AT&T, Arlington prepped for inaugural championship game

Last year’s Final Four was held at at the AT&T Stadium in Arlington. Monday, the national football champion will be decided there.
Last year’s Final Four was held at at the AT&T Stadium in Arlington. Monday, the national football champion will be decided there. Star-Telegram archives

Since opening in 2009, AT&T Stadium has established itself as one of the premier sports venues in the United States.

The glitzy stadium has hosted dozens of high-profile events, including a Super Bowl, NCAA Final Four, NBA All-Star Game and George Strait’s farewell concert.

Now comes Monday night’s College Football Playoff National Championship Game, featuring Oregon and Ohio State.

Arlington officials say they’re ready.

The knowledge they’ve gained from previous events has helped them develop public safety and transportation plans to ensure that the thousands of visitors have as safe and pleasant experience as possible.

While hosting a sold-out event at the $1.2 billion venue is nothing new, Arlington has been working with its regional, state and federal partners since September to avoid any potentially embarrassing fumbles while managing the first-ever national championship game decided in a playoff format.

“While we are in the special events business, every event represents another challenge. Our job is to keep our team sharp and not complacent. We don’t approach it as routine event. It’s another first,” Arlington Fire Chief Don Crowson said. “We want this to be the best national college championship there can be. Public safety has a big role in the fan experience and enjoyment.”

‘We’re very prepared’

The comprehensive plan covers everything from managing traffic flow in and out of the stadium to code enforcement sweeps aimed at keeping fans from being ripped off on parking, invalid tickets or counterfeit Oregon and Ohio State merchandise. Just like previous high-profile events, security measures have also been stepped up for both visitors and vehicles at the 80,000-seat stadium.

“The stadium is a very high-profile establishment,” said City Councilman Charlie Parker, whose district includes the stadium. “Whenever we do host an event, it’s important that all those people who come will leave with a very favorable impression of Arlington. It’s important these things go off without any glitches ever.”

Arlington police say they’ve been prepping for a year, starting with an on-site review of public safety procedures at last season’s Bowl Championship Series national championship game between Florida State and Auburn in Pasadena, Calif.

Even with months of planning, the city has to be ready to adapt to new or unexpected scenarios, Crowson said. On Wednesday, the city increased its previously set public safety staffing levels for the game after learning an estimated 8,000 standing-room-only tickets would be released for the game.

The game has several outdoor activities planned that previous special events didn’t, including an outdoor party tent that can hold 1,000 people as well as closing off a parking lot for the estimated 30,000 fans who will arrive early for concerts, games and other activities, including pep rallies for both universities.

“We’ve learned from past experiences. We’ve become better and stronger,” Crowson said. “We’re very prepared for all types of contingencies based on our previous experiences and our highly professional team.”

Competition is coming

Becoming a destination for major national and international event has helped Arlington and the region secure federal funding for specialty public safety training and equipment, police Lt. Scott Brown said. Having those resources available has only helped the stadium’s chances to snag even more large-scale events that bring millions of dollars in revenue and exposure to North Texas.

“We’ve had a Super Bowl, a Final Four, major concerts and international soccer, but each event is different in its own way and requires its own special attention,” Brown said. “Overall, the success of events we’ve had have helped us land future events. We have the reputation of having our ducks in a row and everything being efficient.”

AT&T Stadium is a hot venue because it’s slick and clean, easy to navigate and big. Plus, the area is easily accessible via Dallas/Fort Worth Airport and Love Field. Stadiums under construction in Atlanta and Minneapolis, however, promise to threaten its hold on the top spot in the pecking order.

Minnesota’s new Viking Stadium, scheduled to open next year, has already been selected to host Super Bowl LII in 2018. And Atlanta’s new stadium, which is expected to open in time for the 2017 NFL season, expects to be a player for future Super Bowls, Final Fours — even World Cup soccer.

Since AT&T Stadium opened, Arlington has implemented several strategies designed to protect visitors from scammers. Those measures include working with federal agencies to crack down on counterfeit merchandise being sold by pop-up vendors in the entertainment district, patrolling for scalpers illegally selling tickets, and inspecting entrepreneurial parking lots to ensure that they are permitted by the city, have appropriate lighting and security measures in place and aren’t negatively affecting nearby homes or businesses.

“Anyone who comes here that doesn’t have a good time and has a negative experience — if they ended up with a bad ticket or traffic was overwhelming — they are going to take that home and they are going to share it,” Brown said. “They are going to tell their friends. They are going to put that on Facebook and Twitter. We don’t want that.”

Susan Schrock, 817-390-7639

Twitter: @susanschrock

AT&T Stadium

Some of the highest-attended events at AT&T Stadium since its opening in 2009 include:

▪ NBA All-Star Game on Feb. 14, 2010 - 108,731

▪ George Strait farewell concert on June 7, 2014 - 104,793

▪ Super Bowl XLV on Feb. 6, 2011 - 103,219

▪ NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship on April 5-7 - 158,628 combined

▪ Cowboys vs. Lions Wild Card playoff game on Jan. 4, 2015 – 91,410 

▪ Cowboys Classic featuring Alabama vs. Michigan on Sept. 1, 2012 - 90,413

▪ AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic featuring Texas A&M vs. Oklahoma on Jan. 4, 2013 - 87,025

▪ Soccer CONCACAF Gold Cup Quarterfinals on July 20, 2009 - 82,252

Source: Dallas Cowboys

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