From humble beginnings as a railroad watering stop to Sports City, USA, Frisco continues to evolve (and it knows how to play the game).
In the beginning Frisco was called Emerson
It began as a no-place stop along the historic Shawnee Trail, a path for Native American tribes en route to new hunting grounds, then as a resting place for American pioneers pointing their wagons to the southwest. It was called “Emerson” at the time, named after one of the region’s largest landowners, and by the late 1800s, had grown to have a cotton gin, a blacksmith and a one-room school.
Then the railroad came and an official of the St. Louis-San Francisco Railway came up with a nickname for the little North Texas watering stop: Frisco City.
According to historian Philip D. Ray, it was later abbreviated to just Frisco and officially replaced the original name. By the turn of the century, the population of the isolated community just north of Dallas grew to almost 2,000, mostly cotton farmers.
There was nothing to indicate that it would one day be the home of an estimated 215,000 residents and picked by Money magazine in 2018 as the “No. 1 Place to Live in America.”
Or that it would become the magnetic playground for a sports-crazed nation.
Frisco, Sports City, USA
Of late, some have been trying to re-name it yet again. The Chamber of Commerce now routinely calls it “Sports City, USA.” Members of the media often refer to it as “The City That Plays.”
When he took office as City Manager back in 1987, George Purefoy says he could not have even imagined the remarkable evolution that has taken place in Frisco. “Honestly, I can’t say it was even a dream,” he says. “I remember when we made the deal for Lamar Hunt to bring FC Dallas (his pro soccer franchise) here, it was one of the highlights of my life. As a kid growing up in Mineral Wells, I had been a big fan of him and his (NFL) football team. To actually meet him, get to know him, and have him become a part of our community was really something.”
While many point to Purefoy as the chief architect of the city’s remarkable growth, he modestly deflects such suggestions. “It has long been the philosophy of this city and its leaders to always be prepared for opportunities,” he says. “Just be ready. In time, we’ve built a reputation and that has been a big help in continuing to move things forward.” But it’s smart growth as well, growth that has family and community in mind. Personal finance website MoneyGeek analyzed U.S. crime statistics and ranked Frisco the 5th safest city of its size in the nation.
Chamber of Commerce CEO Tony Felker, who has called Frisco home for a quarter of a century, offers an example of the city’s unique preparation-for-opportunity mindset. “By having the facilities available,” he says, “we were able to help several other communities out during the (COVID) pandemic last year.
“The National Invitational Tournament (NIT) basketball tournament, college football’s New Mexico Bowl and Canada’s International Hockey League championships, all wound up here rather than having to cancel. We not only had game sites, but a plan in place for our hotels to provide the athletes with the protective bubble everyone was demanding. Things like that don’t happen by chance.”
Once an opportunity presents itself, Frisco leaders don’t waste time.
The Dallas Cowboys headquarters moves to Frisco TX
The initial meeting with Jerry Jones about the possibility of moving the Dallas Cowboys headquarters to Frisco, Purefoy likes to point out, occurred in March 2013. The deal was finalized in June of that same year. Word has quickly spread that Frisco and its leaders were able to make things happen quickly.
Along with other city officials and a lengthy list of moneyed private citizens, Purefoy and those around him have helped persuade a high dollar smorgasbord of sports organizations and events to take up residence.
There’s the Dallas Cowboys, world’s most valuable sports franchise (according to Forbes), residing in the monolithic, ever-expanding The Star complex; Major League Soccer’s FC Dallas; minor league baseball’s Frisco Roughriders; the NBA Dallas Mavericks’ G League Texas Legends; the Indoor Football League’s Frisco Fighters; and the Dallas Rattlers, a pro lacrosse team. Don’t overlook the National Soccer Hall of Fame, college football bowl games, headquarters for the Southland Conference, and the various sports activities at 11 (soon to be 12) high schools.
Next up is the highly anticipated opening of the Professional Golfers of America’s international headquarters and two championship-caliber courses. It is estimated that the presence of the PGA will, over the next two decades, add $2.5 billion to the area’s economy.
Sports in Frisco is big business. To wit: The holiday season bowl games the city hosted infused an estimated $15.5 million in the city’s pocket.
But, it is about more than high finance. There are enough Saturday morning soccer and peewee baseball and softball games to wear Mom and Dad to a frazzle. On lazy summer evenings the city parks are filled with amateur baseball and softball players, male and female, peewees to seniors.
