Thursday, August 29, 2013

Houston getting a new spring pro football team wouldn’t be a Gamble

Houston, Texas always has had a rich tradition where outdoor professional football is concerned.

The National Football League’s Oilers called Houston home for 37 seasons (1960-96), and now, the Texans (since 2002) are representing the city in the NFL.

Houston also has had one previous foray into spring outdoor alternative professional football, and it was exciting, to say the least. The United States Football League’s Houston Gamblers played in the spring and summer at the Astrodome in both 1984 and 1985. Led by Head Coach Jack Pardee and a future Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback in Jim Kelly, the Gamblers’ Run ‘N’ Shoot offense helped the team run up 1,162 points in 36 regular-season games (32.3 points per game).

At first, football fans in Houston ate up all the points, as the Gamblers averaged 28,152 fans per home game in 1984. That total fell to 19,120 in 1985 – no doubt a result of the USFL’s decision to move to the fall in 1986, and have the Gamblers compete with the long since-established Oilers.

The Texans play at Reliant Stadium (capacity of 71,500), and the novelty of having another NFL team hasn’t worn off. The team annually is among the NFL leaders in average capacity filled per home game – 100.9 percent in 2012 (sixth), 100.6 percent in 2011 (fifth), 100.0 percent in 2010 (ninth), 99.4 percent in 2009 (11th) and 99.1 percent in 2008 (12th).

Another modern sports facility in Houston is the baseball-only Minute Maid Park, home of the Major League Baseball Astros. Open since 2000, Minute Maid Park has a capacity of 40,963 – but configuring a football field there could be a challenge.

The University of Houston football team will have a new turf stadium beginning in 2014, which will have a capacity of 40,000, and Rice University’s football stadium (Rice Stadium) has a capacity of 70,000.

As for the Astrodome, now the Reliant Astrodome, it most likely wouldn’t be an option now – the “eighth wonder of the world” could be redeveloped, or potentially torn down.

Houston is the 10th-largest United States television market, according to Nielsen.

BOTTOM LINE – On paper, Houston makes a lot of sense for a new spring outdoor alternative pro football team. The history of the Gamblers, the market size and the facilities would combine to make a near-perfect situation for a new team, were it to materialize.

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