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In case you needed another reminder that this coronavirus thing is dangerous

Here you go.

The Orlando Pride have withdrawn from the upcoming NWSL Challenge Cup after six players and four staffers tested positive for the coronavirus, a significant setback for a league attempting to become the first in American professional team sports to resume competition.

Orlando announced the decision Monday, six days before it was scheduled to play the Chicago Red Stars on the opening day of the tournament held in the Salt Lake City area. It said in a statement that all players and staff who tested positive remained asymptomatic.

“This was obviously a difficult and disappointing outcome for our players, our staff and fans, however this is a decision that was made in order to protect the health of all involved in the Challenge Cup,” said Orlando Pride executive vice president Amanda Duffy, who resigned as NWSL president in January. “While we were all excited to see the 2020 Pride on the field this weekend, our priority is now making sure our players and staff safely recover and providing any support wherever and however possible.”

[…]

NWSL teams were still in preseason in March when the coronavirus pandemic effectively shut down sports in the United States. After repeatedly postponing the start of its scheduled season, the league announced in late May that it would resume play with a tournament in Utah involving all nine teams.

Speaking at the time the tournament was announced in May, Dr. Daryl Osbahr, team doctor for the Orlando Pride and a member of the NWSL’s medical task force, said it was inevitable that there would be positive tests but that the league put protocols in place that it hoped would allow for “not shutting down the tournament or necessarily a team by one positive result.”

Those protocols, which called for contact tracing and quarantining what were deemed high-risk contacts, apparently made it unfeasible for the Pride to travel to Utah and begin play.

See here for the background. The rest of the NWSL is still on track to play, but this is a stark reminder that no matter what all of the leagues that are currently in some state of returning to play plan to do, it’s ultimately not in their control. Any or all of them may wind up shutting down again because the risk to player and other employees’ safety is just too great. Until there’s a vaccine, or at least a reliable cure, this is the reality we are in. Our plans are all written on sand.

MLS agrees on its restart, WNBA still considering options

More sports coming.

The MLS Players Association voted Wednesday to approve a revised collective bargaining agreement with the league. The new deal will run through 2025 and clears the way for Major League Soccer to resume its 2020 season via a single-site format in Orlando, Fla.

“I can’t give any further specifics on that Orlando concept,” MLS commissioner Don Garber said in a video conference with media. “That was a very, very big part of our discussions with our players. …We were fortunate to be able to finalize an agreement, as the union announced early this morning.”

Garber said details regarding the competition in Orlando, including format and dates, will be released later, but it is expected to be a tournament lasting no longer than 35 days. It will be conducted at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex, which is where the NBA is planning to finish its season.

The commissioner also reiterated his commitment to finishing the season, even if that means pushing the MLS playoffs into 2021.

See here for the background. As noted, the NWSL is already set to return, on June 27. The NBA will be using the same ESPN facility, and I have yet to see how the logistics of that will be handled. I’m sure someone has a plan for it.

Meanwhile, the WNBA is still figuring things out.

The WNBA is considering playing its season at an MGM Resorts International property if it has a season this year, according to a report from The Associated Press.

The other location under consideration is IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida.

The league announced the suspension of its season in April amid the coronavirus pandemic and has not decided on a start date. Operational details of a possible start are not clear, but the league would use a single site — much like the NBA.

WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert told the AP on Tuesday that the league has discussed a variety of options but did not confirm whether Las Vegas or IMG Academy were possible locations.

“We’re looking at the pros and cons of a number of different locations,” Engelbert told the AP.

The WNBA hadn’t actually started its season yet – like MLB, it was still in its preseason when it suspended activities. If the WNBA chooses to play its games in Las Vegas, they may have some company in the form of the National Hockey League, which is considering Vegas among a list of other cities to play its games; like the NBA, the NHL season was suspended just before playoffs were to begin. Again, I’m sure someone will figure out how to handle multiple leagues and all their people sharing the same facility. I’m just trying to stay on top of the news here.

Reopening 3.0

Who wants to go to a water park?

Gov. Greg Abbott issued a proclamation Tuesday announcing additional services and activities that can resume under his second wave of reopenings, allowing food courts in shopping malls to reopen immediately and giving the green light for water parks to begin operations with limited capacity starting Friday.

Recreational sports programs for adults can restart Sunday, though games and similar competitions may not recommence until June 15. Abbott also permitted driver education programs to resume operations immediately.

For food court dining areas that choose to reopen, Abbott is encouraging malls to designate one or more people who are responsible for enforcing social distancing and ensuring tables are cleaned and disinfected between uses.

[…]

While indoor and outdoor pools can operate at 25% occupancy, the governor’s previous directives have specifically said people should continue to avoid interactive amusement venues like water parks. Abbott was facing pressure, however, from a Houston-area water park that initially said last week that it would defy Abbott’s orders and reopen Saturday for Memorial Day weekend. Asked about that last week, Abbott told an Austin television station that his office was talking with operators to make sure they complied.

“They subject themselves to potential litigation as well as potential licensing-based issues if they fail to comply, and so it’s a potentially business-dangerous process for them to proceed forward knowing that they are subjecting themselves to litigation if they open up and anybody contracts COVID-19,” he said to KXAN.

The park ultimately decided not to open early, Community Impact Newspaper reported.

If you can maintain social distancing, swimming is fairly low risk. My experience at water parks is that you’d be fine on most of the rides, but the lines to get to the rides will be what puts you in jeopardy. I’m also not sure how financially viable a 25%-capacity water park is, but that’s their problem, and if Schlitterbahn thinks they can make it work, they’re in a better position than I am to judge. I don’t expect to be paying them a visit this year, that much I do know.

Also, too, outdoor sporting events are back on the menu.

In a new proclamation, Gov. Greg Abbott announced that fans will be allowed at outdoor professional sporting events in most Texas counties with limited occupancy, under a new expansion of his most recent wave of economic reopenings.

Starting Friday, all Texans counties — excluding Deaf Smith, El Paso, Moore, Potter and Randall counties — will be able to host in-person spectators for outdoor sports in venues as long as visitors are capped at 25% capacity. Leagues will first have to apply to — and receive approval from — the Texas Department of State Health Services.

Under the revised rule, fans are still banned from attending indoor sporting events in person. The rule does not address college or high school athletics.

[…]

The health agency’s protocols for adult recreational sports participants include a recommendation of wearing face masks during sporting events and practices, screening individuals for symptoms of COVID-19, and using and carrying hand sanitizers.

Spectators, meanwhile, are encouraged to avoid being in groups larger than 10, maintain a 6-foot distance from others when possible and wear cloth face coverings.

Regular COVID-19 testing is also recommended throughout the professional sports season.

I’d say the main effect of this is allowing recreational sports leagues to start up. High school and college sports are exempted, the NWSL will be playing only in Utah, and MLB is still a work in progress. I guess auto racing would be open to fans now as well. I will have a decision to make when the college football season starts, but I wasn’t expecting to see an Astros game any time soon except on TV. Do any of these new options appeal to you? Leave a comment and let us know.

NWSL will be the first American sports league to return to play

We’ll see how it goes.

The National Women’s Soccer League will become the first U.S. team sport to resume play June 27 with a month-long tournament in suburban Salt Lake City, and the rebuilding Houston Dash hope the unique format will give them a chance to succeed against more established rosters.

Wednesday’s announcement of the NWSL Challenge Cup gives teams four weeks to reconvene and resume training after the COVID-19 shutdown. Each of the nine teams will play four games, leading to quarterfinals, semifinals and a July 26 championship game at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah.

“It’s very exciting to be the first and really important that we showcase the league and the players to the highest levels,” Dash coach James Clarkson said. “The safety of everyone is the most important thing.”

While the league will be among the first pro team sports to resume play since the coronavirus pandemic stopped games in mid-March, it could be without some high-profile players from the U.S. Soccer’s women’s national team.

