HARRIS COUNTY-HOUSTON SPORTS AUTHORITY INSIDER

Soccer matters: Houston hopes to be one of the U.S. cities hosting the 2026 World Cup

Could NRG host the World Cup? NRG Park/Facebook

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Now that the U.S., Mexico and Canada have won the combined bid to host the 2026 World Cup, we move to the next question:

Will Houston be one of the host cities?

The simple answer is we hope so. Houston is one of 17 U.S. cities vying for 10 host spots and – bottom line -- we’ve got 24 months to show FIFA and U.S. Soccer that we deserve to be a host city.

We all know soccer is growing exponentially on all levels in the nation’s fourth-largest -- and one of the most diverse -- cities in America. Whether we’re talking the Houston Dynamo or Dash, international events or high school and league play, the game is huge.

Just ask some of the 70,728 fans who packed NRG Stadium for the 2016 Copa America U.S. vs. Argentina semifinal and set a Houston soccer attendance record with 70,728. Or the 1.5 million fans who have turned out to see the 2010 MLS All-Star Game, 4 CONCACAF Gold Cups and 33 total major soccer matches at NRG.

Or the fans who have turned out for 250 soccer events – including three CONCACF Gold Cups and the 2012 Men’s World Cup qualifier – at BBVA Compass Stadium.

“Every soccer match we host from here on out will be viewed by FIFA and US Soccer and their success will show Houston’s passion for the game of soccer,’’ said Doug Hall, Harris County - Houston Sports Authority VP for Special Projects. “So we’re on a two-year dating period if you will.’’

And it’s not just about organizing committee, sponsors and stadiums. The fans can make a huge impact as well by supporting the Dynamo, Dash and all the major events in Houston.

It all starts in September when NRG and BBVA each host big matches. NRG hosts Mexico and Uruguay in a big international match Sept. 7 and the Dynamo meet Philadelphia in the U.S. Open Cup Sept. 26. The NRG match marks the 17th time Mexico has played in Houston.

Canada and Mexico have already chosen three cities each – Edmonton, Toronto, Montreal, Guadalajara, Mexico City and Monterrey -- to host matches and Houston is on the shorter end of that American list that includes New York, Washington DC, Miami, Los Angeles, Atlanta and Dallas.

At Tuesday’s “State of Soccer” luncheon, officials including Hall, HCHSA CEO Janis Burke, Houston Texans and Lone Star Sports & Entertainment president Jamey Rootes and Dynamo and Dash president Chris Canettti, said the estimated economic impact is $350-$450 million per city.

“It’s a transformational event,’’ said Rootes. “Not just a national event. A global, global audience. The eyes of the world on the city of Houston.”

The last time the U.S. hosted a World Cup was 1994 and Houston wasn’t chosen to host. Dallas did host in 1994 at the Cotton Bowl. Canetti pointed to the impact that World Cup had on the growth of soccer both in Houston and the U.S.

“We all saw what having the World Cup being here in 1994 meant to the growth of the game and really led to the start of MLS,’’ he said. “Having the World Cup here in 2026 is not going to be just an economic boon, but an opportunity to grow the game of soccer here in the United States.’’

Host cities will have six matches – one every five days – and corresponding events over a 32-day period from mid-June to mid-July 2026.

Houston has a proven track record with huge events, having hosted two Super Bowls, two Final Fours and three NCAA Men’s Basketball Regionals.  We’ll also host the 2023 Men’s Final Four, a 2020 NCAA Men’s Regional and U.S. Women’s Open and the 2024 College Football Playoff.

Burke said people always ask her if the World Cup is bigger than a Super Bowl.

“It really is,’’ she said. “It’s hard for Americans sometimes to understand that. But it’s way bigger even than the Super Bowl.’’

Houston threw a week-long party when we hosted historic Super Bowl LI in 2017. The events during the week were sensational and the game was one of the best ever with New England coming from a record 25 points down in the third quarter to beat Atlanta 32-24 in the first overtime win in Super Bowl history.

That said, turn out and help us show FIFA and US soccer how passionate Houston is about the sport.

The clock is ticking.



 

 

 

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Rootes began writing The Winning Game Plan last March. Photo via: NRG Park/Facebook

Football players, coaches and general managers have come and gone, but only one person has been running the business side of the Texans, well, even before they were the Texans. Jamey Rootes has been President of the Houston Texans since 1999, when an NFL team in Houston was still just a gleam in owner Bob McNair's eyes. That's before the team adopted the name "Texans" in 2000, before there was NRG Stadium, which opened as Reliant Stadium in 2000, and before they became serial champs of the AFC South, six titles between 2011-2019.

