After all the fussin' and cussin' accompanying yesterday's item about ESPN's decision to home-base in Sundance Square during next year's Super Bowl, I thought it might be nice to talk to the very person who made that decision: Stephanie Druley. She's the Worldwide Leader's senior coordinating producer, and she oversees all of its NFL studio shows. Druley will also be in charge of every second of what you see and hear on ESPN during Super Bowl Week.
I just got off the phone with the Houston native and Class of '89 University of Texas at Austin journalism grad, and our Q&A follows.
When did the decision-making process begin?
It all started in Miami, where I met with the host committee to give me some suggestions. And in March, Fort Worth reached out ot us and came to Bristol and did a presentation. At that point, there was no decision made. For a lot of reasons, frankly, I thought at the time it would be more convenient for us to be in Dallas, near the NFL's headquarters. So in my mind, I thought, "This is a good presentation, but I need to go down there before a decision is made."
So in April we came down and actually went to Dallas first. We looked at a couple of options. We looked at the plaza in front of the American Airlines Center, looked at the new Main Street Garden park, looked at Pegasus Plaza and drove through the Arts District. Everyone was super-nice and very helpful, and then we went to Fort Worth the next day. My idea at the time was, well, there's the Stockyards area, but I didn't know anything about Sundance Square, and when I saw it it reminded me of the Gaslamp District in San Diego. But in my mind, it was, "Well it'll be easier to be near the NFL HQ."
And the media center's in Dallas as well ...
But we're not always near the media center. We weren't in Miami, and when the Super Bowl was in Phoenix, we were in Scottsdale. So it's not unprecedented.
But we came back to Bristol, and in my mind I was like, "I gotta go back to Dallas. There's gotta be more to see." We also looked at Fair Park the first visit, but there were concerns about foot traffic. Could we get people there? Main Street Garden wasn't ideal, and we not sure about what kind of foot traffic we'd get. So I said, "We're going back." And in the meantime, Dallas reached out to us again.
I went down there with my director to Dallas, and we looked at everything from office space to City Hall Plaza, which could have worked for us, and we looked at the Arts District in front of the AT&T Performing Arts Center. I think that's all we looked at. And City Hall Plaza could have worked for us. It was a matter of, we weren't sure we'd get people there during the week. Thursday though Sunday, the NFL Experience is close by [at the Dallas Convention Center], but it felt to me it'd be dead during the week.
And then we looked at the convenience of Fort Worth. It's real convenient. You can walk everywhere. Everywhere you go. Your hotel's a block away from the set and the office, and there's a lot to choose from in terms of restaurants, shops, whatever people need in one small area. There were pluses and minuses about both cities, and Dallas is appealing for a lot of reasons. But our whole checklist was in Fort Worth's favor.
Who was part of the Dallas delegation? I assume it was Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau head Phillip Jones, Dallas Film Commissioner Janis Burklund ...
Phillip showed us around, the mayor's office was very helpful, and we met with film commission on the second trip.
So when did you ultimately make the decision?
It was about, oh, I'm gonna say three weeks to a month ago. When I did, I e-mailed everyone in Dallas to let them know we'd chosen Fort Worth. But it's sort of the North Texas Super Bowl, so it's not like we won't be showing Dallas. You'll see the skyline. We'll be based from Fort Worth, but we'll try to showcase the whole area. I mean, I'm from Texas, and the one stereotype I hate is everyone in Texas has a horse and a cowboy hat. I anticipate us showing part of Dallas as well. We just won't be broadcasting from there.
A lot of people yesterday said they felt ESPN ultimately went with Fort Worth because it's more classically Texan, as it were -- that ESPN wanted to give viewers outside of Texas the image they normally associate with the state. And Dallas, well, it just doesn't smell like a cowtown.
I don't like the stereotype, and I don't intend to play into it. It's not to say I won't play into some of it. Till I'd been in Fort Worth, my only knowledge of Fort Worth was the Stockyards, and I had no intention of playing into the image. But Sundance Square, like I said, reminded me of the Gaslamp District.
How long will ESPN actually be here?
We begin setting up the Monday before we start broadcasting, so that's the 24th [of January].
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Dallas, as you may or may not be aware, is working very hard to revive downtown -- matter of fact, the city council's awaiting yet another study on how to improve the central business district, which comes with a whole separate parking study. What could Dallas have offered that would have made it, you know, more desirable? What does Dallas need, from an outsider's point of view?
We could have made any site in Dallas work. There was just a lot more convenience in Fort Worth -- the convenience of hotels, of having six or seven different restaurants to choose form every day. I know Dallas has all of that and more, but it all being in such a condensed area was a big deal for us. And I also looked at Highland Park and SMU. When I say I thoroughly looked at Dallas, I thoroughly looked at Dallas. And elsewhere -- we went to the Gaylord. We even drove through downtown Grapevine. I think we did our due diligence.
From the sound of it, though, one of your big issues is, as you say, foot traffic -- making sure you have people visiting those sets during those live broadcasts and making sure it looks lively.
It was also a big concern -- to have our shows out there and not have any people there. I was in Fort Worth on a Wednesday night, and there were people flowing out of the doors in some of these places. People was not a concern in Fort Worth. The audience was going to be there. Some of the places we looked at [in Dallas] were not high traffic areas. And part of that's on us. Another network might come in and be fine with another location. But because we need so much space, because we're so big, someone else might be able to make another location work. We're on TV from 5 a.m. your time till 10 at night Monday through Sunday, and ultimately you gotta play your best odds for getting an audience.