At least seven players on the 23-member national team roster have said they will not participate, the Washington Post reported. Others were said to be awaiting word on testing and safety issues before committing to the tournament.

[…]

Games in Utah will be played without fans present and will be streamed on the CBS All Access subscription service. The tournament opener June 27 at Zions Bank Stadium in Herriman, Utah, and the July 26 championship game will air on CBS Sports.

The host Utah Royals FC will provide housing, training and game site needs for all nine teams and will create what it described as an “NWSL Village” in an effort to assure players’ health and safety.

With only nine teams, the logistics for the NWSL are a little easier than for other leagues, just because there will be fewer people involved. This is a great opportunity for the NWSL, as they will have the sports landscape to themselves for a brief period, but it’s also obviously a risk, as they could easily be the first league to then have to deal with a new coronavirus outbreak among their active players. Like it or not, by virtue of being first up, they get to be a test case for everyone else. I wish them luck. ESPN and Deadline have more.

The NBA inches closer to a return

We’ll know more soon.

NBA teams are expecting the league office will issue guidelines around June 1 that will allow franchises to start recalling players who’ve left their markets as a first step toward a formal ramp-up for the season’s resumption, sources told ESPN.

Teams expect a similar timeline from the league on when they’ll be allowed to expand individual workouts already underway with in-market players to include more team personnel, sources said.

The NBA suspended the 2019-20 season on March 11 because of the coronavirus pandemic. The league is discussing a step-by-step plan for a resumption of the season that includes an initial two-week recall of players into team marketplaces for a period of quarantine, one to two weeks of individual workouts at team facilities, and a two- to three-week formal training camp, sources told ESPN.

Barring an unforeseen turn of events, many NBA owners, executives and National Basketball Players Association elders believe commissioner Adam Silver will green-light the return to play in June — with games expected to resume sometime before the end of July, sources said.

The NBA is still considering a two-site format for the return of the season, including Orlando’s Walt Disney World and Las Vegas, sources said.

See here for some background. That story was from Thursday. As of Saturday, things had progressed a bit further.

The NBA is going to Disneyworld. Or at least, it hopes to save its season and declare a champion in a single-site scenario outside of Orlando.

In the most public sign yet that the NBA is hopeful that it can resume its 2019-20 season amid the coronavirus pandemic, NBA spokesman Mike Bass said the league has begun exploratory talks with the Walt Disney Company about using its venue in central Florida to hold practices and games without fans present.

“The NBA, in conjunction with the National Basketball Players Association, is engaged in exploratory conversations with The Walt Disney Company about restarting the 2019-20 NBA season in late July at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Florida as a single site for an NBA campus for games, practices and housing,” Bass said in a statement.

“Our priority continues to be the health and safety of all involved, and we are working with public health experts and government officials on a comprehensive set of guidelines to ensure that appropriate medical protocols and protections are in place.”

The MLS is also looking at Orlando, at the ESPN Wide World of Sports facility. I don’t know how much that might complicate the logistics, but one presumes they will figure it out. The Chron had reported earlier in the week that the Toyota Center in Houston had been in the discussion as a potential venue, but that is apparently no longer in play. It’s possible the NBA will go straight into a playoff system, or it may play some more regular season games but eliminate the teams with the worst records to limit the number of people required to be there. I guess we’ll find out soon enough.

As you know, Major League Baseball has also been working on a season-starting proposal, though in typical fashion the owners are making up claims about financial losses in an attempt to back out of the previous agreement with the players and squeeze them on salaries. I suspect this will get resolved at some point, in which case we may suddenly have a lot of sports coming back to us. Assuming, of course, that there isn’t a big post-reopening spike in infections or other insurmountable obstacle. But if things go as the optimists hope, we could go from no sports to a fairly full slate in a hurry. We’ll see.

MLS has a plan to start its season

That’s Major League Soccer, and their plan may sound a bit familiar.

With no indications of when it could resume the season in home markets, MLS has proposed placing all 26 teams in the Orlando area this summer and playing competitive matches without spectators at the Disney sports complex and possibly other locations, multiple people familiar with the plan said.

The players, coaches and support staff, numbering more than 1,000, would live under quarantine at one of the large resorts near Disney World for an undetermined length of time, said those people, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the matter.

Teams would practice and play primarily at ESPN Wide World of Sports, which sits on 220 acres as part of Disney’s massive footprint in central Florida. Disney-owned ESPN is one of MLS’s broadcast partners.

[…]

The league is expected to accelerate plans over the next two weeks and set the framework for resuming a season that, because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, was shuttered after two weekends.

In jurisdictions where such activities are permitted, several teams have begun voluntary individual workouts, including the Dynamo in Houston. The league has postponed all matches until at least June 8, though the realistic timetable stretches deeper into the summer.

MLS hopes to soon allow players to begin training as part of small groups in local markets, a step the Bundesliga took last month before ramping up operations. The elite German circuit, along with the country’s second division, will resume this weekend with matches played without spectators.

Other European soccer leagues have also made plans to restart their seasons in the coming weeks.

Under its Orlando plan, MLS would welcome teams for workouts and multiple matches per day, which ESPN platforms would carry. It’s unclear whether the league’s other TV partners, Fox Sports and Univision, would show games.

This story came from the Washington Post. This plan is kinda sorta like the original Major League Baseball plan, which would have had all the games played in Arizona; that plan has now morphed into something that would have games played in most league cities. As with MLB, this plan would include games in an empty facility, isolating all the players and other personnel needed for the games – which means they would be away from their families for several months – and regular testing, with some contingency in reserve for if/when there’s a positive test. Money will be an issue, and while the state of Florida is “reopening”, sports facilities like ESPN Wide World of Sports are not yet included in that. So, fair to say, there are still details to iron out. But if you’ve been waiting for news about a sport other than baseball, there you go.

Still waiting to see which cities will get to host World Cup games

Houston’s right in the mix, and after that we’ll see.

This time last year, former Houston Dynamo president Chris Canetti began to find his stride after leaving the team in late 2018 to lead the Houston 2026 World Cup Bid Committee.

This time next year, he hopes the committee and the city will be preparing to host those World Cup matches, which will be played in 16 cities across the United States, Canada and Mexico.

Canada and Mexico will host three games each. The other 10 host cities will be chosen from a pool of 17 American venues which include those in Seattle, Atlanta, Dallas, Philadelphia and Baltimore.

“We’re expecting U.S. Soccer and FIFA to be making a decision on the final 10 cities … at some point this year, so all focus is on that,” Canetti said.

[…]

While the Houston Dash and Dynamo host home games at BBVA Stadium (capacity: 22,000), the committee has proposed NRG Stadium (capacity: 71,995) to host Houston’s matches, although it’s not large enough to be eligible to host any semifinal or final matches.

Canetti and his staff spent 2019 assembling a board of directors, raising private funds to cover the cost of the bid process and developing their plan to differentiate Houston from the other U.S. cities.

In 2020, he’s expecting to receive more detail that outlines when meetings and site visits to Houston will occur.

“We’re waiting to hear from them in terms of what the guidelines may be on a site visit. How long will they be here? Will they be here a day, two days, three days? What do they expect to do and see when they’re in town?” he said. “Based on that information, we’ll be able to draft and develop an entire itinerary for them to showcase the city. It’s hard to say exactly what that entails until we know what the expectations are.”

See here for the last update, which was indeed a year ago at this time. Not much more to say here – Houston is very well suited to host this event, but the competition is stiff. I wish we knew more about when the decision will be made. Nothing to do but wait.

MLS comes to Austin

Welcome to the big leagues.

After a long and often rocky courtship, Austin and Major League Soccer became a match.

The league formally welcomed Austin as its 27th franchise with a raucous downtown party Tuesday full of chanting and flag-waving, and Commissioner Don Garber calling the Texas capital a “perfect fit.” MLS said Austin will begin play in the 2021 season.

