Monday, July 15, 2024

‘Women’s Sports Aren’t a Trend’: How Two Dallas Teams Are Navigating the Industry’s Boom

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“I don’t know what it feels like to be on a rocket ship, but this has got to be as close as what it feels like.” 

The comment, made from a stage at Arlington Hall, came from Dallas Wings COO Amber Cox at a panel discussion hosted by the Dallas Friday Group in late June. While the phrase was in reference to the rise of Dallas’ WNBA team, it could easily have been attributed to the larger story of women’s sports, and especially women’s sports in North Texas.  

When she first came on board with the Wings in 2022, Cox said, there was no way she could have forecasted what all would happen in the field of women’s sports, and specifically for the Wings. “But we saw the interest,” she said. “There was a ton of interest in the Wings, and the building was filling up consistently, and I just knew that we were on the cusp of something really, really special.” 

The discussion一moderated by Monica Paul, executive director of the Dallas Sports Commission一focused on the future of professional women’s sports in DFW and featured commentary from Cox and from Dori Neil Araiza, founder and principal with Dallas’ newly announced women’s soccer team, Dallas Trinity FC.   

Dallas has celebrated a number of recent key wins in the arena of women’s sports. In early May, WNBA phenom Caitlin Clark made her pro debut in a preseason game against the Dallas Wings in Arlington. In 2023, the American Airlines Center hosted the 2023 NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Final Four—the championship game boasted a record 9.9 million viewers. Dallas will host the event again in 2031.  

In April, the city of Dallas and the Wings reached a 15-year, $19 million agreement that will bring the team to the Dallas Memorial Auditorium by 2026. The team currently plays at College Park Center at UTA. “Our partners in Arlington, the College Park Center, have been phenomenal to us. It is a wonderful venue,” Cox said. “But the reality is, we’re busting at the seams. We’re selling out consistently now. We need more space.” 

Also in April, the team celebrated a sellout of season ticket sales for the first time in history. At the time, the Wings were also up by 222 percent in total ticket revenue and up 1,221 percent on individual ticket sales. 

“As you look at the growth of women’s sports and you look at the growth of the WNBA, one thing that’s shifted rapidly is facilities,” Cox said. “When the league started, everyone was sharing facilities with colleges, with YMCAs. Now, you’re seeing more and more teams having their own buildings, their own places to practice. These women deserve that.”  

In April, Wings President and CEO Greg Bibb told D CEO that the move is expected to bring about $1.5 million in additional ticket revenue annually. Redevelopment of the stadium—originally constructed in 1957 and last renovated in 2002—is underway. “We get to be a part of the conversations as we go through the renovations to really make it a world-class entertainment experience for our fans,” Cox said. “And again, it’s truly what our athletes deserve.”  

It’s not the only Dallas facility getting an upgrade ahead of welcoming a women’s pro sports team. Dallas Trinity FC will play its first home game at the Cotton Bowl against DC Power FC on Sept. 7, marking the inaugural season home opener for the team whose name, team colors, and leadership were formally announced in May. The team is one of eight to launch as part of the USL Super League, which was approved for Division 1 status in February.

The move comes as Dallas pursues a two-year, $140 million project to upgrade the Cotton Bowl, the largest financial investment in Fair Park in its 137-year history. The project一which includes adding escalators, expanding concourses, and adding art deco artwork一broke ground in March.

When the Neil family began workshopping a Dallas women’s soccer team about two years ago, they considered a number of venues before landing on the historic Fair Park icon. Dori Neil Araiza, founder and principal, noted that when they floated the idea of a women’s professional soccer team in Dallas, they’d usually get the same immediate reaction: “But are you in Dallas?” 

“Because people that are in Dallas and from Dallas, that matters to them, so it matters to us too,” she said, “and it’s something that was sort of integral and vital to us being able to be a team for Dallas, in Dallas, accessible right off the Dart rail, and bring to life this amazing venue that’s currently partly under construction, but we’ll be able to showcase that in a way that’s amazing for these soccer players.”  

For Paul, the team’s establishment一combined with Dallas’ nine 2026 World Cup matches一spell massive opportunity for a few years down the road. 

“If you don’t know me, I’m very competitive. I like to win,” said Paul, who is credited with being the mastermind behind DFW’s 2026 FIFA World Cup bid. For her, the region’s next big event target is the 2031 FIFA Women’s World Cup. “I think having a professional women’s soccer team here, along with the support of our other professional teams, men and women across the board, it gives us a really good runway to put our arms around the teams一Dallas Trinity FC, for sure一and really help to elevate and lift and properly position Dallas for being named a host city for 2031 as our next opportunity,” Paul said. 

The teams see the potential for a local impact, too. Cox noted that the Wings have been ramping up staffing in the youth basketball sector and that programming for clinics and camps has been built up. She also highlighted the team’s partnership with the Dallas Mavericks through the Girls Empowered by Mavericks (GEM) initiative. 

“It was the first of its kind, there had never been an NBA team under a different ownership come aboard as a major sponsor of a WNBA team,” Cox said. “They saw the value; they saw where women’s basketball is going and really wanted to authenticate that GEM programming with our athletes and with our coaches.”  

Dallas Trinity FC also sees the potential—the team website says the Dallas area has more girls soccer players than anywhere else in the country, citing the U.S. Youth Soccer Association. “When we look at the youth, it’s certainly an integral part of what we are going to be a part of,” Araiza said. “And obviously being new, we’re trying to figure out what is the best way to navigate that. Who are our best partners to bring in and do that? But I will say it’s certainly something that gives these youth players to aspire to be, and we’re in their backyard.”  

The discussion served as a snapshot look at what is proving to be a game-changing era for women’s sports. A Deloitte report shared in November 2023 predicts that revenue generated this year by women’s elite sports will surpass $1 billion. As Cox puts it, the key to sustaining that energy for the Wings starts with the right people. “There’s been an incredible investment by our ownership group in our front office staff to grow that group, to invest in experienced sports professionals, specifically women and men who have experience in the women’s sports space,” Cox said, “and that has allowed us to grow very, very quickly and do a lot more.” 

“I think even though we’re growing rapidly, there are tried and true processes that we need to stick to,” Cox added. “We have to keep the foot on the gas, and we need to keep using this momentum to our advantage as we grow our fan base and continue to get more people into the pipeline and interested and talking about all of our sports and women’s sports.” 

Araiza sums it up: “Women’s sports aren’t a trend. It’s here to stay, and it’s only going to grow.”  

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