STILLWATER — As Oklahoma State finished its slide down the bowl pecking order, the chatter amongst Cowboy fans often centered around one simple question, sometimes asked seriously and sometimes sarcastically.
The Heart of Dallas Bowl? What is that?
Here are the basics. It's a New Year's Day bowl game played at the Cotton Bowl, not to be confused with the Cotton Bowl Classic that used to be staged at Fair Park but is now played at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington. The game used to be called the TicketCity Bowl, but now bears the name of a new nonprofit organization in Dallas.
The game's name — and vision associated with the organization and partnership it identifies — is something Kern Egan and other bowl representatives still have to explain at the moment. But their hope is that the first Heart of Dallas Bowl will officially launch a new local initiative that uses sports and entertainment events as a platform to raise funds and awareness for charity.
“It's not a bare-bones organization and that a charity is just trying to get together and put on a football game,” Egan said. “It's well-funded, it has the full support of the city, the Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau and a great roster of sponsors.
“It's just that all these organizations locally have said, ‘You know what? Yep. Let's do this. Let's put Heart of Dallas as the title of the game, and that way we can really shine a spotlight on all the great work Dallas is doing from a charitable standpoint.'”
After the Cotton Bowl Classic moved to Cowboys Stadium in 2011, the desire was to keep a postseason game at the Cotton Bowl. For two years, TicketCity was the title sponsor.
But it quickly became clear that the event was underfunded and didn't generate enough corporate and community interest. The game was played in a historic stadium that was less than half full — hardly the atmosphere that used to surround Fair Park for the Cotton Bowl.
So last summer, Conference USA commissioner Britton Banowsky and Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings met to discuss a way to improve the game. Both are passionate about helping the homeless, so they concocted an idea of creating a nonprofit organization that could carry the bowl's name and benefit local charities. The first partnership would be with the Metro Dallas Homelessness Alliance.
“After they came to that agreement,” Egan said, “then it was like, ‘OK let's figure out how to put on a bowl game and market it.'”
Enter Egan, the founder and principal of Haymaker, one of Dallas' leading sports and entertainment marketing agencies.
Egan acknowledged the past several months have had their difficulties at times, as he and the organization's other volunteers have needed to rely on pitching opportunity and objective to corporations and citizens, rather than history and results. But a big victory came when the bowl was able to secure PlainsCapital Bank as a “presenting” sponsor, rather than a title sponsor, allowing Heart of Dallas to maintain the bowl's naming rights.
Heart of Dallas already has several other events lined up in the coming months. It has partnered with the Dallas Cup, a prestigious youth soccer tournament, and will stage a concert series in the fall. And the first weekend of the Texas State Fair, Louisiana Tech and Army will square off in the inaugural Heart of Dallas Classic.
The Heart of Dallas Bowl, though, will kick-start it all. Egan said the bowl was “absolutely thrilled” OSU was still available to invite, and that he expects Purdue fans to be interested in making the trip to Dallas.
For now, Egan will continue to tell fans what Heart of Dallas aspires to be.
He hopes the bowl game will prove it.
“We actually just want to get past this first game and show that we do have a great organization and we can put on a great event,” Egan said.