“We think of us being a league for a new America,” Garber said. “Austin is diverse. It has enormous energy. It has people who really believe in the city. … We need to be here.”

The move has been long expected as Austin became the target destination for efforts last year to move the Columbus Crew. The Crew instead will stay in Ohio under a new ownership group.

Austin recently signed a lease with Austin majority owner Anthony Precourt, a California-based investor, to provide land for a privately-funded $225 million stadium. The Austin venue will be an open-air facility with a grass playing field on land that has been vacant for 25 years.

“We’re going to unite this city. We’re going to fight for this city. We’re going to make you proud,” Precourt said.

Precourt’s attempts to move the Crew, a bedrock MLS franchise, drew fierce resistance in Columbus as fans rallied to save their team and state and local officials filed lawsuits attempting to block the move.

In Austin, a divided city council argued for months over the stadium deal before it was approved on a narrow vote. Instead of moving the Crew, MLS and Precourt agreed that team would be placed under a new ownership group that includes Cleveland Browns Dee and Jimmy Haslem.

MLS has long eyed Austin — although quietly until 2018 — as an expansion opportunity. Precourt’s initial purchase deal for the Crew included a promise to keep the team in Columbus for at least 10 years, but it also had a clause that would let him move to Austin. And before Precourt announced his desire to move, MLS had trademarked Austin FC and Austin Athletic as possible names for a franchise even though the city had not applied for expansion.

Here’s the official MLS story. I’m happy for Austin, but it turns out that not everyone else is.

Austin FC won’t join MLS until 2021, but it is already the league’s most-hated team.

[…]

So, why does everyone hate Austin FC? The answer is simple: Anthony Precourt.

Precourt owned the Columbus Crew, and announced in 2017 that he planned to relocate the club to Austin because Columbus would not provide a publicly funded stadium. By threatening the move to Austin, Precourt essentially held the club hostage until Jimmy and Dee Haslam partnered with Pete Edwards to save the Crew.

MLS saw the massive public outcry against Precourt’s ownership tactics and still rewarded him with a shiny, new franchise in the city of his choice — all while deserving cities like Sacramento, St. Louis and Phoenix are still vying for the last remaining spot.

Austin has a $225 million, 20,000-seat stadium slated for completion by 2021. Precourt Sports Ventures is funding that project after an agreement with the city.

We already know that Columbus will root viciously against Austin FC. It’s personal for Crew fans. But if MLS decides to stay firm on that 28-team figure, soccer fans from the left-out cities will be rooting against Austin as well.

Click over to see a sample of Twitter reactions. You can add soccer fans in San Antonio to that list, too. Well, it never hurts to have a rivalry in sports. I can’t wait to see how that plays out.

FIFA World Cup update

Still a year away from a decision.

Houston is among 17 American cities vying to become one of 10 host cities selected when the finalists are trimmed by 2021. The 2026 World Cup will also include 10 games each in Canada and Mexico. A host city would get six games during the 32-day event.

Bid committee president Chris Canetti is hopeful of Houston’s chances but sees the addition of [John] Arnold as another boon for the bid.

“One of the things that we’re going to need to do as a committee here and as a city is raise funds,” Canetti said. “So when you agree to host a World Cup, there’s an expense that comes with it. This is really the same exact formula that existed when the Super Bowl came a couple years ago, so to have someone like John who’s so well-respected in the community, so well-connected in the community … it’s really important to us to be able to open some doors.

“When you look at Houston as a package, we’ve got everything in place,” Canetti said, referring to the city’s recent history hosting national events and its broad infrastructure. “We look at it as, ‘What’s going to put us on top with the decision makers and let them know that Houston belongs.’ And we think being funded is a great thing.”

Committee members believe Houston’s preparation has helped distinguish the city from its competitors. Still, it’s a cautious optimism. And to an extent, they see the potential for collaboration.

“FIFA’s indicated that they have a preference for some geographic concentration to make travel easier for both teams and fans, so … Dallas and Houston can work together, and they can be complements rather than an either-or situation,” Arnold said, pointing to Houston’s relative proximity to Guadalajara, Mexico City, and Monterrey, three Mexican cities included in the joint bid among Canada, the United States, and Mexico. “The geographic spread of cities will be important, the amount of fan support and community support that each city can show and demonstrate will be important, and I think the culture of soccer that each city shows will be important in that process.”

See here for the previous update. Houston really does have a lot going for it, including a track record of doing well hosting other big sporting events. The World Cup would be bigger still, thanks to the number of matches and influx of international fans, but it’s nothing we can’t handle. Here’s hoping for the best.

The World Cup and its possible infrastructure effects

Assuming Houston does get to be a host city for the 2026 FIFA World Cup, that could spur some major projects, for transportation and recreation and who knows what else.

Houston will not receive final word on the bid until 2020 or 2021, but officials remain optimistic the city is a strong competitor for what could be six to eight American cities, each hosting five or six matches over 30 days. That means weeks of hotel stays, restaurant and bar sales and other expenses for visitors.

Ultimately, that could pay off with long-term projects in Houston. Part of the city’s pitch to selectors is use of a new green space east of the George R. Brown Convention Center, a long-sought cap for Texas Department of Transportation’s plans for a redesigned and buried Interstate 45. Though TxDOT plans to spend $7 billion redesigning and widening the freeway, it cannot spend federal or state highway money on park space capping the buried sections.

A local World Cup committee, however, could focus on fundraising and organize and plan a park, [Doug Hall, vice-president of special projects for the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority,] said.

“The World Cup Local Organizing Committee would help raise funds for such a legacy project if it becomes a final part of the plan,” Hall said in January when officials were finalizing the city’s bid. “The Sports Authority’s tax funds can only be used on voter-approved projects and all monies are currently pledged to the existing sports stadiums.”

[…]

Only the spot along the convention center has been mentioned as a possible legacy project of a World Cup hosting. Preparations for the World Cup coming to Houston would also include numerous other upgrades and close coordination with Metro because public transit would be crucial to any events.

Metro and local organizers are already discussing some alternatives, officials said, though it will be years before final plans are prepared. In preliminary discussions, Metro has said transporting around half of the 75,000 people expected to attend soccer matches at NRG Park will require extensive bus service, along with possibly running light rail vehicles in couplings of three, as opposed to the typical two vehicles per trip.

Metro is also researching with NRG Park officials a more permanent redesign of its rail stop near NRG Park to provide shelter and possibly seating for passengers as they wait in sometimes long lines as trains depart after events packed to capacity. During major events such as Houston Texans football games and the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, riders can sometimes wait 30 minutes or more for room on the train.

Some transit officials during a January discussion said a World Cup event could also spur additional coordination with the city about dedicated bus lanes in more parts of Houston, and perhaps even more.

“I am thinking that would require additional light rail,” Metro board member Troi Taylor said of the potential deluge of visitors for the World Cup.

We’re far enough out from 2026 that anything Metro might propose for the 2019 referendum could be completed by then, though anything that would require federal funds would be up against some very tight deadlines. I suppose work could be mostly done on I-45 by then as well, though I wouldn’t want to bet on that. It’s hard to know without knowing what the specific plans may be, but for sure we should be talking about it now, and working to build consensus for what we can. Anything that develops into a big political fight is a lot less likely to get done.

Here comes the FIFA World Cup

Three cheers for the three nations.

In a long-anticipated vote on Wednesday, the joint bid of the U.S., Mexico and Canada defeated Morocco, its only challenger, as 200 national soccer federations cast their ballots to cap FIFA’s annual Congress.

The three-nation bid captured 134 votes, with Morocco earning 65 from the panel and only Lebanon choosing neither option.

“This is an incredible, and incredibly important, moment for soccer in North America and beyond,” said Carlos Cordeiro, the president of U.S. Soccer.

