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Convention center steps aside as Dickies Arena emerges as Fort Worth’s top concert venue

February 20,2023

See full Fort Worth Report article by Emily Wolf here.

Ateez, a popular K-pop boy band, performed at Dickies Arena in November 2022, but behind the scenes, organizers had earlier offered the concert to the Fort Worth Convention Center.

After Dickies Arena initially passed on Ateez because of a scheduling conflict, the band’s promoter reached out to the city in March 2022 to possibly book the Fort Worth Convention Center for the K-pop concert, emails obtained by the Fort Worth Report through an open records request show. But the promoter’s request never materialized into a booking.

Instead, Dickies Arena President Matt Homan stepped in to squash the deal.

After Homan and Joy Bradley exchanged emails and spoke over the phone, city leaders met to decide whether to move forward with the Ateez booking at the convention center. Public Events Director Mike Crum, City Manager David Cooke and Chief Financial Officer Reginald Zeno were the ultimate decision-makers, Crum said.

“We could say, under the non-compete, we could do the show,” Crum said. “Or we can say we’re not going to do the show.”

Per a contract established in 2015 between the city and Dickies Arena, the arena has the right of first refusal for any concert — clients must give a concert booking opportunity to Dickies Arena before they enter an agreement with the Fort Worth Convention Center.

Dickies Arena is now the premier concert venue in Fort Worth and has hosted an impressive array of shows since opening in 2019 – from George Strait to Monsta X to Post Malone – while also hosting a variety of sporting events.

The arena’s rise to prominence is not unlike the convention center’s early years. In the late 1960s and ‘70s. Elvis Presley, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and The Eagles were among the popular bands performing at the convention center, which also held sporting events, including Olympic-quality indoor track meets and the Davis Cup final in 1992.

But now, the concert torch has been passed to Dickies Arena — though not without moments of discord.

Under the terms of the contract, Crum said, the city was within its rights to book Ateez at the Fort Worth Convention Center; Dickies Arena had already indicated it was booked for the days the promoter requested.

Homan disagrees. He told the Fort Worth Report the right of first refusal was still Dickies Arena’s to claim — and the concert its to take — because of the fluctuating nature of concert booking dates, where promoters often target multiple potential dates at a time.

Instead of securing the booking at the convention center, city leadership decided to send the promoter back to Dickies to negotiate a booking for different days at the arena.

Venue taxes flow into city’s ‘culture tourism pot’

The arena is owned by the city, but it’s privately leased and managed by Trail Drive Management Corp., a nonprofit whose revenue goes back into maintaining the facility.

“The key point of this is that it ended up being the best business decision for the city because it generated $133,000 in venue taxes,” Crum said. “So whether the money comes directly from the concert, or whether the money comes through the venue tax, it all goes into the culture tourism pot. So we ended up making more money.”

The $133,000 sum was greater than the revenue generated from another big K-pop concert hosted at the convention center back in 2019, according to data provided to the Fort Worth Report by Crum. The city earned $105,515 in revenue from Blackpink’s show— almost $20,000 less than the revenue from Dickies Arena’s Ateez concert. A 2015 Winter Jam concert at the convention center brought in only $39,896, while an Elton John concert in 2010 garnered $60,025.

Concert revenues make up less than 1% of the convention center’s annual revenue, Crum said. That, combined with a desire to help Dickies Arena recover post-COVID-19, contributed to the decision to send the Ateez concert its way.

“Last year, I think we did 31 concerts,” Homan said. “It’s no secret that concerts are the single-highest revenue producing event that we do. This year we could do 36 or 37. By Dickies Arena coming online, I believe that it’s changed the entertainment makeup of the city.”

The public-private partnership responsible for making Dickies Arena a reality is unique among other arenas in the U.S., Homan said. Both the city and the arena management group poured hundreds of millions of dollars into the project, ultimately resulting in a 14,000-seat, $540 million arena. The private sector paid for more than half of the project, in addition to any over-expenditures.

“At the end of the day, the city got a well over $500 million project gifted to them, which the city now owns,” Homan said. “And so it was important that as we laid down the foundation work that we made sure that this building was set up for long-term success.”

There are other concert venues in Fort Worth, but none that can handle indoor shows with the crowds seen at Dickies Arena. Will Rogers Auditorium brings in smaller shows, and Panther Island Pavilion and Wild Acres specialize in outdoor concerts.

More competition comes from multiple venues in Arlington and Dallas with the likes of AT&T Stadium and the American Airlines Center.

Delays to convention center expansion keep two concert venues in flux

Dickies Arena was propped up as the heir apparent to Cowtown’s concert scene in 2015, when the city first entered the master agreement with the group behind the arena. Under that agreement, the city promised to not support, financially or otherwise, other competing concert venues, and not to compete with Dickies Arena itself.

The right of first refusal covenant included in the agreement is part of that larger promise.

“It was not a slam dunk, that what is happening to Dickies today was what was going to happen when the deal was done,” Crum said. “There’s always an ‘A’ building and a ‘B’ building in the market. The Convention Center was the ‘A’ building in the market until Dickies, and it was doing one show a year. So the idea that this market was going to bust out, I don’t think that was a given.”

When plans for Dickies Arena were first drawn up, the arena was designed to host rodeo, sporting, music and theatrical events that no longer fit into future expansion plans for the Fort Worth Convention Center. Under the two phases of expansion, the convention center would demolish its arena and primarily become a host of conferences, meetings and exhibit halls.

Those plans, however, have gone through a series of delays over the past decade — the latest caused by declining tourism revenue during the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, the planned demolition of the convention center’s arena hasn’t happened.

“When this agreement was done, the concept was that this building wasn’t even going to be standing,” Crum said. “If not for the pandemic, we would have a flat spot over there on Main Street, or we’d already be in phase two.”

Since the agreement was solidified, there hasn’t been another booking conflict like the Ateez concert, Crum said. When the Fort Worth Report asked what would have happened if the city and Dickies did not come to an agreement, he said he couldn’t say for certain.

“I think what happened was we were presented with an issue. We made a decision. That decision then led to an outcome,” Crum said. “I would say if Dickies had come back and said, ‘We can’t work it out,’ and the promoter had come back and said, ‘We still want to play the arena,’ we would have had another decision to make.”

If the city ever got into a disagreement with Dickies over the right of first refusal covenant, it would hurt everyone involved, Homan said.

“I just hope we never have to go down that road,” he said. “I hope that the city would honor the agreement, the non-compete for concerts at a city-owned venue that would compete with Dickies Arena. That they would understand that it would hurt the longevity of Dickies Arena, and it’s not a good idea.”

Location Mentioned: Fort Worth Convention Center