The Red River Showdown – the historic gridiron clash between Texas and Oklahoma – is staying at the Cotton Bowl for at least another decade.
The football game will remain at the Fair Park icon through 2025, said Dallas civic leader Pete Schenkel, who led negotiations for the city and the State Fair of Texas. The previous deal had gone through 2020, contingent on the city making since-completed upgrades to the stadium.
Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings is expected to formally announce the extension Tuesday afternoon at a news conference. The school’s boards of trustees must still approve the deal, but both athletic departments have signed off on the agreement, Schenkel said.
“The schools appreciate the venue,” said Schenkel, former chairman of the State Fair of Texas. “It’s more of an event, than it is a game.”
The annual rite of fall – a highlight of the State Fair – is a marquee event for both the schools and the city.
Each school receives direct payments of $500,000 for playing in Dallas, along with a split of the ticket sales. And Dallas officials have estimated that the game provides each year an economic boost of more than $20 million in Dallas County.
But moreover, the long-term extension seems to cement a Dallas institution in Dallas.
While other of the city’s major games and events – including the Cotton Bowl’s eponymous postseason football game – have gone down Interstate 30 to AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas-OU appears ready to stay in Fair Park for the long haul.
“There’s no question that’s a nice stadium out at AT&T, but we have a nice stadium, too,” Schenkel said, before pausing. “This is such a nice tradition.”
Oklahoma and Texas have played at Fair Park since 1929.
The stadium is halfway between Norman and Austin, with Dallas serving as a huge alumni base for both schools. The fierce contest has been relatively even since 1929, with Texas leading the series during that time 46-35-1.
And though the matter is certainly up for debate, most fans would agree that the game is the biggest rivalry for either team. Bigger than Texas-Texas A&M. Bigger than OU-Oklahoma State.
But that legendary past hasn’t always been able to hide the fading glory of an aging building.
“Many, many years ago, there really wasn’t any money put back into the stadium,” Schenkel said. “It kind of went down.”
The schools’ contract is with the State Fair, which controls Fair Park during its annual celebration. The city runs Fair Park the rest of the year, making it chiefly responsible for any boosts to the Cotton Bowl and its surrounding environs.
The city spent $57 million on improvements that were completed in 2008. The upgrades amounted to a major overhaul, with the addition of 16,000 more seats and the installation of new scoreboard.
That was enough to convince the Red River Showdown to stay put. But the AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic left its namesake stadium after 2009, moving to Jerry Jones’ state-of-the-art stadium down the road.
And when the universities re-negotiated in 2012, they demanded that the city make some more improvements to the 92,200-seat stadium. The city responded again by spending $25 million to polish up the amenities.
The stadium’s entrances now feature new floors with Cotton Bowl logos. New banners and signage are all over the place. Exposed pipes in the concourse ceilings are enclosed. And there are twice as many televisions near the concessions stands.
Facades cover the outside of the end zone stands, better blending the stadium with its historic surroundings. The press and game-official rooms were updated and expanded. And nearly 340 club-level seats were installed, providing prime seating for boosters.
“The two schools have seen these upgrades, and they are so appreciative,” Schenkel said. “They love the Cotton Bowl.”
The Cotton Bowl plays host to other noteworthy football games, including Grambling vs. Prairie View A&M and the Heart of Dallas Bowl. Some big-time soccer matches have kicked off at the Cotton Bowl, as well.
But there’s no question that Texas-OU reins king. And with those stakes, officials were notably tight-lipped leading up to Tuesday’s announcement.
Rawlings’ office said only that there would be a “major announcement” about Fair Park. Others – including Fair Park General Manager Daniel Huerta and Council Member Carolyn Davis, who represents Fair Park – said they weren’t sure what the news might entail.
The latest contract extension with Oklahoma and Texas doesn’t include any changes to the deal or extra incentives, Schenkel said. But the city is nonetheless pressing ahead with other improvements to Fair Park.