The 2026 tournament will feature an expanded field of 48 teams — as opposed to recent editions having 32 — and will mark the first time in FIFA’s history that a three-nation bid has been awarded the showpiece event.

The joint bid’s plans call for 60 of the 80 games to be played in the United States — including all matches from the quarterfinals onward — while Canada and Mexico host 10 apiece. The final is expected to be played at MetLife Stadium, just outside New York.

See here and here for the background. I had previously said that if Three Nations won the bid that Houston would get to be a host city, but that’s not quite true, as this story notes:

In an agreement announced when the bid launched last year, the United States will stage 60 of the 80 matches, including all from the quarterfinals on, while Mexico and Canada will get 10 apiece. Twenty-three cities, including Washington and Baltimore, are in the running to become the 16 match venues. In all likelihood, 11 of the 17 proposed U.S. sites will make the cut. A decision is not expected for another two years.

[…]

Mexican venues under consideration are Monterrey, Guadalajara and Mexico City. Canada narrowed its list to Montreal, Toronto and Edmonton.

The U.S. metro areas in the running are Atlanta (Mercedes-Benz Stadium), Baltimore (M&T Bank Stadium), Boston (Gillette Stadium), Cincinnati (Paul Brown Stadium), Dallas (AT&T Stadium), Denver (Sports Authority Field), Houston (NRG Stadium), Kansas City (Arrowhead Stadium), Los Angeles (Rose Bowl and the new NFL stadium), Miami (Hard Rock Stadium), Nashville (Nissan Stadium), New York (MetLife Stadium), Orlando (Camping World Stadium), Philadelphia (Lincoln Financial Field), San Jose (Levi’s Stadium), Seattle (Century Link Field) and Washington (FedEx Field).

Given Houston’s track record with Super Bowls and Final Fours, not to mention international friendly soccer matches, I feel good about our chances, but there are no guarantees. In the meantime, US Soccer is involved in a bid for the 2027 Women’s World Cup as well, so who knows, maybe we’ll get a twofer. Slate and ThinkProgress have more.

Houston makes final cut for FIFA 2026 bid

Now it’s up to FIFA.

The Houston Dynamos might have to make some room: Space City has been included in the bid to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup.

On Thursday, officials announced that Houston is one of 23 cities that are a part of the “United Bid,” a joint bid by Canada, Mexico and the U.S. to host the World Cup.

If the bid is successful, Houston could see international teams battling it out at NRG Stadium.

“Canada, Mexico, and the United States have joined together to deliver a United Bid that offers FIFA and its member associations the power of unity, the promise of certainty, and the potential of extraordinary opportunity,” John Kristick, Executive Director of the United Bid said in a news release.

See here for the background. The original list had 49 venues in 44 cities, so it was about fifty-fifty for Houston to make the cut. At this point, if United Bid wins, we’re in. I’ll definitely buy some tickets if we do. US Soccer has more.

Cricket in Houston

If cricket ever becomes a big deal in the US, the Houston region will play a key role in that.

Houston has had adult [cricket] leagues since the 1970s. Most players, then and now, are from Commonwealth countries – nations once ruled by the British Empire where cricket remains incredibly popular – including India, Pakistan, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Caribbean nations. In that way, American cricket remains insular. The sport continues to grow in popularity as more immigrants from Asia, Africa and Oceania settle in Houston, but native-born Americans rarely encounter a cricket pitch.

Yet the same could be said for the relationship between Americans and soccer before the 1970s and ’80s. Since then, soccer has thrived at the high school and college levels, and the sport’s popularity supports men’s and women’s professional leagues. Millions of Americans watch European soccer leagues, whose games are now broadcast by U.S. networks. Cricketers see a similar path for growth.

Cricket is the second-most popular sport in the world, behind soccer. More than 1.5 billion fans watched the 2015 Cricket World Cup. Created in England in the 16th century, cricket is a parent, or at least an estranged uncle, of baseball. The sports are similar in that a batsman (batter) hits a ball to score runs while a bowler (pitcher) and fielders try to get him out. The similarities dwindle after that, but both could be summed up as being played at a sometimes leisurely pace punctuated by moments of excitement.

But to have any hopes of following in the footsteps of soccer, American cricketers have to surmount two glaring obstacles: how to convince local governments to build more pitches and how to nudge Americans without a Commonwealth heritage to give it a try.

The Houston Cricket League plays on 10 grounds in the Houston area, stretching from Wallis to Pearland to Humble. Several coaches were quick to praise Harris County Judge Ed Emmett for favoring public support for cricket, but conceded that lobbying politicians is often a challenge.

“The city officials, probably when we go talk to them, you first have to explain what cricket is. They have no clue,” Sushil Nadkarni said with a chuckle. “It could be as simple as some other game they’ve never heard of, or it could be like croquet, as far as they’re concerned.”

Nadkarni, a former captain of the U.S. national team who is regarded as one of the best Americans to ever play the game, lives in Katy and runs a cricket academy for youth players. An Indian immigrant, he moved to Texas to get his master’s degree in engineering.

He envisions a cricket farm system similar to baseball that develops young players and feeds the best to the national team. A tinge of envy in his voice, he described how Ireland and Afghanistan, despite their small size, recently were promoted to test status, the highest level of international cricket.

Surely, the U.S. should follow. With more kids joining leagues, talk of cricket becoming an Olympic sport and the ability to watch international cricket through streaming services, Nadkarni believes cricket is on the verge of exploding in popularity here. He brought many of his academy players to watch last Sunday’s match.

They play cricket in San Antonio, which also has a decent-sized South Asian population, as well. As the story notes, the first cricket stadium in America, a 2000-seat facility financed by a local businessman, was built in Pearland in 2013. International professional cricket players have settled here and are working to build the sport. I can see this happening, but crossing over from the population that already loves it to the much larger population that knows nothing about it will be the big challenge.

There is an obvious, if unstated, flaw in the let’s-do-what-soccer-did argument. Soccer is easy to understand for players and fans. Cricket, to a novice, is incomprehensible – a major barrier to attracting newcomers. Even for baseball fans who embrace their sport’s complexity, like those who delight in debating what is or is not a balk, keeping track of the silly point, fly slip, gully, square leg and deep forward mid-wicket positions on a cricket pitch may be a bridge too far.

The length of a cricket match is also an obstacle, though there is a version of the game that takes about two and a half hours, which is perfectly fan friendly. Picking up the basics of the game is another matter. I’ve encountered enough cricket to kind of get the idea, but I don’t understand it well enough to explain it to anyone else. Teaching people the hows and whys of cricket will be very necessary. I wish them all good luck.

Houston part of bid for 2026 FIFA World Cup

Nice.

Houston and NRG Stadium are on an official list for cities and venues that may be considered to host a FIFA World Cup match if the event comes to North America in 2026.

The United Bid Committee of the United States, Mexico and Canada began its outreach for cities to declare interest to serve as a host city by sending Requests for Information to 44 cities throughout the continent.

The list is comprised of 49 stadiums in and around 44 cities that will be considered for inclusion in the official bid that will be sent to FIFA by March 16, 2018.

The list includes 37 stadiums in 34 U.S. cities. Other Texas stadiums are the Cotton Bowl, AT&T Stadium and the Alamodome.

[…]

After cities declare their interest, the UBC will review the submissions and will issue a short list of cities by late September. The UBC will then provide more detailed bid documentation to the cities and conduct meetings to discuss questions as candidate cities prepare their final bid, which is due in early January.

The UBC plans to include 20-25 venues in its final bid to FIFA.

See here for a list of potential host cities and stadia. Basically, for NRG to get one or more games, we would have to make the cut for the final bid, which looks like a strong bet at this time, and then the North America contingent would have to be awarded the event by FIFA; Morocco is the other bidder in competition. The 2026 Cup is the first one with the expanded 48-team field, so there will be more games to be played. FIFA will make its announcement around the time of the 2018 Cup.

