PAUL MUTH

Can the XFL thrive in Houston's crowded sports landscape?

Tommy Maddox won the XFL's first and only title. Now the league is planning a reboot with a team in Houston. Scott Halleran/Allsport

It began nearly a year ago with WWE founder and chairman Vince McMahon announcing the return of a gimmick-free XFL. It continued when rumors swirled as XFL executives toured Houston’s BBVA Compass stadium and TDECU Stadium back in September. It was then all but confirmed past weekend when news leaked that Houston will, in fact, be among one of the eight founding members of the revived league. A press conference from the XFL scheduled for Wednesday seems to be a formality as most expect that the time will be used to confirm what everyone already knows:

Houston is getting some (more) football.

So let’s do a quick tally. Houston already boasts franchises in MLB, NBA, NFL, MLS, and Minor League Baseball. On top of all of that, the Bayou City’s Sabercats finished their inaugural season of Major League Rugby just this past year. Collegiately, Houston is home to the Cougars, the Owls, and the TSU Tigers. And if you want to take a deep dive, Houston is the home of the Outlaws, one of the original Overwatch League teams. The bottom line is, Houston is already well represented in the sports world.

Can Houston support yet another sport, when options already swaddle sports fans year round? It’s possible, but not guaranteed.

Before we jump in, let’s backtrack just a step or two and add context. The XFL itself is a reboot of a failed attempt at a second football league that debuted back in 2001. The cheerleaders were flashy, the players could use nicknames on their jerseys, and - like the WWE from whence its founder made his fortune - it was all style and very little substance.

The new XFL returns with the promise of legitimacy. The league’s first move in that direction was the hiring of former Houston Oilers quarterback Oliver Luck as the league’s commissioner. This time around McMahon will not only be be financing the entire league out of his own pocket, he will also uniquely be in charge of every team in the league.

Early concepts of the XFL have suggested that pace of play will be increased, resulting in a faster game with a target duration of roughly 2 hours. And one of the smartest early moves has been the two year launch window they’ve set themselves, as they hope to be ready to play in the spring of 2020. This allows the league to vet cities properly, establish their business and execute with a strong foundation versus the one year roll out they attempted the first time.

All of this looks great from a business perspective, but in order for it to succeed, Houstonians are going to need to buy in. I believe that, as long as the price is right, and the schedule doesn’t conflict with any previously established seasons, that won’t be a problem at all.

With the news that XFL execs were scoping out venues like TDECU and BBVA, it’s not too far of a reach to assume that the new football league won’t be commanding a premium to come watch their product. For perspective, the cheapest seat available to watch the Texans stomp the Cleveland Browns this past weekend was $81, and that’s before parking. Both of the prospective XFL home stadiums are centrally located and accessible by Metrorail. If the price point matches that of a Dynamo game or a midweek Rockets contest, it’s not out of the realm of possibility to think that parents would be more willing to take the family to an XFL game at a cheaper price and in a more intimate setting over the investment that an NFL Sunday has become.

Another reason that the XFL should work in Houston is that it’s simply more football, and Houston LOVES football. As long as it’s marketed appropriately and remains self-aware that the Texans rule the roost, there’s no reason why a franchise can’t succeed here. Football fans typically begin complaining about the length of the offseason about 5 minutes after the Super Bowl concludes, and the XFL seems like a perfect remedy to the problem. Instead of competing head to head against the NFL, the XFL plans to play its 10-game season in the spring, affording fans the allure of almost year-round football. That’s a prospect that should at least bring viewers to the table.

Ultimately I believe that the XFL made a sound business decision in awarding Houston one of its inaugural franchises. The Dynamo and Sabercats have proven that Houston will root for you if the conditions are right. This is a football town, and as long at the XFL takes itself seriously this time, I expect an entertaining and successful relationship with Houston fans.

 

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The Astros will look to bounce back after a tough week. Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images.

After a 6-3 record to start the season, the Houston Astros had a tumultuous week to say the least. They were swept by the Tigers, lost 2 of 3 games to the Seattle Mariners and placed five players on the COVID injured list.

The Tigers' new manager AJ Hinch returned to Minute Maid Park for the first time since the Astros let him go after the cheating scandal in early 2020.

The Tigers swept the Astros and outscored them 20-8 over their three matchups.

Before the 3rd game of the series, the Astros found out they would be without five players on their active roster. Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Yordan Alvarez, Martin Maldonado and Robel Garcia were all placed on the COVID-19 injury reserved list.

"It's hard on the team but you have to carry on. The show must go on," manager Dusty Baker said. "And it went on today with some younger players we have here."

Garrett Stubbs, Taylor Jones and Abraham Toro were called up as well as Alex De Goti and Ronnie Dawson who made their major league debuts last week.

The Tigers were able to score runs early on Zack Greinke, Lance McCullers and Jake Odorizzi (who made his Astros debut) and none of these starters lasted more than five innings in the outings.

Yuli Gurriel was the one Astros bright spot against the Tigers as he had 7 hits and drove in 2 runs. He is still continuing to hit the ball consistently as he finished the series with a .429 batting average.

After a 1-5 home stand the Astros looked to bounce back on the road against the division leading Seattle Mariners (you read that correctly).

Friday night proved to be the Astros' best offensive performance since their home opener on April 8th against the A's.

They scored five runs on Yusei Kikuchi through 7 innings behind good hitting from Aledmys Diaz, Chas McCormick and De Goti who drove in two runs on his first major league hit.

The Astros had a 5-2 lead at this point, but Seattle was able to score 4 unanswered to win the game.

Bryan Abreu, Blake Taylor and Ryne Stanek were credited with those four runs.

Ryan Pressly tried to clean up the bottom of the 9th inning after Stanek put the first two batters on base. His effort was unsuccessfully as Ty France hit a game-ending single that scored J.P. Crawford from second to secure a Mariners victory.

Saturday was the best game of the week for the Astros as they finally broke their six-game losing streak.

After failing to pitch more than five innings on Monday against the Tigers, Zack Greinke threw eight shutout innings with 91 pitches.

He struck out six batters and gave up only 4 hits.

"That's what aces do," Astros manager Dusty Baker said. "Guys like (Greinke) ... they stop the bleeding and we're about bled out."

Greinke finished the game with 2,705 career strikeouts. He is now third amongst active players in strikeouts behind Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander.

Ryan Pressly got some redemption too as he threw a perfect 9th inning giving him his first save of the year.

The Astros won this game 1-0 as Taylor Jones drove in the game's only run with an RBI single.

Sunday's game ended the Astros week with a whimper, as the Mariners bested Houston 7-2.

Jake Odorizzi got off to a good start, but he gave up three hits and was pulled after Mitch Haniger's fifth-inning triple made it a 3-2 lead over the Astros.

Odorizzi is now (0-2) with a 10.57 ERA after two starts with the Astros.

Houston's offensive woes continued Sunday, as Aledmys Díaz had their only hit, an RBI double in the second inning that fell in when outfielder José Marmolejos lost the ball in the sun.

"It's tough to take when you only got one hit and the one hit we got was lost in the sun," Baker said.

UP NEXT: The Astros (7-8) will finish their road trip with a two game series against the Rockies who have the worst record in the league (4-12) before starting an eight-game homestead.

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