Frisco, Texas: Riding the Wave of Sports…and Prosperity

By Sherri Middleton, Managing Editor, SportsEvents Magazine

With the hashtag #SportsCityUSA, it’s important to back up the hashtag talk. I’m happy to say Frisco, Texas is walking and talking the same game when it comes to sports. The city is home to five – maybe more — professional sporting teams and the city, school district and investors consider this to be the next great sport destination. The Professional Golf Association (PGA) announced last month that it is moving its headquarters in a joint venture lead by Omni Hotels & Resorts, Stillwater Capital and Woods Capital, the City of Frisco and the Economic and Community Development Corporations to bring professional golf to a 600-acre mixed-use development to Frisco.

I traveled to Frisco for the opening of the National Soccer Hall of Fame, located at the south end of Toyota Stadium. It is the first major sport hall of fame to be located in a stadium. The Hall of Fame is more than a museum and collection of artifacts of all that is great about the sport we, in the U.S. call soccer; it’s a step into the future that let’s fans interact with legends in a way I had never imagined. More about that a little later.

Frisco is a city that thrives on sports. I was familiar with Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Fort Worth and other locales, but I am ashamed to admit that I had never thought of Frisco as a dominant sports destination. Even though I knew about The Star, the Ford Center at the Star, Toyota Stadium and Dr Pepper Ballpark. It’s something you need to actually see to believe and understand. Take my word for it. Visit and you will see that Frisco has its hand on the pulse of sports.

So, your opinion about the city changes when your first night in town involves having dinner at Mi Cocina, ( www.micocinarestaurants.com ) a popular Tex-Mex restaurant on Winning Drive. If you are lucky, you will dine with Marla Roe, the executive director of Visit Frisco. You will be swept away with her years of experience in the meetings and tourism industry. She knows everything about Frisco, including its history, food, sports and culture and she is a sports fanatic who runs many miles when she’s not seeking out the hot foods that are seemingly abundant here. She has secrets that she will share about Frisco and you will be wowed with her work and life ethic. Share some avocado dip, salsa and a margarita with Marla. She is your first and most important connection besides your host, Wesley Lucas, communications manager with Visit Frisco.

Then start walking toward Ford Center, but get distracted and see Huddle, a large outdoor sculpture created for the Dallas Cowboys by internationally acclaimed sculptor Tom Friedman. You can’t miss this piece of art that sits in a sort of round-about with spotlights beaming and gleaming on nine figures of stainless steel that to me looked like aluminum foil figures towering in a grassy field. You may be struck by the size of the structure or the message it sends to those who see it. We did what all tourists do. We made pictures. We sat on the ground. We kneeled to its presence. We shot photos from a distance. And still, you can’t really capture the true essence of what it means when you connect the dots and realize this is all about America’s Team – the Dallas Cowboys. Never mind that the Cowboys hadn’t dominated the National Football League (NFL) Championship-scene in a while. (not when I was visiting), but It took me back to my childhood and watching the Cowboys and Tom Landry and the stars of professional football. Yeah, you want to see this 10-foot-by-18-foot sculpture if you are ever in Frisco, regardless of whether you are a sports fan or not. It’s a marvel and part of the history and culture of the area. I think a nighttime view is best, but I don’t know since I didn’t see it in daylight. Crawl under it. Lie under it. Enjoy.

Behind you…or in front of you…whichever way you might be facing, the Ford Center with its bright lights, huge video board and bright green Astroturf are beckoning and you want to hurry to that beacon of activity. But your walk to the promised land is filled with treasures. 

First, I must tell you that many places in Frisco are named in a way that connects the area to sports, The Star and Ford Center are monikers that tell you sports is a dominant presence.

So, you start walking toward Ford Center at the Star (www.thestarinfrisco.com )and The Star Boulevard, Winning Drive and Cowboy Way at The Star are all nearby. This row leading to The Star features 21 monuments of former players and coaches enshrined along the way. I could have stayed here all night making pictures of the iconic symbols and glancing into the restaurants, bars and shops, but I was delaying our progress and the ultimate destination was beckoning me. Needless to say, I did stop to make pictures of the placards for Michael Irvin, Jerry Jones, Troy Aikman, Tony Dorsett, Emmitt Smith – some of my favorite sports personalities. Hard to believe I don’t consider myself a professional football fan.

Once at Ford Center, you’ll see parents and kids playing football on the turf even late into the evening when you think the kids should be home in bed. People are sitting and watching a game on the big screen and the restaurants and bars behind you are buzzing with activity. Bring a ball. Toss a pass or sit and watch the kids run and play. This is how sports should be. You may start thinking this is how you want to live.

My thought in that moment was that this is how you want your kids to live; you want them to be exposed to major sports, on a level that is fun and free for them.

