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Big bucks: TCU’s first modern-era national championship scores big for Fort Worth’s economy

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Texas Christian University’s win over Michigan on Dec. 31 propelled the Horned Frogs to the College Football Playoff National Championship final for the first time in the program’s history.

Regardless of the game’s outcome Monday night, Fort Worth will emerge as a winner because of its opportunity to market itself to a national audience.

The economic impact of TCU’s season is being felt already. With increased eyes on and interest in the Horned Frogs, Fort Worth’s hoteliers and retailers have seen an influx of people and dollars to the area.

As Fort Worth awaits its final game Jan. 9, the lasting impact of TCU’s appearance in the national championship will be felt for years to come, said Brandom Gengelbach, president and CEO of the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce.

“I think TCU has real similarities and really is the epitome of who Fort Worth is. It’s a smaller university. We’re a smaller community,” Gengelback said. “It is very authentic and true to itself and who they are. They punch well above their weight academically and in the sports arena. And I think the same could be said for Fort Worth as well — that we punch above our weight.”

Enrollment for the university is the smallest among the schools in the Big 12 conference, with just under 12,000 students. The University of Texas at Austin boasts nearly 52,000 students, followed by Texas Tech with more than 40,000.

TCU home games boost hotel revenue by about 35% and drive occupancy up, Bob Jameson, president and CEO of Visit Fort Worth, said. Some of the busiest weekends in Fort Worth are from TCU home games, homecoming and family weekends, he said.

If the Horned Frogs emerge as champions, Jameson said, he imagines season ticket sales will increase, as well as national awareness of Fort Worth and the university. About 21 million people tuned in to watch the Fiesta Bowl, and he expects the viewership of the national championship game to be greater.

Visit Fort Worth created a list of businesses hosting watch parties in the area.

“It’s been a great story of determination and hard work and grit and leadership that has really captured people’s attention,” Jameson said. “So all of that is going to suggest that next year’s games are going to be more highly attended.”

TCU football generated over $2 million in revenue from ticket sales alone in 2020 with an average attendance of 53,580 per game, according to the university’s athletic department website. The football department’s total revenue for the 2020-2021 season was around $38.7 million, per U.S. Department of Education data.

TCU officials are already seeing an impact on the school that can, at least anecdotally, be attributed to the football team’s success. While it’s still early in the admissions cycle, TCU says it is up more than 31% over the previous year in early decision applications of students saying TCU is their top choice.

Total applications are also up, and visits to the TCU website are up “exponentially, especially on game days and weekends,” according to Merianne Roth, associate vice chancellor of communication at TCU.

“Amazing athletics definitely gives us an opening to show people what TCU is about from team spirit to global academic impact,” she said.

TCU’s 2011 Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin during an earlier undefeated season brought new student applications from Southern California, according to Allen Wallach, CEO of PAVLOV Advertising, which works with TCU’s athletic program.

“TCU’s participation in the National Championship opens up a much larger footprint from which to recruit both students and student-athletes,” he said.

PAVLOV’s data indicates that TCU vs. Michigan was the second-most Googled search in the world on Dec. 30, Wallach said.

TCU’s national coverage has surpassed 1,223 unique TV news segments throughout the U.S., and thousands of print and online articles in top publications, he said.

“How can you put a dollar figure on that type of exposure?” Wallach said.

Anything that boosts the national reputation of Fort Worth is beneficial for the city economically, said Jameson, with Visit Fort Worth.

“That’s a lot of eyes for about a two- or three-hour time period that will periodically get reminded that TCU is in Fort Worth,” he said. “So if Fort Worth was not a known entity before, maybe it plants a seed.”

Fort Worth welcomed 9.4 million visitors in 2021, which equates to $2.6 billion in local economic impact. Sport tourism alone generated $100 million in 2021, according to Visit Fort Worth.

TCU’s overall impact means jobs, economic development and innovation, Fort Worth Mayor Mattie Parker said.

“TCU has put a national spotlight on Fort Worth once again with this incredible football season, Fiesta Bowl win and upcoming National Championship game,” she said in a statement. “TCU’s impact goes beyond athletics visibility and brings visitors to our city in droves.”

The timing of the team’s success could hardly have been better scripted as the private school prepares to celebrate its 150th anniversary in 2023-2024.

The Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce and TCU will be traveling to California in February to celebrate the anniversary — another opportunity to market Fort Worth. The Los Angeles event follows on a similar event in New York in October. Both are part of a celebration of the school’s anniversary.

TCU graduate and fan Mark Mourer was working at the school as it began to demonstrate its football prowess with future Hall of Fame running back LaDamian Tomlinson and regular visits to bowl games in the early 2000s. The football team’s success allowed the school to set up a sports broadcasting degree, said Mourer, who worked in the school of communication at the time.

“It was a pretty tangible way that the sports program also benefited the academic side of the school,” he said. “That was a very popular degree.”

The sports broadcasting program also allowed TCU to market itself on the West Coast as part of the Mountain West Conference from 2005 to 2011.

“TCU was able to provide a lot of the content to the Mountain West network because we had that sports broadcasting program and students received experience and people became more aware of the school,” said Mourer, now an enterprise account executive with Spectrum Enterprise.

TCU’s undefeated streak during the regular season brought a huge infusion to the local economy, especially the hotel and retail industries, Gengelback said.

Gengelback noted that TCU has long played a role in attracting out-of-state students, especially from California, since the Rose Bowl. These students often remain post-graduation and contribute to local economic development, he said.

“We’re going to have more talent here for companies to access as they are growing. It also means that more talent here is going to be able to attract new companies that want to access that talent,” he said.

Seth Bodine is a business and economic development reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at seth.bodine@fortworthreport.org and follow on Twitter at @sbodine120

Bob Francis is business editor for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at bob.francis@fortworthreport.org.

Sandra Sadek is a Report for America corps member, covering growth for the Fort Worth Report. You can contact her at sandra.sadek@fortworthreport.org or follow her on Twitter at @ssadek19.

At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.