Blocked shot: Cleveland rejects Dallas' ad campaign to troll host city at GOP convention

By Tom Benning
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tbenning@dallasnews.com

In its lingering rivalry with Dallas over the GOP presidential convention, Cleveland has played its final trump card.

The Ohio city - which bested Big D in the high-profile contest to host the political spectacle - has blocked $50,000 of advertising that the Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau had planned to run at the Cleveland airport during the four-day event.

The ad campaign, which was to appear at the baggage claim, was a mostly benign poke at Cleveland over some its struggles with hotel space and other logistics. Featuring glitzy shots of Dallas, the ads encouraged attendees to "join us for a Grand Old After Party."

Now some Big D boosters are wondering who really has sour grapes over the ordeal.

"It's clear to me that they are little more sensitive about delegates staying an hour away in Sandusky than we thought," Convention and Visitors Bureau president Philip Jones said, referring to one less-than-ideal setup. "You saw the ads. There was nothing mean-spirited or negative about them."

Dallas hasn't shied away from saying it would've been a better host of the Republican National Convention, which should be presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump's big moment.

The city had pitched a low-stress event where, for instance, 90 percent of the hotel rooms would have been within a mile of the convention site. Those sort of details have loomed larger as Cleveland has faced concerns over hotels, readiness and arena prep time.

"We are markedly a much better convention city," Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings told The Dallas Morning News this month.

The marketing campaign - showing, for example, the W Hotel's pool - was supposed to be a puckish reminder of that fact. And the Dallas visitors bureau had entered into a contract with Clear Channel Airports to make the advertisements come to fruition.

Some Clevelanders rolled their eyes at the effort. And David Gilbert, president of the Cleveland 2016 host committee, had just shrugged off the campaign. "If that's how they choose to spend their money, that's fine," he told The News this month.

Other Cleveland officials apparently felt more strongly.

 The ad contract allowed the Cleveland airport to reject submissions for any reason. And airport officials did just that. Fred Szabo, the airport's interim director, said there were numerous advertising requests ahead of the GOP convention.

"Each request was reviewed and those that were accepted met our standards for the limited advertising opportunities which were available," he said in a written statement.

Still, Clear Channel Airports told Dallas boosters that they had expected the ads to be approved.

"Even had we known at the outset of this process about the friction between Cleveland and Dallas surrounding the RNC we would have done nothing differently," Joe Jenkins, the general manager for Clear Channel Airports, told the Dallas team.

Dallas officials nonetheless said they have no regrets. Calling Cleveland's decision "unfortunate," the Convention and Visitors Bureau said the effort - which will exist online - achieved its goal in creating some buzz about the city as a convention destination.

"We stand by our campaigns to promote Dallas as a great get-a-way destination that provides a big city experience without the big city hassle," the agency said.