For years, folks have whispered that perhaps one day, the city might consider selling the naming rights to the 76-year-old Cotton Bowl in Fair Park. After all, maintaining The House That Doak Built is an expensive proposition with, some would insist, dwindling rewards hardly worth the $50 million worth of just-completed upgrades. The AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic will move to the Dallas Cowboys' new digs in Arlington in January 2010. Texas-OU is committed only through 2015. The annual Prairie View A&M-Grambling State showdown does not yet have a long-term commitment. And the August 19 announcement of the Dallas Lonestar Classic, featuring Texas Southern and Arkansas-Pine Bluff on November 29, also did not come with a multi-year commitment.
But moments ago, rumors became reality: During a meeting of the Administration and Finance Committee of the Park and Recreation Board, officials voted to proceed with looking for a corporation to buy up the naming rights to the Cotton Bowl. As in: "The city attorney will draft an amendment to the State Fair of Texas's contract [with the city], and the State Fair will hire a third-party company to solicit naming rights for the Cotton Bowl," Mark Jarrell, senior manager of Fair Park, tells Unfair Park.
Jarrell expects State Fair officials to begin soliciting offers as soon as the city attorney amends the contract, which will happen "in four to six weeks, probably," says Jarrell. But the city council will have to sign off on the sale. And "after we get a sponsor," Jarrell says, it will go in front of the Landmark Commission -- since, as Jarrell says, "the company that buys the naming rights will want to put their company name's on the structure, and since [Fair Park] is a historic landmark, we have to get their permission to make that change."
But the city wants to see "what's out there, who might be interested," Jarrell says. And the money raised will go toward attracting more games and toward the Cotton Bowl's maintenance fund.
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As for how much money the city's looking at, Jarrell guesstimates it won't be more than "$500,000 to $1 million a year," with the city looking for no less than a 10-year contract with the corporation that ultimately ponies up the dough. And he doesn't think the Classic's move to Arlington will hamper efforts to woo a suitor.
"You still have Texas-OU, which was a bigger draw than the Cotton Bowl Classic, and Prairie View-Grambling, in addition to the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Texas Southern game that was just announced. And now that the renovations are done, we've gotten interest from spring football leagues and from some international soccer federations, so I think while we're sad to see the Classic leave, I don't think it'll hurt us that much."
And for those worried that the name itself will be eradicated by the selling of naming rights, Jarrell says you need not worry at all.
"Cotton Bowl will have to stay in the name," he says. "It will not ever be the Federal Express Bowl. It would have to the Southwest Airlines Cotton Bowl or whatever. That is one of our requirements." --Robert Wilonsky