One weekend a year, Longhorn football becomes just as important to the city of Dallas as it is to Austin.
The Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau estimated about 92,000 UT and Oklahoma fans flock to the DFW metroplex annually for the Red River Rivalry. Phillip Jones, DCVB president, said an estimated $34 million was spent over the course of the 2011 Texas-OU weekend by both Longhorn and Sooner fans.
“It’s the single biggest tourism weekend for the city of Dallas,” Jones said. “The football game is an event we’re honored to have, and it’s an event we bank on for a number of reasons. It’s too important to even have a discussion on losing it.”
Jones said past reports have shown area hotels running at least 90 percent occupancy from the Friday before the game until the Sunday after. He said downtown bars and nightclubs have reported record-high alcohol sales during the course of the weekend, and restaurants and shopping venues are typically packed with visitors.
UT fans in need of game-day gear packed the Dallas University Co-op location on Northwest Highway on Friday evening, searching clothing racks already sifted thin from shoppers earlier in the week. Store manager Roy James said sales were up 400 percent on Oct. 3 from a regular Monday.
“In the beginning of the week, most of the folks that come in are looking for tailgate items,” James said. “Later on in the week, they come in looking for shirts and hats and dresses — things they want to wear to the game.”
Jones said despite talk of moving the game to the Cowboy Stadium, he and other Dallas officials will do everything they can to keep the “iconic event” at the Cotton Bowl on State Fair grounds.
State Fair spokeswoman Sue Gooding said nearly 100,000 more tourists visit the grounds on Texas-OU weekend than regular weekends during fair season because the game is held at the Cotton Bowl.
“Texas-OU is huge for us,” Gooding said. “If we have good weather, that will always be our top day for food and ride coupon sales.”
Biomedical engineering junior Adrian Adame said he traveled to Dallas with his Pi Kappa Phi fraternity brothers on Friday and personally spent about $40 on food and ride tickets at the fair.
Adame said this money, along with restaurant receipts and his bill at a downtown Marriott Hotel, added up to about $375 during the weekend.
Adame said his entire fraternity spent nearly $2,500 on a bar tab Saturday night, in addition to paying for buses to and from Dallas.
Although some traveled in Dallas via charter bus, Dallas Area Rapid Transit spokesman Morgan Lyons said others chose to avoid traffic by boarding one of two DART Light Rail lines. According to the DART website, lines ran directly to and from the fair, as well as across fair grounds, with ticket fares between $2 and $10. On Texas-OU game day, Lyons said the three-car trains depart multiple stations, some on 10 to 15 minute intervals beginning at 7 a.m., and carry nearly 500 people each.
Lyons said after taking note of crowded trains on the 2010 game day, DART officials added a text messaging service to update riders on capacity and estimated trip lengths.
Lyons said despite crowds on the DART Rail, officials have rarely had to reprimand passengers for unruly behavior. Both Lyons and Jones said they welcome UT and Oklahoma fans each year because of what the Red River Rivalry means in the grand scheme of Dallas economics.
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