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ESPN bringing College GameDay to Sundance Square for season kickoff

ESPN will begin and end its coverage of this year’s college football season from Sundance Square Plaza, bringing its hugely popular College GameDay broadcast to downtown Fort Worth next month and again in January, the television network said.

“It’s a can’t-miss spot,” said Lee Fitting, senior coordinating producer for College GameDay. “Sundance Square has great natural energy and it’s got a great vibe to it.”

ESPN will be coming to downtown Fort Worth for the third time, after successful broadcasts from Sundance Square during April’s NCAA Men’s Final Four and the Super Bowl in 2011. During Super Bowl week, thousands of NFL fans turned out for the broadcasts, despite an unfortunate ice storm and frigid temperatures.

ESPN will broadcast Aug. 29-30 in Sundance Square before the Cowboys Classic at AT&T Stadium in Arlington between Florida State and Oklahoma State, and again in January for the national college football championship game at the stadium on Jan. 12.

Typically, College GameDay sets up on the campus of a school where the network is broadcasting a game that week. In 2010 and 2012, the broadcast was set up outside AT&T Stadium for game coverage. But this year the network chose the Fort Worth venue in the hopes of drawing out not only fans for the two teams, but all college football fans, Fitting said.

“We decided why not go to the people. That’s when we have our success,” Fitting said. “We want to set a GameDay attendance record here. We want fans to come out and make signs. We want to be blown away.”

Fitting said the network hopes to create such excitement that it will attract thousands of college football fans donning their school colors to Sundance Square Plaza. He’d also like to see high school football teams, cheerleaders and bands in their uniforms.

Texas Christian University plays at home that weekend against the Samford University Bulldogs and Fitting said he hopes those teams will come out in force.

Tracy Gilmour, marketing director for Sundance Square, said they expect the full lineup of ESPN personalities, which is always fun for fans to see on the set. She called ESPN’s commitment a one-of-a-kind fan experience.

“We built the plaza with the intent that we could host these types of events with a national presence,” Gilmour said. “It’s a big deal. We’re thrilled to further [our] relationship with ESPN. Fort Worth has treated them well, and Sundance Square has taken really good care of them.”

Likewise, Bob Jamesonpresident and CEO of the Fort Worth Convention and Visitors Bureau, said ESPN broadcasts from Sundance Square are significant for the city, and not just for the large crowds they draw into downtown.

“Fort Worth is getting a very nice profile as a worthy destination,” Jameson said. “We are very glad. Our profile is rising that much. It’s a significant endorsement of this downtown.”

The sports network will position its set in the middle of Sundance Square Plaza, between Third and Fourth, and Commerce and Houston, streets. The historic Tarrant County Courthouse will serve as a backdrop.

A demonstration gridiron will be set up in the plaza as part of the coverage, as well as a couple of large Jumbotrons to enhance the fan experience, Fitting said.

ESPN will begin offering programming from Sundance Square beginning at 9 a.m. Friday, Aug. 29. College Football Live will originate from the set at 2:30 p.m.

Their coverage will conclude Saturday morning with the College GameDay show, which features analysis and runs for three hours on Saturday mornings, starting at 8 a.m. Central time.

That evening, ABC will broadcast the 2014 Cowboys Classic at AT&T Stadium, featuring the defending national champion Florida State Seminoles and returning Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Jameis Winston against the Oklahoma State Cowboys.

The network will return Jan. 5 for a week of coverage before the college championship game, also being held at AT&T Stadium. This year, college football goes to a four-team playoff, culminating in the championship game on Jan. 12. The new format replaces the 16-year-old Bowl Championship Series.

College GameDay is hosted by Chris Fowler who is flanked by analysts Lee Corso, Kirk Herbstreit, Desmond Howard and David Pollack. Reporters Samantha Ponder, Tom Rinaldi, Scott Van Pelt and Gene Wojciechowski will be on hand.

At the end of each show, Corso likes to put on the head gear of the team he thinks will win the game. The Sundance Square broadcast will mark his 240th such prediction, Fitting said.

ESPN production crews bring in about 85 people, who will stay at downtown Fort Worth hotels.

Herbstreit, the network’s lead analyst for ABC Saturday Night Football, who will be calling the Cowboys Classic game with Chris Fowler, said he’s looking forward to returning to Fort Worth, particularly its great food. He was at TCU in November 2009 when College GameDay came to Fort Worth for the Horned Frogs’ game against Utah.

“It’s a great town,” Herbstreit said from his home in Nashville. “Fort Worth has so much to offer. We’re looking forward to coming down. One of my meals will be a great steak.”

Herbstreit said it’s too soon to start making predictions on the season, but said there is a lot of buzz already about how the new playoff format will work for college football.

“Week one is always interesting,” he said.