Client: American Airlines Center, Tom Hicks (Dallas Stars), Ross Perot
Jr. (Hillwood Development), Mark Cuban (Dallas Mavericks), Center
PR Team: Le Master Group, Allyn & Co., Burson-Marsteller, Cinco Media,
Howland PR, Yellow Rose of Texas, in-house staff for American Airlines
Campaign: American Airlines Center grand opening
Time Frame: April 15-September 1
Budget: $1.1 million
On July 27, the much-anticipated American Airlines Center in Dallas was
unveiled. The event culminated a four-month long PR campaign introducing
the new sports arena and entertainment venue.
Dallas voters narrowly approved a referendum in 1998 dedicating $125 million in hotel and rental car taxes to partially fund the
facility, now home to the NBA's Mavericks and NHL's Stars. In addition
to combating negative messages from arena opponents, the PR team had to
serve a broad array of principals, as well as educate the public about
traffic on new streets surrounding the center.
"I operate on the drip, drip, drip theory," explains PR team leader Lisa
Le Master of the Le Master Group. "I don't think you should ever
announce something in one big shebang."
The PR team meted out specific ideas to targeted markets months in
advance, and special emphasis was placed on the center's website as an
information hub. "We were trying to make the building, the parking, the
access, and the amenities all familiar to the public long before we
opened the doors," Le Master says.
A steady stream of press releases included announcements about
sponsorships, "platinum seat" sales drives, accessibility features, food
concessions, minority contractors, and the 49-foot-wide scoreboard.
Despite angst among construction supervisors, the PR team also led many
site tours for journalists and opinion leaders.
Collateral produced by Allyn & Co. included detailed guides for fans and
reporters, and an accessibility brochure with information on parking and
getting around inside the massive building. About 500,000 fan guides
were distributed through civic clubs, chambers of commerce, and
nonprofit organizations, as well as by the Stars and Mavericks. In June,
Burson-Marsteller helped publicize the new streets built for the center
by having professional drivers break them in prior to a race at the
nearby Texas Motor Speedway.
One of the lighter press releases pointed out that the center would have
more toilets per capita than any other building in the country. Fifteen
radio stations ran listener contests for the privilege of participating
in a "flush out," when all toilets in the arena were flushed
Coverage included a special section in The Dallas Morning News. The
opposition drew some attention, but "the few little negatives were just
buried within the positives," says Dave Brown, the center's general
manager. One article on traffic flow called the center "this new Xanadu
by the interstate" after city officials said traffic continued to run
smoothly even after a sold-out Eagles concert.
Brad Watson, a business reporter at the local ABC affiliate, said the Le
Master Group kept TV deadlines and visuals in mind when pitching
Dallas Morning News sports business columnist Richard Alm claimed that
the Le Master Group was responsive and did not pitch marginal stories
until the last few days before the ribbon cutting.
A few less positive stories have begun to surface more recently as the
excitement wears off. Some Stars fans, who now pay the NHL's highest
ticket prices, have complained about less-desirable season-ticket
seating assignments, and The Dallas Morning News reported that
developers want to broaden a tax increment financing district to raise
more money for Victory, a planned retail development associated with the
center. Le Master SVP Carey Conner says the seating issue is being
addressed by the Stars' in-house PR team, and plans are being made to
respond to allegedly inaccurate reporting on the tax issue.
The PR team still has its work cut out for it in publicizing individual
team grand openings, positioning the center with national reporters
during basketball and hockey seasons, and comparing it positively to
other venues in the state and nation, Le Master says.