More on the cost of a bathroom bill

Whatever one thinks of the Texas Association of Business, you have to hand it to them for their lobbying focus on the great potty issue.

With the legislative session just weeks ahead, the Texas business community is digging in its heels in opposition to Texas Republicans’ anti-LGBT proposals, warning they could have dire consequences on the state’s economy.

Representatives for the Texas Association of Business said Tuesday that Republican efforts to pass a bill to keep transgender people from using the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity and another that would shield religious objectors to same-sex marriage could cost the state between $964 million and $8.5 billion and more than 100,000 jobs. Those figures are part of a new report from the prominent business group.

“The message from the Texas business community is loud and clear,” Chris Wallace, president of the Texas Association of Business, said at a press conference at the Texas Capitol during which he was joined by representatives for ad agency GSD&M, IT company TechNet and SXSW. “Protecting Texas from billions of dollars in losses is simple: Don’t pass unnecessary laws that discriminate against Texans and our visitors.”

Those figures — based on an economic impact study conducted by St. Edward’s University and commissioned by the business group — depict the possible economic fallout in Texas if lawmakers move forward with legislation similar to North Carolina’s so-called bathroom bill and Indiana’s so-called religious freedom law.

[…]

Though the Texas Association of Business and Republicans are regularly legislative comrades, the business group has long warned lawmakers against moving forward with anti-LGBT efforts and it has picked up its lobbying against those proposals as Republican leaders, namely Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, have vowed to push more extreme measures.

A copy of the report is here. We first heard about it a month ago. Here’s the bullet-point summary from the intro:

In summary, the studies demonstrate that discriminatory legislation could:

  • Result in significant economic losses in Texas’ GDP, with estimates ranging from $964 million to $8.5 billion
  • Result in significant job losses with estimates as high as 185,000 jobs
  • Substantially hamper the state’s ability to attract, recruit and retain top talent, especially among Millennials
  • Drastically impact convention and tourism industry, which has a direct economic impact of $69 billion, generates more than $6 billion in state and local tax revenues, and directly and indirectly supports more than 1.1 million Texas jobs (Economic Development and Tourism, Texas Governor’s Office, 2015)
  • Serve as a catalyst for domestic and global companies to choose other states over Texas to start or expand their business.
  • Alienate large, globally recognized businesses, including Apple, Google, Starbucks, British Petroleum, Marriott, IBM, PayPal and the National Football League, which have opposed this amendment and similar ones
  • Allow for an expansion in discrimination, which is counter to prevailing public opinion and conflicts with corporate policies that prioritize diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

As we know, Dan Patrick does not believe that passing a bathroom bill, which is one of his top priorities for this session, will have any negative effect on Texas. He finds it “ridiculous” and “more than offensive” that anyone would boycott Texas (as they have done in North Carolina) over it, and he says he’d consider losing the 2018 election over passing this bill to be an acceptable risk. He can believe what he wants, but the evidence is right there.

Patrick has shrugged off suggestions that major sporting events would stay away from Texas if his proposal became law. But those fears have been heightened in San Antonio, which is set to host the NCAA Final Four in 2018.

After North Carolina passed its version of a restroom law, the NCAA moved seven college basketball championship games out of the Tar Hell State, the NBA canceled its All Star Game and the Atlantic Coast Conference withdrew its college football championship and woman’s college basketball tournament, along with other events. Large companies such as PayPal and Deutsche Bank also dropped expansion plans in the state.

“I think the evidence is crystal clear that the NCAA will not host anymore championships in Texas if we were to pass a law similar to North Carolina,” said state Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio. “I don’t need anymore proof than seeing what they did in North Carolina. Why would they treat Texas differently? Whey would they give us a special pass?”

I don’t think it’s possible for them to make it any clearer that they wouldn’t. And by the way, there are a lot more events than just the Final Four – the 2016 NCAA Division I Men’s Soccer Championship finals will be right here in Houston, at BBVA Compass Stadium, this Friday and Sunday, possibly for the last time if Patrick gets his way. Which gets me back to the question I keep asking, which is at what point does the TAB take him up on that and work to make Dan Patrick the next Pat McCrory? Because losing an election is the only language Dan Patrick will understand, and the lesson he will learn if TAB rolls over and endorses him as usual in 2018 is that he is not accountable to them, or to anyone. Your windup is great, TAB. Now let’s see your follow-through. The Austin Chronicle has more.

NCAA removes all championship games for 2016 and 2017 from North Carolina

Actions, they have consequences.

Based on the NCAA’s commitment to fairness and inclusion, the Association will relocate all seven previously awarded championship events from North Carolina during the 2016-17 academic year. The NCAA Board of Governors made this decision because of the cumulative actions taken by the state concerning civil rights protections.

In its decision Monday, the Board of Governors emphasized that NCAA championships and events must promote an inclusive atmosphere for all college athletes, coaches, administrators and fans. Current North Carolina state laws make it challenging to guarantee that host communities can help deliver on that commitment if NCAA events remained in the state, the board said.

“Fairness is about more than the opportunity to participate in college sports, or even compete for championships,” said Mark Emmert, NCAA president. “We believe in providing a safe and respectful environment at our events and are committed to providing the best experience possible for college athletes, fans and everyone taking part in our championships.”

The board stressed that the dynamic in North Carolina is different from that of other states because of at least four specific factors:

  • North Carolina laws invalidate any local law that treats sexual orientation as a protected class or has a purpose to prevent discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender individuals.
  • North Carolina has the only statewide law that makes it unlawful to use a restroom different from the gender on one’s birth certificate, regardless of gender identity.
  • North Carolina law provides legal protections for government officials to refuse services to the LGBT community.
  • Five states plus numerous cities prohibit travel to North Carolina for public employees and representatives of public institutions, which could include student-athletes and campus athletics staff. These states are New York, Minnesota, Washington, Vermont and Connecticut.

“As representatives of all three divisions, the Board of Governors must advance college sports through policies that resolve core issues affecting student-athletes and administrators,” said G.P. “Bud” Peterson, Board of Governors chair and Georgia Institute of Technology president. “This decision is consistent with the NCAA’s long-standing core values of inclusion, student-athlete well-being and creating a culture of fairness.”

These seven championship events will be relocated from North Carolina for 2016-17:

  • 2016 Division I Women’s Soccer Championship, College Cup (Cary), Dec. 2 and 4.
  • 2016 Division III Men’s and Women’s Soccer Championships (Greensboro), Dec. 2 and 3.
  • 2017 Division I Men’s Basketball Championship, first/second rounds (Greensboro), March 17 and 19.
  • 2017 Division I Women’s Golf Championships, regional (Greenville), May 8-10.
  • 2017 Division III Men’s and Women’s Tennis Championships (Cary), May 22-27.
  • 2017 Division I Women’s Lacrosse Championship (Cary), May 26 and 28.
  • 2017 Division II Baseball Championship (Cary), May 27-June 3.

Emmert said the NCAA will determine the new locations for these championships soon.

“The NCAA Constitution clearly states our values of inclusion and gender equity, along with the membership’s expectation that we as the Board of Governors protect those values for all,” said Susquehanna University President Jay Lemons, vice chair of the Board of Governors and chair of the ad hoc committee on diversity and inclusion. “Our membership comprises many different types of schools – public, private, secular, faith-based – and we believe this action appropriately reflects the collective will of that diverse group.”

Add that to the NBA’s decision to relocate the 2017 All Star Game, and you can see the consequences of that terrible law are starting to pile up. This was entirely self-inflicted, too, and after the blowback Indiana had gotten previously, North Carolina can’t say they couldn’t have seen this coming. Texas, if the Legislature insists on going on an anti-LGBT rampage next spring, has even less of an excuse. Surely even Dan Patrick can grasp the meaning of that first bullet point list above. The 2018 Men’s Final Four is in San Antonio, in case you had forgotten. All we have to do in order to avert catastrophe is to do nothing. Surely we are capable of that. ThinkProgress and the NYT have more.

