ron Patterson.
“We can use this facility for school graduations, band competitions, cheerleader competitions and many other events. And, of course, for [American] football, soccer and other sports. There is also the neat factor: kids playing at a professional stadium. What a great opportunity that is for them.”
Emulating the deal would also seem to be a terrific opportunity for other communities throughout America. However, such a public-private sector arrangement involving major league franchises is rare, and other than pockets in the southern and south-western regions of the United States, they really don’t exist at all.
“In other areas of the country, teams can’t get the tax breaks to do something like this,” says Marc Ganis, president of consulting firm SportsCorp and a keen observer of NFL business. “There’s always a fight for what goes to schools or to social services. In Texas, they actually make a value judgment.”
Frisco is financing the Cowboys’ part of the development with no state aid. City officials have estimated the complex will generate $1.26 billion in tax revenue for the next three decades, yielding an economic impact of about $23 billion.
Blue Land, a real estate company owned by Jones, will develop the other 66 acres not used directly by the Cowboys, which will include retail businesses, entertainment, office buildings, restaurants and a hotel.
However, there was some criticism that voters were not asked to approve the $90 million in bonds, but Frisco mayor Maher Maso told SportBusiness International that the entire process was done publicly from the very beginning.
“In 2000 Frisco talked about being a destination and our residents have been fully supportive of this. It did not come out of the blue. There’s a long-term vision and we talked about sport as a part of it,” he says.
“This deal came together so quickly that our elected officials saw it as very important to proceed. The voters had already approved a $30 million bond for a football stadium. This agreement is actually serving the school district by providing such a great facility for our students.
“You also need to remember that the EDC (Economic Development Corporation) and the CDC (Community Development Corporation) are voter-approved entities and their mission is for these projects to come to be.”
What will “come to be” came together so quickly, in part, because Frisco has already had success attracting other franchises. As Ganis says, it has become a “super minor league city” and it clearly has desires for more.
“The city can use that facility for the Cowboys as much as possible,” says Richard Wilkinson, deputy superintendent of business services for Frisco’s school district. “It’s a very positive arrangement. We’ve talked about some middle school programmes with the Cowboys too.
“Each school’s band team, drill team and cheerleaders will have competitions. We are talking about conducting tours for the elementary school students. There will be sports management and broadcasting opportunities for the students as well.”
The Cowboys’ new Frisco headquarters will be completed by 2016 at a cost of $115 million to the city – O'Brien Architects
Fifteen years ago, there were five schools in Frisco – today there are 56 with seven more under construction, and next year there will be 50,000 students in the city. One-third of the city’s population is also currently under the age of 17. The Cowboys love those demographics.
“The goal is to be successful. It’s very important for the Cowboys to be an example to other companies that are interested in relocating in north Texas,” says Jerry Jones. “We have always over-performed when it comes to spending money.”