For Randy Ford, owner of J. Gilligan’s, the AT&T Cotton Bowl should mean more to his bottom line than New Year’s Eve.
He will have more bartenders, more cooks and more waitresses on hand as the popular Arlington eatery as he hosts the official Oklahoma State University pre-game party before Friday night’s bowl game.
“I will be disappointed if we don’t have 1,000 folks here on Friday or maybe even 1,500,” Ford said.
Ford is excited about this year’s game between the Missouri Tigers and the Oklahoma State Cowboys — which is a sellout and has filled hotels and restaurants and is pumping millions into the local economy.
But he also admits that he can’t help but look ahead to next season, when the AT&T Stadium hosts not only the traditional bowl game but the first national championship game in the new four-team playoff, signaling that the Cotton Bowl’s return to being one of the major bowls.
While Ford, the owner of J. Gilligan’s, is counting on plenty of business on Friday, he also believes that the national championship game will rival the crowds he saw when Arlington hosted the Super Bowl. On the Saturday before the Super Bowl, J Gilligan’s hosted the official Green Bay Packers party and became an outpost for everyone from Wisconsin that weekend
“It’s going to be nuts,” Ford said.
Super Bowl-size impact
On Thursday, three Oklahoma State officials dined at J. Gilligan’s to finish up details with Ford. For most of the week, OSU fans’ activities have been held at the Gaylord Texan, the team’s Cotton Bowl headquarters, but fans will start migrating to J. Gilligan’s on Friday afternoon.
“They’re on their way, a lot of folks driving down for the game,” said Ellen Ayres, director of OSU’s Posse, its athletic booster organization.
A few single tickets remained. Demand is less than last year when hordes of Aggies turned out to see Johnny Manziel lead Texas A&M to a win over Oklahoma.
“It’s a little soft compared to last year,” said Scott Baima, owner of Texas Tickets in Dallas. “In the upper deck, they’re selling for about half price.”
Flower Mound resident Patty Dawson and her husband, Don, had already parked their recreational vehicle at the stadium parking lot. They were waiting for a group of Missouri fans — and one Oklahoma State fan — to show up. For the most part, they will simply be tailgating, with the exception of one trip to the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum in Dallas.
“That’s the one thing they want to go see,” Patty Dawson said.
But Ford and others are already looking to the future and looking for a Super Bowl-size impact for next year’s game.
“We had 2,000 Packer fans, including the Governor of Wisconsin, the mayor of Green Bay and Arlington Mayor Robert Cluck,” Ford said. “Ninety percent of the Packer fans didn’t have tickets and many of them came back the day of the game. I think this has the opportunity to be very similar to the Super Bowl.”
That is what Cotton Bowl officials are counting on.
Tommy Bain, chairman of the Cotton Bowl Athletic Association, said he expects Super Bowl-size crowds next year. And he believes it might be even more of a boon to local businesses than the Super Bowl.
“Actually, it might be even bigger,” Bain said. “The Super Bowl is a large corporate event. Not as many pure fans get access to the game. With the national championship, it’s the teams that have access to those tickets. I think those people are going to come in and really enjoy the events we are going to put on.”
Economic impact varies
Cotton Bowl officials have estimated the the annual game has about a $30 million impact locally but they haven’t come up with an estimate for the national championship game. A 2006 study by the College of Holy Cross said entities tend to overstate the benefits of such events.
Victor Matheson, the author of the report, said a college football championship game would bring in anywhere from $30 million to $120 million.
It will likely be a benefit to the community since it is taking place in early January, normally a slow time for conventions and business travel.
“As long as it’s a weekend that normally doesn’t fill up hotel rooms, it’s all positive,” Matheson said. “But you don’t want to see it displace one event for another. That’s when economists really question how much of a positive impact it is bringing.”
Matheson said his research of the Final Four, the men’s college basketball championship coming to Arlington the first week of April, has shown it will do little to provide a economic boost to North Texas.
“When we looked back at the economic impact of the last 25 Final Fours, we really couldn’t find any, especially for a metropolitan area the size of the Metroplex,” Matheson said.
Like the Super Bowl, Bain said he expects there will be events throughout North Texas.
“We envision it being all over the Metroplex, Fort Worth included,” Bain said. “As you know, ESPN had its headquarters at Sundance Square during the Super Bowl, which brought a lot of people to downtown Fort Worth.”
Baima, owner of Texas Tickets in Dallas, expects the interest in next year’s game to rival the Super Bowl or when Arlington hosted the NBA All-Star game.
“The two biggest sports tickets each year are the Super Bowl and The Masters,” Baima said. “This event we’ve got coming next year will probably right up there with them.”
Big fan followings
In Arlington, the impact of the Cotton Bowl is important for local hotels.
John Henry, general manager of the Hilton Garden Inn, said the hotel’s proximity to the stadium almost guarantees it will fill up for football games.
Henry said the hotel should be full for the Cotton Bowl, with guests staying for several nights.
“If they’re coming from Missouri where it tends to be a little colder, they stay a little longer, like three or four nights,” Henry said. “If they’re coming from Oklahoma City or Stillwater, it’s usually a little shorter, like two or three nights.”
While he isn’t getting any inquiries for next year’s national championship game, he already has rooms booked for the Aug. 30 Kickoff Classic at AT&T Stadium between Oklahoma State and Florida State.
“The minute that game was announced, we started getting reservations from Tallahassee,” Henry said..
In Fort Worth, Bob Jameson, president and CEO of the Fort Worth Convention and Visitors Bureau, said some fans are staying downtown for this year’s game but they expect a significant uptick next year.
“Fort Worth is going to be very, very busy,” Jameson said. “ESPN is already taking up a number of rooms. It has committed to broadcasting the Final Four in April and I think they’re very interested in broadcasting here for the Championship Bowl game next year. There will certainly be some programming around that.”
While pro teams have regularly stayed in Fort Worth for Cowboys games, two recent college games did bring a large influx of fans to Fort Worth.
This fall, more than 1,100 room nights were booked in Fort Worth when Notre Dame played Arizona State. And last year, when Michigan played Alabama more than 1,200 room nights were booked in Fort Worth.
One downside for the Cotton Bowl will be that the regular bowl game will no longer have a guarantee of a Big 12 or SEC team each year. It may get teams with smaller fan bases that don’t travel as well. Many bowl games this year saw schools returning a portion of their allotments of tickets.
But Bain said the Cotton Bowl will benefit from its central location, large local fan bases and the lure of the stadium.
“I think we’ll still have sellouts but they may be soft sellouts in some years,” Bain said.
Cotton Bowl officials expect to remain part of the rotation for the national championship game in upcoming years.
“It’s more than a hope; it’s a plan,” Bain said. “We’re looking down the road to determine the best year to make our next bid. We’ll be very aggressive.”