Pasadena seeks hockey team

I wish them luck.

Pasadena city officials and a group of developers recently discussed working together on a $357 million sports and entertainment resort development to be built in the convention center area.

The focal point of the proposed 200-acre master-planned development is a convertible entertainment venue and multi-use sports arena to hosts youth and professional sports tournaments and games, concerts, rodeos and ice hockey games among other things.

David Miles of Western Spherical Developers, LLC, outlined plans for the proposed development at a Pasadena City Council workshop held Tuesday (March 1).

As part of the proposal for the sports arena, Miles said members of the development team are in preliminary discussions with officials from the American Hockey League to bring an ice hockey team to Pasadena.

“In addition to ice hockey, I would think a soccer team would also be beneficial to Pasadena,” Councilmember Sammy Casados said.

Miles said the sports arena ice rink was convertible and could used for other sports events such as indoor soccer tournaments or to host professional indoor soccer games.

“Pasadena is a wonderful destination market for indoor youth soccer tournaments and professional-level indoor soccer games and we are definitely looking into those options,” Miles said.

The proposed sports arena could also be adapted for other sporting events such as rodeo/equestrian events, indoor football, indoor lacrosse, basketball, boxing, wrestling, BMX and motorcross races and monster-truck events.

The Houston area hasn’t had a hockey team since the Aeros left town, so I’m rooting for that to happen. But don’t count your pucks before they’re dropped.

I’ve checked with some of my hockey sources and nobody has heard of even the slightest possibility of the AHL putting a hockey team in Pasadena, Texas. Sure, there’s been talk of Sugar Land being the home of a AHL team since the Houston Aeros split for Iowa. But nobody with whom I talked had heard even the silliest of rumors about a hockey team in Pasadena.

Of course, AHL would love to put a team back in the Houston area. The Aeros were a successful franchise with decent attendance and a loyal fanbase. Two major airports made travel within the league easy, and it made it really easy to get players up to the parent teams. And a new team here would work well with the franchises in San Antonio and Austin.

But the discussions I’ve heard always revolve a team back in Houston at Toyota Center — which won’t happen as long as Les Alexander runs the arena (there are a lot of bad feelings around the AHL and the NHL arising from Alexander’s treatment of the Aeros). Placing a team at the NRG Arena is also not possible as long as the team has to spend large parts of February and March on the road became of the rodeo.

The talk has been centered around Sugar Land because that is where the Aeros practice facility was located. Sugar Land is also home of the Sugar Land Skeeters and has shown a willingness to embrace a minor league franchise. But it lacks the one thing most needed by any AHL hockey team, an arena.

There’s more, and author John Royal goes into the usual reckoning about publicly-financed stadia being a very bad deal for the public. He also suggests that the AHL might have been looking at the other Pasadena – you know, the one in California – which would be both hilarious and kind of sad if true.

As for soccer, we’re obviously talking the indoor version, and there are a couple of options. Whether they’re any more realistic or not, I couldn’t say. Beyond that, I echo Royal’s concern about the finances of this kind of thing and hope that the Pasadena Council does its due diligence.

Ching and the Dash

Good move.

A few weeks after he was sent into retirement with the first MLS testimonial match, the face of the Dynamo will attempt to build Houston’s new National Women’s Soccer League franchise.

Brian Ching will be the managing director of the NWSL’s Houston Dash. The role will be similar to a general manager’s position, but Ching’s duties will also entail being “the face of the team,” said Dynamo and Dash president Chris Canetti

“I’m excited about it,” said Ching, 35, who has an accounting degree from Gonzaga. “When I stopped playing, I didn’t think that I would be this excited about being in the front office. I think it’s a great opportunity for us to grow the Dynamo brand and make the Dash just as successful as the Dynamo both on and off the field.”

The Dash, who will play their inaugural season in 2014, begin preseason in March and play their season opener in April.

“He’ll work closely with me building this team from the ground up,” Canetti said of Ching. “I think it’s an unbelievable opportunity for him. He wants to be an MLS president one day. I think it’s awesome for the Dash as well.”

When the Comets debuted with the WNBA, they were owned by the Rockets – more specifically, by Les Alexander – but other than playing in the same building and occasionally having Rockets players attend games, there was no obvious tie in between the two franchises. The Comets wound up having enough star power on their own to establish themselves, but a little help from the better known brand never hurts. Having the most famous name from the Dynamo there in the beginning for the Dash makes all kinds of sense. I look forward to seeing who they hire to be their coach and who they get on their initial roster.

Meet the Houston Dash

They’re Houston’s newest sports team.

The Dynamo announced [Thursday] the launch of the Houston Dash, a women’s professional soccer team that will enter the National Women’s Soccer League as an expansion team for the 2014 season.

Owned and operated by the Dynamo ownership group, the Dash will begin play in April 2014 with the start of the second NWSL season, a 24-game schedule that includes 12 home games at BBVA Compass Stadium.

The NWSL is supported by the Canadian Soccer Association, Federation of Mexican Football and the United States Soccer Federation and is the top-flight women’s professional soccer league in North America, featuring many of the top players from the United States, Canada and Mexico, as well as talent from around the world.

“We are thrilled to have our very own NWSL franchise here in Houston,” Dynamo president Chris Canetti said. “It is an important addition to our sports landscape and will bring added value to our community.”

The Dash join the league as its ninth club and first expansion team. The eight other clubs are the Boston Breakers, Chicago Red Stars, FC Kansas City, Portland Thorns FC, Seattle Reign FC, Sky Blue FC, Washington Spirit and the Western New York Flash.

See here for the background. It originally looked like expansion wouldn’t happen next year, but apparently the timeline got moved up. There’s more in this story from the morning of the announcement.

The Houston women’s team will play at BBVA Compass Stadium and train at Houston Sports Park. The Dynamo front office will operate the NWSL team, but the MLS and NWSL clubs will have different coaching and training staffs.

BBVA Compass Stadium sits about 22,039 for Dynamo games, but only about a third of the stadium’s seating capacity will be in use for NWSL games.

“We’ll make it a capacity of 7,000, which would be lower bowl, suites and party deck and open up the presidents club,” Canetti said of BBVA Compass Stadium. “We’ll go on sale with season tickets immediately after the announcement to Dynamo season-ticket holders.”

[…]

The Dynamo gauged interest in the NWSL a few weeks ago by asking fans to put $25 deposits on season-ticket packages for a prospective NWSL team, and more than a 1,000 fans put deposits on season tickets.

“We got over 1,000, and I think it was a powerful statement with four days and little to no promotion other than social media,” Canetti said of the season-ticket deposits. “With no name and no players, to do that type of business in four days was very positive.”

Indeed it is. I like that I will have the option to take my girls to a women’s professional sporting event in town, which had been lost to me when the Comets folded. Even better, we ought to be able to get to these games via light rail, though maybe not in the inaugural season. I don’t know that I want to be a season ticket holder, but I’ll definitely put a Dash game or two on the calendar for next summer.

Bringing the NWSL to Houston

I approve of this.

The Dynamo are in talks about securing an expansion franchise in the National Women’s Soccer League, which features U.S. national team stars Alex Morgan, Hope Solo and Abby Wambach.

The eight-team NWSL played its inaugural season in 2013 with a commitment from the U.S., Canadian and Mexican women’s national soccer federations.

“We’re involved in the initial stages of this process and hope to learn more about the league and the opportunity over the next few weeks,” Dynamo president Chris Canetti said. “I’m a firm believer in women’s athletics. I think there is a place in the sports landscape for professional women’s sports.”

