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Council Expected to Approve Stadium Renovations

On Wednesday, the Dallas City Council will vote on spending 25 million dollars to update Cotton Bowl stadium. The football rivalry between the University of Texas and the University of Oklahoma has been played there for 82 years. KERA’s Jacqueline Fellows reports on why the council is likely to approve the renovation.

Officially, the Texas-OU game is called the Red River Rivalry. But everyone knows it simply as Texas-OU weekend. And it’s that last word, “weekend,” that’s key. Since the game is played on neutral ground in Dallas, fans travel to see it, spending money on hotels, restaurants and the state fair. It adds up to an estimated 20 million dollars of spending in Dallas County alone.

For lifelong OU fan and graduate Monique Lambring, it isn’t about what she spends to see the game. It’s about tradition.

Lambring: Everybody that’s older remembers going down into the middle of Dallas, and celebrating and going down the night before and having fun. I mean it is the Cotton Bowl.

To accommodate the long-held tradition, the city expanded the Cotton Bowl’s seating capacity to 90,000 plus just four years ago. It also updated the scoreboards, sound system, and concessions at each end zone.

But it’s not enough to stay competitive with other college stadiums. If the council agrees to spend 25 million, Cotton Bowl manager Roland Rainey says five design teams will compete to modernize the press box and install fancier club seating. The seats will be glassed in and climate controlled right under the press box with access to a new sports bar. Standing near a concession stand at the stadium entrance, Rainey points to the exposed pipes overhead and says this area will be overhauled, too.

Rainey: We’ve asked the people that are bidding on doing this to improve it and bring it update through lighting, covering up the pipes…and better concessions, better everything, you know, make it look nicer.

Dallas will borrow 25 million dollars to update the stadium. The city has ten years to pay off the loan with taxes from the general fund. City leaders have said the return on the investment is a sure thing. But some fans point to the newer, more modern Cowboys stadium as an alternative.

College sports marketing executive Adam Hochfelder says that doesn’t make financial sense because the schools make most of their money on ticket sales and the Cotton Bowl has more seats.

Hochfelder: There are 93,000-ish tickets in the Cotton Bowl and they’ll squeeze as many people into standing room only as they can…Cowboys stadium, if you add suites and club level I think it’s in the upper 60s or low 70s. So it’s 20,000 plus more people can get to the game. But I would also say, and both schools have voiced this both publicly and privately, there is a allure to playing at the traditional site in the middle of the State Fair of Texas, it goes back to 1929. So, you know, it has been probably based on tradition first and revenue secondly.

For now, it’s unlikely that the Texas-OU game will be played anywhere but Cotton Bowl stadium. The current contract runs through 2015. If the city council approves the latest update request, the game will stay until 2020 when yet another round of stadium renovations is likely. And then, the schools and the city will have to decide how much more to invest in a tradition.