After a quick stop at Cow Tipping Creamery ( www.cowtippingcreamery.com ) for some gourmet, hand-dipped ice cream, we headed back to the Embassy Suites Frisco, our home base for our time in town.

I love Embassy Suites for reliable open spaces, an atrium that allows light to flow and a bar that offers a social hour with free food. My room was quiet and I was grateful for a place to brew tea, enjoy a snack and plug in my phone and other devices. The Embassy Suites Frisco is connected to the Frisco Conference Center and my room overlooked the Dr Pepper Ballpark and Stonebriar Center. We were less than a mile from The Star. The Embassy Suites Frisco also had a fitness center, spa, indoor pool and 90,000-square feet of meeting space and the third largest ballroom in Texas. We toured the Embassy Suites event space the following day as the staff was preparing for multiple events and had just completed a cheerleading competition in the main ballroom. Mike Woodfin, director of Sales & Marketing explained that the Embassy Suites offers enormous, flexible meeting and event space that is often used for sports events. With high ceilings, easy loading/unloading, open-air public spaces, visually appealing color palettes and artwork make this a popular location, particularly since it is connected to the hotel via a hallway from the lobby.

Afterward, we drove around Frisco and saw the sprawling Southfork Ranch in nearby Parker. This ranch and home was featured in the original opening scene of the hit television show “Dallas.” The 2,500+ cattle and horse ranch is one of the largest undeveloped tracts of land in the area. The front of the home and views of the land were featured in the televised nighttime soap opera is a potential gem of land in this area. The ranch is now used for special events and functions but is still known as a working ranch. The ranch is near the proposed site of the University of North Texas on 150 acres in Frisco. Collin County is one of the fastest growing areas in the state and officials say the population has almost doubled in the past 20 years. With major companies already in the area such as Toyota Motor Corp., the Dallas Cowboys, State Farm and others, the UNT campus would help serve the higher education needs for Frisco and surrounding areas.

We then drove through the historic district of Frisco where we saw the Frisco Heritage Museum and Center with the nearby pioneer homes and historic buildings before heading to tour the National Soccer Hall of Fame. Opened in November 2018, the weekend after my tour, this is the first major sport hall of fame to be located inside a stadium. The 19,350 square-foot facility includes the Hall of Fame Club, a media center, retail space, a main museum, exhibition space and locker rooms. More than 400 artifacts are housed in the hall of fame and the venue features NEC’s NeoFace facial recognition software, virtual skills challenge and more interactive, technology-driven spaces that beckon fans to create their own unique experience. Gina Miller, V.P. of Media and Communications is amazing knowledgeable about every item in the facility and shows pride when she discusses the importance of having the first-of-its-kind hall of fame within a stadium in the U.S. (www.nationalsoccerhof.com )

Walking into the HOF, you’ll view the expansive display of team photos, scarves and technology. Stop and register by using facial recognition software and once inside, the world is yours as you incorporate your image, state, favorite team and skills in a one-of-a-kind virtual experience while walking around the artifacts of soccer legends and equipment. You don’t have to be a soccer fan to appreciate the worn-leather balls, tattered and stained jerseys and cleats.

If you are totally into Futbol in the U.S., you will definitely enjoy seeing coaching charts, game notes and player comments.

With a full tour of the National Soccer Hall of Fame — with everything from the artifacts dropped between glass floors to views of the field and locker room — we created our own scarves, defended goals and posed for winning game moments, which were immediately sent to our email for social media shares. It Truly is integrated and an experience to enjoy.

After a busy first half of the we made our way to Pizzeria Testa, a popular dining spot that features fresh, Neapolitan pizza cooked in the roaring heated ovens behind the bar. I ate here in October and am still seeking the textures and flavors of the crispy pizza, salads and art of the food served here. (www.pizzeriatesta.com ) We met Ryan Callison, Josh Dill and Jake Sullavan with Visit Frisco for lunch to learn more about the city and sports offerings. We learned from Wesley Lucas, our host in Frisco, that our lunch partners were thrilled to meet us, but Pizzeria Testa was the biggest reason to show up for the day. #Stillcravingpizza #BringMeBackWesley.

After a satisfying lunch and conversation about sports and events in Frisco, we headed to the National Videogame Museum. ( www.nvmusa.org ) This museum has my heart. It is the only museum in America dedicated to the history of the videogame industry. One-of-a-kind artifacts and more than 100,000 pieces of videogame hardware, software, documents and memorabilia are housed in one enormous facility that lets you step back in time or be in the moment. We challenged each other to a game of Pong on the life-size screen with life-size control knobs. I won! By the end of the tour you are playing games and wondering why something like this isn’t in every city. Call me a video game nerd. I’m okay with that. I topped my Galactic score and my name was on the top of five scoreboards before I left the building. #NVMUSAnerd.