[…]

The NWSL’s 22-game schedule, which consists of 11 home games and 11 road matches, lasts from April to August. Seattle, Portland, Kansas City, Chicago, Washington D.C., Boston, New Jersey and Rochester have teams in the league. Houston would be the league’s first franchise in the Southwest.

If the Dynamo finalize their quest to land an NWSL expansion club, that team would play at BBVA Compass Stadium and train at Houston Amateur Sports Park, just as the men’s club does.

Houston ought to be a good fit for the league, and I’m sure the Dynamo would like to add a few extra dates to BBVA Compass’ calendar. It currently looks like expansion is a no go for 2014, so don’t look for this next season. Maybe by the time this is all worked out the Dynamo (and the Rockets and the Astros) will be broadcast on a channel that’s available to all of Houston. We can dream, right?

Sale of Dynamo to Les Alexander falls through

From the weekend:

Anschutz Entertainment Group has turned down Rockets owner Leslie Alexander’s offer to purchase the Houston Dynamo and the 30-year lease on BBVA Compass Stadium, effectively ending any further negotiations between the sides.

“Ownership evaluated the offer,” Dynamo president Chris Canetti said. “At the end of the day, they determined that they’re not prepared to accept the offer, thus meaning they will continue in their ownership.”

“(AEG) reiterated the commitment to the team and the stadium and the belief in both properties and are committed to both entities.”

For more than a month, Alexander had been in the final stages of negotiations to purchase the Dynamo and secure the 30-year lease and development agreement on new BBVA Compass Stadium, which opened in May.

As recently as two weeks ago, Rockets CEO Tad Brown expressed optimism about completing the deal.

Not sure what happened, because it sure sounded like a done deal when it was first reported. Too bad, I thought Alexander would have been a fine owner for them. I guess they’ll keep looking. Surely there’s some other rich dude in Houston who would like to own a professional sports team.

Bring the USWNT to Houston

I’m in.

If you love the beautiful game, you should want to help Jen Cooper.

Cooper has been on a crusade for women’s soccer in Houston for almost two decades. She’s on a mission again.

Cooper is one of the key figures leading an Internet campaign to get Abby Wambach, Alex Morgan and the rest of the 2012 Olympic gold medalists to Houston. A petition is available at http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/houston-wants-the-uswnt-at-bbva-compass-stadium.

Former U.S. men’s national team forward Brian Ching, who was a member of the 2006 World Cup squad, has agreed to join the effort as one of several folks from throughout Houston participating in a video asking the U.S. Soccer Federation to add BBVA Compass Stadium as one of the 10 stops on the Fan Tribute Tour.

Dynamo president Chris Canetti said he and BBVA Compass Stadium general manager Doug Hall are eager to get the U.S. women’s national team to Houston.

“We think the fan base is very excited about this opportunity, and we would put on a great show and great event for U.S. Soccer,” Canetti said. “Hopefully the opportunity presents itself before the end of the year.”

The team was last here in Houston in 2004, and they drew one of the best crowds of the tour. We’ve now got a great soccer-oriented stadium, and a proven audience for soccer. This should be a no-brainer. Sign the petition and help them make the right call.

Les Alexander on the verge of buying the Dynamo

I like the thought of this.

Rockets owner Leslie Alexander is in the final stages of negotiations to purchase the Dynamo and secure the 30-year lease and development agreement on BBVA Compass Stadium, three officials with knowledge of the process said Thursday.

The deal is not complete, but the sides are close, said the three officials, who requested anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the talks.

Anschutz Entertainment Group owns 50 percent of the Dynamo. Oscar de la Hoya and Mexican billionaire Gabriel Brener own 25 percent each. AEG president Tim Leiweke’s spokesman, Mike Roth, declined to comment on the negotiations with Alexander. Brener is scheduled to be in Houston for the Dynamo’s game Sunday against Columbus.

The Dynamo are a good team, and Alexander is a good owner. The Rockets have had their share of setbacks in their effort to claw their way back to the elite of the NBA, but it’s not been the result of a lack of determination by Alexander and his crew. While the Dynamo aren’t exactly in dire need of a change of direction (that would be the Astros, though their recent change in ownership seems to have them on a better, if long and slogging, path) they could do a lot worse than having Les Alexander writing the checks. On a tangential and somewhat tendentious note, having Alexander and not Phillip Anschutz in control would make me feel better about buying Dynamo tickets since then my money would not be going to bad purposes. A win all around, as far as I’m concerned.

FIFA may face up to reality

The world of international soccer may finally adopt technology to help officiate its games.

The most powerful man in soccer called goal-line technology a “necessity” Wednesday, only hours after Ukraine was denied what appeared to be a legitimate goal in its must-win match against England at the European Championship.

“After last night’s match GLT is no longer an alternative but a necessity,” FIFA President Sepp Blatter wrote on Twitter.

Marko Devic’s shot in the 62nd minute of Tuesday’s match looped up off England goalkeeper Joe Hart and appeared to cross the goal line before it was cleared by defender John Terry. The official standing near the post didn’t signal for a goal, leaving the referee no option but to play on.

If the goal had been awarded, Ukraine would have pulled even at 1-1. But the co-hosts instead lost 1-0, a result that eliminated them from the tournament.

[…]

UEFA is using Euro 2012 to trial the five-official system that features a referee, two linesmen and two additional assistants beside the goal. It’s UEFA President Michel Platini’s preferred alternative to goal-line technology.

FIFA will decide on July 5 whether to approve the five-official system and either of the two goal-line technology systems currently being tested in England and Denmark.

Speaking at a media briefing in Warsaw on Monday, Platini said he expects goal-line technology to be approved at the IFAB meeting.

“Yes, Blatter will do it,” Platini said. “He will (introduce) the technology, but I think it’s a big mistake. … it’s the beginning of the technology, the arrival of the technology.”

Grant Wahl discusses the significance.

I don’t want to get bogged down in the particular side-details surrounding the call in this game. Yes, there was karmic justice, since the assistant referee also missed a Ukrainian offside in the build-up. And yes, it’s unfair to say that the goal-line mistake robbed the Ukrainians of a victory they needed to advance, since they would only have tied the game at 1-1. (At the same time, it’s also fair to say that the game at 1-1 would have been different.)

But don’t take your eye off what matters most: In one of the sport’s showpiece events, the ball crossed the line entirely and was not ruled a goal.

The exact same thing happened at World Cup 2010, when England’s Frank Lampard was robbed of a goal that clearly crossed the line against Germany. Even worse, Ukraine’s phantom “goal” happened with that additional assistant referee on the line.

You can see video of the play here; the English announcers admit the ball is clearly over the line, and reference the 2010 World Cup non-goal England scored as karmic balance. I was home for a couple of days last week after a minor medical procedure, and thankfully had the UEFA championships to help pass the time during the day when I couldn’t do much more than occupy the couch. I didn’t see this game, but I still feel invested in the result. As a proponent of instant replay in soccer and other sports, I applaud this development. I have never understood the attitude of people like Michel Platini, who prefer to let games be decided by fate rather than by what actually happened on the field of play. In almost any other context, when one is incontrovertibly shown to have erred, the normal reaction most of us have is “What can I do to ensure I don’t make that same mistake again?” Unless you’re a sports league president or the like, in which case you blather on about the “human element” and how it’s better to be failed by human officials than given a correct ruling by technological means. I just don’t understand the mindset.

Anyway. As Wahl notes, despite Blatter’s statement this is not a done deal. Adoption of goal line technology will require six out of eight votes at the International Football Association Board (IFAB), and it’s always possible there are enough reactionaries there to hinder progress. But whatever happens there, it seems that an important step forward has been taken. It’s getting a lot harder to stick your head in the sand about the technology that’s available and the need for it.

BBVA Compass Stadium

Dynamo Stadium gets a new name.

When the Dynamo first approached BBVA Compass before breaking ground on their new stadium, the two-time MLS Cup champions were looking for a loan to help finance the construction of the club’s venue on the East End.

