The state of Texans franchise spurs dark humor and harsh economic lessons

Prices for Watson memorabilia should tumble. Composite image by Jack Brame.

That's one thing about Houston sports fans, there's no shortage of comedians around here. So when a photo of Deshaun Watson jerseys on sale for "50 percent off" (for real) at local sporting goods stores was posted on Twitter, it was like open mic night at Chuckles Comedy Club.

"That's half the cost of a massage session. Too soon?"

"Bill O'Brien is about to walk in and offer two first-round picks for a double XL."

And darkest ... "Uh, from what I've read, Deshaun Watson prefers his clothing 100-percent off."

Hey, it's a rough room. It didn't help that the same photo of Watson's jerseys for half-price showed Will Fuller's jerseys still going for full boat … and Fuller isn't even with the Texans anymore. The wide receiver signed with the Miami Dolphins several months ago as a free agent. Eddie George's Houston Oilers jersey from 25 years ago still sells for full price. Same for DeAndre Hopkins' and J.J. Watt's jerseys. Both now play for the Arizona Cardinals.

But seriously folks, Watson's problems go way deeper than his jerseys being put on the discount rack. The Texans quarterback is facing 22 civil lawsuits by masseuses claiming sexual misconduct, two of them accusing Watson of sexual assault, plus a separate investigation by the National Football League and the Houston Police Department. A report on ESPN says there's a strong possibility that Watson will be suspended for the entire 2021 NFL season for violating the league's personal conduct policy, and his days playing for the Texans likely are over.

Before Watson's legal problems mounted, his replica jerseys sold for about $100, children's sizes for $70. Now they're going for $50 and $27. Prices for Watson memorabilia, currently as high as $800 for autographed footballs and helmets, should tumble as his legal drama unfolds and a suspension and trade from the Texans appear imminent.

NFL insiders interpret the Texans' drafting of Stanford quarterback Davis Mills with their first pick (No. 67 in the third round) in last week's draft as the clinching sign that the Texans are resigned to move on from the Deshaun Watson era. The Texans quarterback crew now consists of journeyman Tyrod Taylor (47 starts over his 10-year career), Ryan Finley (four NFL starts} and rookie Mills (11 college starts).

Watson's financial hit, though not nearly as serious or troubling as his legal problems, is significant. Forbes estimated Watson's income from endorsements at $8 million last year. Some of his more lucrative endorsement deals already have been terminated or allowed to expire, like Nike, Reliant Energy, Beats by Dre and H-E-B supermarket.

His image, whether he is innocent or guilty, has received a blow that will be difficult to recover from. Unfair or not, Watson is no longer the untarnished local hero he was in 2020 when he signed a contract for $156 million that would keep him in Houston for many years. Now he wants out, he's demanded a trade, and many fans (and former fans) agree it'd be best for everybody if he left town.

Bobby Mintz, senior vice-president of talent relations for Houston-based TRISTAR Productions, one of the biggest sports memorabilia companies in the world, declined to comment specifically on Deshaun Watson's situation, but did explain what usually happens when a player is traded to another city or is suspended or becomes notorious for off-field actions. It isn't surprising that Watson's jerseys have lost half their retail value and trending downward.

"The market a player is traded from typically loses interest in him and thus resellers discount the items to move them," he said. In the case of a suspension, Mintz said, "Items typically don't sell at all until time passes and the player begins to play again. And when they do play, they need to play well."

There is the possibility that Watson memorabilia could regain value. The best hope for Watson collectors is for the quarterback to get back on the field, rehab his image and ultimately be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

"If the player goes into the Hall of Fame, his products get hotter and hotter. If he doesn't make the Hall of Fame, prices usually remain steady but you don't sell as much as they are not in the public eye anymore."

What if the player achieves notoriety or becomes an outlaw, as Pete Rose has done?

"Pete Rose being banned from baseball doesn't seem to have affected his value. He has been banned for so long, he continues to sell at a steady rate as people still look at him as the all-time hit king."

There is the possibility that Rose's merch has held its value because he was tossed out of baseball because of gambling, a crime that many people don't consider as very criminal, certainly not as serious and unacceptable as the allegations made against Watson.

It's important to remember that Watson has denied all allegations made against him. As they say in newsrooms: this is a developing story.

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A new hotel is in the works near Minute Maid. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Astros owner Jim Crane says the team is ready to break ground on a major construction project that will include a hotel and entertainment complex across the street from Minute Maid Park as soon as the 2023 baseball season wraps up – hopefully with another World Series parade in downtown Houston.


But another hotel? Another entertainment complex? More construction downtown? My first reaction was, how much more does Houston need? I remember when the Super Bowl was held in Houston in 2004, clubs and restaurants sprung up downtown practically overnight, only to disappear virtually the morning after. When it came to downtown development, the expression “less is more” turned out true. At least that Super Bowl.

I asked my contacts in government and the Houston welcome wagon, is this a good idea, building a hotel and entertainment complex next door to Minute Maid Park? Do we need it? Can we sustain it?

The answer every time was a resounding yes! For a couple of reasons: first, downtown Houston, coming out of Covid, is booming, leadership is creative and budget-minded these days, and most important, if Jim Crane is behind the idea, you can trust it’ll work. The guy’s got a track record.

“In 2004, the idea was to turn downtown’s Main Street into Bourbon Street. Is that what we really want? It was a misguided plan, the wrong philosophy, and businesses opened and closed in short order,” a source told me.

It was a different story when the Super Bowl returned to Houston in 2017. This time Houston saw the Marriott Marquis, a 1,000-room hotel complete with an iconic Texas-shaped swimming pool, open in time for the tourist onslaught. Also, Avenida Houston greeted downtown visitors with new restaurants and entertainment venues. Both the Marriott and Avenida Houston have continued to thrive long after the Super Bowl left town.

“We want our downtown to attract visitors while providing services for the growing number of singles and families who are making their home downtown. As we continue to host major events and conventions, there will be a need for more hotel rooms,” the source said.

The Astros’ plan to build a sprawling hotel and entertainment complex originally was discussed in 2021 but was put on hold due to Covid. Now Crane and the Astros are ready to come out swinging. Similar complexes operate successfully next to the baseball stadium in St. Louis, Chicago and other cities.

An Astros-themed hotel adjacent to Minute Maid Park is particularly intriguing. The lobby could be home to an Astros museum and team Hall of Fame. Rooms and restaurants could be decorated in honor of Astros legends – the “Nolan Ryan honeymoon suite,” or “Strech Suba’s Bullpen Bar and Grille.” There could be meeting space for autograph and memorabilia shows. There could be a broadcast facility for post-game interviews and analysis. And maybe one day, fingers crossed, a betting parlor like the Cubs have at Wrigley Field.

The Astros have a contract to play at Minute Maid Park through 2050 – the only long-term contract that doesn’t make Crane cringe. Anything that enhances the fan experience and generates revenue is good for the team and the city. I might even consider going downtown on non-game nights.

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