The precise date was Oct. 6, 1999 when NFL owners voted 29-0 to award the NFL's 32nd and newest franchise to Houston. Not only that, Houston was awarded the 2004 Super Bowl. Rootes, 34 years old with no NFL experience, had his work cut out for him. Before taking the job in Houston, Rootes was team president, general manager and CEO of selling peanuts and popcorn for the Columbus Crew of Major League Soccer.

Major League Soccer, with all due respect, is not nearly a national obsession like the National Football League.

"I wasn't intimidated," Rootes said. "There's a quote that I love, 'Do the thing you fear and the death of fear is certain.' I've always been a purpose-driven person. As for the step up to the NFL, I went from knowing nothing at the start of my time in Columbus to five years later thinking, OK, I've got this sports thing down. Actually, I had a very significant reduction in my responsibilities in Houston. When I was in Columbus, I ran the stadium, I ran the team's business, I was the general manager so I did the talent side of it, too. When I came to Houston, all I had to do was the business, so that was great."

Rootes has captured his remarkable journey from the soccer team at Clemson to grad school at Indiana University to the business world at IBM and Proctor & Gamble to the Clemson Crew, to ultimately being named President of the Houston Texans in his new book, The Winning Game Plan: A Proven Leadership Playbook for Continuous Business Success, available next week.

I've known Rootes from his day one with the Texans, but I still had to ask: everybody knows what the general manager does, and what the head coach does. What exactly does the President of an NFL team worth $3.3 billion do?

"I like to use the parallel of a pharmaceutical company to describe my job. There are two sides to that company. First you put scientists in one building and you leave them alone. They create products, which is what our football team is. The football side has a coach and general manager and all the people who prepare the team to play on Sunday. But getting that product to market is done by the business side, traditional business disciplines. Those are the things that fall to me. Basically, everything between the white lines is run by the football side. Everything outside of those lines, I do," Rootes said.

Between 1999 and 2002, when the Texans played their first game (let the record show the Texans defeated the Dallas Cowboy, 19-10), the team was essentially a massive start-up project. First orders of business for Rootes involved building a new stadium, developing relationships with suppliers, contractors and government officials, preparing for a Super Bowl and, most important, developing a relationship with fans.

Rootes began writing The Winning Game Plan last March, but it's really an accumulation of lessons learned and behind-the-scenes stories about building the Texans from scratch into one of the most admired and valuable franchises in all of sports.

"I've always been a meticulous note-taker. I've kept every presentation I've ever done. I took all of my notes and concepts and put those down on paper," Rootes said. "To be a good leader, you need a wild imagination. You can show me a blank piece of paper, but I don't see it as blank. To me, it's a finished product that hasn't been created yet," Rootes said.

Rootes lays out his leadership strategy in seven chapters: Are You a Manager or a Leader, Get the Right People on Your Team, Build a Winning Culture, Create Raving Fans, a Winning Playbook for Adversity and Success, Your Leadership Playbook and Play to Win.

He learned lesson No. 1 the hard way. A friend once counseled Rootes, "your staff doesn't like the way you're all up in their business, you need to back off." Rootes took that advice to heart.

"It was an epiphany. I wasn't a leader. That's when I truly began thinking about leadership. I say this all the time, I don't do anything. All I do is create an environment where exceptional people can be their very best self. I know what's going on. I'm fully informed. I leave every game day exhausted. I get there early. I do the things I need to do. I kiss babies. I shake hands. I present checks. I entertain clients. I'm dialed in. It absolutely wears me out because I love this organization so much. I am so proud of what we've been able to do for this great city of Houston."

I asked Rootes, as someone who lives for Game Day and a packed NRG Stadium, are you devastated by 2020, the year of COVID-19 and small crowds limited by Centers for Disease Control guidelines?

"I don't look at it that way. I think there's a song by 10,000 Maniacs that said, these are the days that you'll remember. I told my staff, I know you're all going through hell right now, but later on in life, you'll talk about this year. Things that are important are memorable, for the positive and those things that leave a scar. You learn from adversity and you're a better person for enduring it. Victor Frankl said 'We can discover meaning in life in three different ways, by creating a work or doing a deed, experiencing something or encountering someone, and by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.' Suffering is part of life. He should know, he survived a Nazi concentration camp," Rootes said.

H-E-B President Scott McClelland wrote the forward to The Winning Game Plan. Rootes dedicates the book to late Texans owner Bob McNair. Rootes' book is a fun read. All I kept thinking was, where was this book when I needed it? And before you buy too much into Rootes as a leader, consider that Rootes admits that he had to ask for wife Melissa's permission before he could accept the Texans job.

Personal note: I believe that a big part of leadership is the ability to keep a promise. Several years ago, I was riding my bicycle with my dog Lilly on a leash. It was the only way I could keep up with her. Well, one time Lilly saw a squirrel and pulled me off my bicycle. I tumbled a few times and rolled next to the curb. When I looked up, there was Jamey Rootes. I told him, "There's no need for you to tell anybody about this." He never said a word.

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