IT'S ABOUT TIME!

How silent majority is finally giving Texans much-needed reality check

This is how an NFL team operates in the Bizarro World. Composite image by Jack Brame.

About six or seven years ago, a Houston Texans official told me privately - "you can't quote me on this" - the Texans had more people on their season ticket wait list than the Astros and Rockets sold actual season tickets. Of course the Texans official was bragging, but I'm thinking he probably was right.

Last week a friend told me, "Guess who just called me? The Houston Texans! They told me I could buy season tickets. I made it to the top of their wait list."

It's not such a long list. Not anymore. Three years ago, my friend filled out the form to buy season tickets. The Texans were serial AFC South champs and hotshot Deshaun Watson was the darling of Houston. "Fine, you're Number 26,000 (and something)," he was told.

Last year, he moved up the list to No. 20,000 (and something).

This year, how many do you want?

This means over the past three years, enough Texans season ticket holders didn't renew their tickets to have the team offer those seats to at least 26,000 people who also said no thanks. Although, given the current state of the Texans, they might not have been so polite. I asked my friend, so did you buy 'em?

He said, "Hell no! And they keep calling and emailing me! Actually my wife was more against buying Texans tickets than I am. She is a big football fan and used to love the Texans. But for her, the last straw was when they released J.J. Watt.

"The Texans have sold out every regular season game in their history, almost 200 games in a row since Sept. 8, 2002 when they defeated the Dallas Cowboys at Reliant Stadium. There is a question of whether the streak of sellouts really will end in 2021, since the county may swoop in and buy any tickets that become available. The Texans have an insanely sweet deal with Harris County. This isn't like Pittsburgh or Green Bay or Chicago where fans bequeath tickets to their next of kin, and long-lost second cousins come out of the woodwork to claim the old guy's seats.

The love affair between the Texans and football-crazy fans in Houston is over. There's a thin line between love and hate and the Texans crossed it. In the past two seasons, the Texans have said goodbye to their best receiver DeAndre Hopkins and greatest player and humanitarian ever J.J. Watt. Their dynamic All-Pro quarterback Watson is accused of sexual misconduct by 22 women, seems to have a creepy massage fetish and wants to be traded. This is how an NFL team operates in the Bizarro World, where "us hate beauty and us love ugliness."

The front office looks like the cast of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Team owner Cal McNair is regarded as a doofus, his Svengali Jack Easterby a whack job and former coach Bill O'Brien a maniac. Like George Costanza, every instinct they've had since original team owner Bob McNair died in 2018 has been wrong. The one adult in the room, team president Jamey Rootes, resigned last February. What's left is a 4-12 team with a new head coach with no experience and a new general manager with no experience and a new starting quarterback who's really a backup. Who's the biggest name on the team? How many Texans players would you recognize if you were sitting at Denny's enjoying a Moons Over My Hammy sandwich? The most noteworthy Texans player might be safety Jonathan Owens, and that's mainly because he's Simone Biles' boyfriend. There is very little to like about this team and even less to cheer about. The Texans are closer to the Jaguars than they are Super Bowl challengers.

And the Texans wonder why their season ticket waitlist has been whittled down to absolute zero?

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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.

AstrosWorld!

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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