Stir in the Parks & Recreation Department that serves the sports ambitions of thousands and one wonders when local residents find time to get any work done. Good seats are always waiting at such venues as the Comerica Center, Rider Field, Toyota Stadium and the Ford Center, not to mention the communities’ numerous city- and school-owned venues.
The sports calendar continued to get more crowded.
Frisco’s USA Gymnastics is preparing to host next year’s Winter Cup competition. The U.S. Army Bowl football game has announced that it will be moving to town. The PGA’s Senior championship tournament is already set for 2023. The city’s new badminton venue will be the site of the sports’ Senior Nationals this summer. (Its building is currently being expanded to soon offer fencing lessons and competitions.)
The two championship courses, to open in 2022, are just part of the PGA’s recent $500 million investment in the city. For the tennis crowd, the go-to place is Lakes Tennis Academy. The Asian community, which currently represents 26 percent of Frisco’s ever-growing population, is enthusiastically involved in the Frisco Community Cricket club.
Name the sport and Frisco’s got it–or will get it. It is also the headquarters and practice rink of the National Hockey League’s Dallas Stars and the home base of the Southland Conference.
Josh Dill, Visit Frisco’s Director of Sports and Events, left a similar position in Fort Worth to accept the job five years ago. “I was very happy where I was and had told several people that the only other position I would consider was this one in Frisco.”
“What Frisco is doing,” he says, “is developing a sports profile that benefits the community, financially as well as its quality of life. The things we’ve been able to attract are long run, stable operations. Then, there’s the unique public-private partnerships in place among the various franchises, the city and the ISD. The people of Frisco get it.”
Frisco Parks & Recreation
Frisco's Parks & Recreation Department keeps the locals busy, offering 20 different sports and recreation activities for participants of all ages. Currently, it serves 15,722 youth association participants and 4,056 adult members of its sports leagues that range from softball and flag football.
For more information, visit friscotexas.gov/520/Parks-Recreation
Frisco’s Calling Card
For historical perspective, one need remember this all started back in 1998 with the construction of a $2.5 million velodrome on the Collin College campus to accommodate competitive cyclists. It had a lifespan of a decade before the school discovered more pressing needs for the 5.5 acres on which it had been built.
Then came the visionary Lamar Hunt, setting the real sports boom in motion in 2000 with a handshake deal that made Frisco the home of his Major League Soccer (MLS) franchise. With the city, the school district, the Economic Development Corporation and private donors pitching in, the building of Toyota Stadium was soon underway–along with a dozen nearby soccer fields to be used by the youth of the community.
It is worth noting that since 2010, seven boys’ and four girls’ teams from Frisco high schools have made it to the UIL state finals. They’ve won seven championships.
The “everyone benefits” concept caught on quickly. Today, all athletic venues are shared property of the franchise that calls them home, the city and the school district. For all, it has been a win-win decision. For instance: Rather than fund the building of a number of stadiums for the Frisco high school football teams, all play their games at the Cowboys’ Ford Center. The PGA, meanwhile, has promised that local high school golfers will have use of a 10-hole practice layout for practice and instruction. That’s just one of the reasons Men’s Health magazine named Frisco the “Best Place in the U.S. to Raise an Athlete.”
An example why: The FC Dallas Academy is considered one of the best youth (soccer) skills development programs in the country with no less than 30 of its players having signed professional contracts and hundreds going on to play at the collegiate level.
Dallas Cowboys owner, president and general manager Jerry Jones is among those who wholeheartedly champions such partnerships. “As the bloodline of our beloved sports, high school athletics in the Frisco Independent School District are featured heavily at Ford Center at The Star with numerous games and events at the shared facility. Together, we have all continued our commitment to making Frisco one of the top destinations as a sports franchise host city in America,” he says to Local Profile.
For now, the crown jewel is The Star, the Cowboys headquarters that is surrounded by a 300-room hotel, condos, shopping and restaurant destinations, and office spaces. They call the neighborhood the North Platinum Corridor for good reason.
“The partnership between the Dallas Cowboys and the city of Frisco has been an integral part of building not only an incredible facility at The Star for the Cowboys’ World Corporate Headquarters, but has more importantly added to an already rapidly growing community,” Jones adds.
Booming, innovative and well financed, Frisco, then, is no longer a Metroplex bedroom community, nor is it just another suburb waystop. It is a destination–with a unique and highly successful calling card.
Story originally published as “America’s Playground” in the Mar/Apr 2022 edition of Local Profile magazine.