While at the Frisco Discovery Center, you’ll also find the more educational and fun side of Frisco. The City of Frisco and the Frisco Community Development Corporation spent $3 million to transform a former warehouse into an arts, science and cultural center for the community on Dallas Parkway. The center includes the Sci-Tech Discovery Center, the NVM, Train Topia and a living railroad at the Museum of the American Railroad, which houses trains on tracks and is home to one of the largest collections of Pullman cars in the United States. Many other items are also on-site that honor the history of the American Railroad.

If that wasn’t enough, we were headed to The Star, the home of the Dallas Cowboys. Excited? Yes! Driving up to The Star takes your breath away. Entering the star includes Security. Security. And more Security. The tall ceilings, a view of the practice field, championship diamond rings on display and current football stars roaming the lobby are all part of the experience. It is what you should expect, but you honestly don’t know what you might see.(www.thestarinfrisco.com ). We took a behind the scenes tour of The Star with Joe Trahan, media relations & corporate communications coordinator for the Dallas Cowboys and The Star.

The Star sits on a 91-acre campus and serves as the Dallas Cowboys headquarters, practice field and base of operations. The facility includes a 12,000-seat indoor multi-use events center and is connected to the Omi Frisco Hotel with more than 200,000 square feet of dining and retail space.

We toured the expansive facility, caught a glimpse of the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders filming a video promo, sat in the press room, looked out on the practice field and tower, toured the dining spaces and caught a glimpse of the locker rooms, and yet my favorite moments included glimpses of the walls, memorabilia and hallways lined with images of the legends of the team.

A short walk from the Star, we toured the Omni Frisco Hotel, a 16-story luxury property with 300 guest rooms and suites that is the cornerstone of the Star Development. The Omni includes grand and junior ballrooms in 24,000 square feet of meeting space. A Charlotte Jones Collection shop caught our eye and the coffee and wine bar were busy at mid-day. This is an ideal location near all the action and only a three-minute walk to the Star, according to Elyse Callison, marketing manager for Omni Hotels. (www.omnihotels.com/hotels/frisco )

We also ventured into the retail spaces filled with the best of Texas and Dallas Cowboys clothing, the weight room and spa and the Ford Center field for all to enjoy before heading back to the hotel for a break before dinner at Eight11 Place and The Heritage Table. (www.eight11place.com, www.theheritagetable.com ).

My new friend from our competitor publication planned to meet me in the Embassy Suites bar for drinks before the second half of the evening. Christine Hinz and I were on assignment for our respective publications and we discussed the business of travel tourism while enjoying drinks. The mostly male patrons watched sports on the screens around the open bar during hospitality hour.

At Eight 11 Place, Wesley, our host and a Texas native, provided interesting insights into her life growing up on a working ranch. We also talked about the food, drinks and growing sports culture in Frisco. Eight 11 is a locally owned wine bar in historic downtown Frisco in a restored home turned into a cozy, but busy gathering spot. We sat outside with candlelight, wine and appetizers on the patio.

This is what I didn’t know about Frisco before my visit: Frisco is home to The Dallas Cowboys Training Center at Ford Center at the Star, The Ring of Honor Walk, Dr Pepper Ballpark, Dr Pepper Arena, nine-million-square feet of retail and restaurants, public art, and interactive video games, trains, soccer and history.

While in town, we heard rumors of big news about the Dallas Cowboys. That news ended up being a player trade that didn’t seem that big a deal to me. But bigger news was on the horizon that included the possibility of the PGA America moving its headquarters to the area. A couple weeks later, the rumor was confirmed as fact. With the move to the ‘2018 Best Place to Live in America’ according to Money Magazine, Frisco made news again when PGA of America announced it will call Frisco its new home. The headquarters will anchor a 600-acre, mixed-use development featuring a 500-room Omni resort, two championship golf courses, a short course and practice areas totaling 45 holes; a clubhouse; Class AA office space; a 127,000-square-foot conference center; a technologically advanced retail village; parks and open space and miles of trails.

The development will also host the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship in 2023 and potentially a Ryder Cup. The golf courses are expected to open in summer 2022 with the hotel, convention center and other facilities opening six months later. So, professional golf is now added to Frisco’s lengthy list of sports teams and sites.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am a member of the working press and was invited to Frisco, Texas as part of a media familiarization tour and grand opening site visit of the National Soccer Hall of Fame. Visit Frisco provided travel, hotel accommodations and meals during my stay, but the thoughts and opinions expressed in this writing are my own.

#VisitFriscoTX, VisitFriscoTX #HeartFrisco and #SportsCityUSA.