Now, the bank will have its name and a note on BBVA Compass Stadium, which is set to open on May 12.

“I think the amazing thing is not that they financed it,” said Tim Leiweke, the president of Dynamo co-owner Anschutz Entertainment Group. “It’s not that they’re putting their name on it, but they’re the architects of how we ultimately figured out a way to pay for this without the taxpayers having to write a check. That’s where their real strength was.”

[…]

The Dynamo’s BBVA Compass loan covered the $20 million that was set aside through the inter-local agreement on the tax increment reinvestment zone (TIRZ) for infrastructure improvements on the site, which the city bought for $15.5 million under Mayor Bill White’s administration. Because the $20 million from the TIRZ is accumulated over years, the team needed to take a loan on the money last February in anticipation of getting the funds in the future.

A little more than 10 months after securing that loan with BBVA, the organizations furthered their relationships by announcing a 10-year, $20 million naming rights deal Wednesday.

Good for them, but if it’s all the same to you, I’ll keep calling it Dynamo Stadium. I’ve used that name for too long to change now. Be that as it may, congrats to the Dynamo getting this done. I look forward to their grand opening of the new digs/

Shunning A&M

It’s not just the UT-A&M football game that’s on the endangered list.

The SEC-bound Aggies have said they’d love to keep playing UT as a non-conference foe, but Longhorns athletic director DeLoss Dodds has said the school’s football schedule is full at least through 2018. That isn’t the case for all sports, but so far A&M has come up dry in scheduling future contests of any sort with UT.

“There doesn’t seem to be nearly as much interest from the other side,” A&M athletic director Bill Byrne said Monday.

[…]

Byrne has instructed his coaches to contact their UT counterparts about scheduling future non-conference games – with no luck to date.

“I reached out about four weeks ago to Texas and emailed and said we’d love to keep the series going,” A&M soccer coach G. Guerrieri said. “I haven’t heard back.”

A&M baseball coach Rob Childress said he and UT counterpart Augie Garrido have yet to discuss whether to continue playing as non-conference foes.

I’d speculated about this before, and I can’t say I’m surprised to see UT give A&M a cold shoulder. There’s no real incentive for them to do otherwise. The question now is whether any other Texas-based school will follow the Longhorns’ lead. At least one so far seems to be doing so.

As for the Aggies perhaps playing another soon-to-be former Big 12 mate in Baylor, Bears athletic director Ian McCaw said via email Monday, “At this time, our future non-conference football schedules are filled through 2020. With regard to scheduling Texas A&M in other sports, it will be considered on a sport-by-sport basis.”

Anyone know what the status of future games between A&M and Texas Tech is? How about TCU, SMU, and UH? Rice has played A&M fairly regularly in baseball lately, and occasionally in basketball, but has not played them in football since the demise of the SWC. I don’t expect any changes there. Looks to me like the Aggies will be racking up the frequent flyer miles in the coming years.

Saturday video break: The only thing that was missing

Surely you’ve seen Abby Wambach’s amazing last-minute goal that enabled the US Women’s National Team to come back against Brazil:

It was called the most dramatic goal in World Cup history, topping Landon Donovan’s last-minute goal last year against Algeria. It must be noted, however, that the Donovan goal had one thing that the Wambach goal did not: A call by Andres Cantor:

Go here if you want a translation, as if one were needed. I love Ian Darke’s play by play, but some things just can’t be replicated. I mean, with all due respect, this wouldn’t work with Ian Darke:

I think he needs to give MLB a try. Imagine a Cantor-McCarver pairing in the booth. How awesome would that be?

The Women’s World Cup

I’ve been enjoying the Women’s World Cup this year. Being on vacation during the first week of group play meant I got to see more games than I otherwise would have. One thing I’ve noticed is a distinct lack of wankeriffic complaints about how the women’s game is so vastly inferior to the men’s game; such complaints are ubiquitous for women’s basketball. In fact, if George Vecsey is any indication, there’s an appreciation for the women’s game that’s quite refreshing. Maybe I’m just too casual a fan to notice whatever trash talk is going on, but even in that case it’s better than with basketball. Those of you who are more hardcore about soccer than I am, is this the norm?

Dynamo Stadium groundbreaking today

I presume things will be sufficiently de-iced for the ceremony today at 2 PM at the stadium site in the East End.

The stadium will have 22,000 seats, and the expansion capacity will be 30,000 over 340,000 square feet.

Populous, which was previously called HOK Sports, also designed Minute Maid Park, Toyota Center and Reliant Stadium. Like those three stadiums, the Sports Authority will be the landlord for the Dynamo’s new stadium.

“Although (it’s) a very simple idea of a stadium, but it gives really sort of a dramatic punch,” [Populous’ Loren] Supp said. “And I think it really sticks out when you look at other stadiums that have been built both for other sports and for soccer worldwide actually.”

You can see pictures there, at Swamplot, and of course on the Dynamo website, where they have a Q&A with the architect. It all sounds quite cool. And someday, barring any malicious acts of Congress, you’ll be able to get there via light rail.

The Dynamo Stadium rebate plan

Well, this is interesting.

The city is poised to strike a 30-year deal giving back $3 million in projected sales tax to the Houston Dynamo as they prepare to construct their $60 million stadium.

City officials say the tax rebate always has been a part of the deal that kept the team from leaving Houston, one that will make the city and county owners of a new sports stadium for which they did not have to pay.

The rebate will amount to $3 million over 30 years, said Houston Chief Development Officer Andy Icken, a primary negotiator for the city on the deal.

“This was viewed as a trade-off to get this much public infusion for a stadium that, in the end, is getting donated to us,” Icken said. “We were never going to go into this unless there was a substantial private investment in the project.”

Icken said the deal mirrors sales tax rebates the city gave the Houston Texans when it negotiated over the future Reliant Stadium.

[…]

Icken denied that the rebate is a new element of the deal, pointing to a December memo he sent City Council members in which he said council would be asked to vote “to reimburse the team for a portion of sales and liquor taxes collected by the operations of the stadium.”

Councilman Mike Sullivan, who voted for the main elements of the deal struck last year between the city and Harris County, said he did not recall any discussion of such a rebate. “I think this evolved as negotiations have taken place with the city and the county, and we’re really just now seeing the changes,” he said.

First I’ve heard of it, too. It’s not really clear to me what this is about. It’s still the case that the Dynamo are spending the vast majority of the money to build the stadium, and it’s still the case that the deal is a good one overall, but the timing on this is lousy. The only thing I can say in its favor is that at least it came out before tomorrow’s Council vote.

How many soccer leagues are there?

I happened across this story about a new professional soccer team coming to San Antonio, and was struck by this bit:

[Team owner Gordon] Hartman and Aaron Davidson, CEO of the NASL, said that efforts by Spurs Sports & Entertainment to field a United Soccer Leagues franchise in San Antonio, also by 2012, won’t be a conflict. The NASL, Davidson stressed, is a second-division league only one step below Major League Soccer.

Two current NASL franchises, in Vancouver and Montreal, are scheduled to move up to MLS in 2012.

“I introduced the USL to the San Antonio Spurs and the Spurs to the USL, but the reality is that the world of soccer has changed,” said Davidson, whose Traffic Sports placed the Mexico-Dominica World Cup qualifier in the Alamodome in 2004. “The USL is now a third-division league.”

Okay, so there’s MLS, which with we in Houston are all familiar. There’s the North American Soccer League, which the new San Antonio Scorpions will be joining; speaking as someone who remembers the old New York Cosmos, the league name amuses me. And there’s the United Soccer League, which is apparently a lesser league than the NASL, which in turn is a lesser league than MLS. I had no idea there were this many pro soccer leagues in existence in the US. Clearly, WUSA was ahead of its time, though there is now a successor. Are there any other leagues out there, or is this all of them?

Dynamo Stadium lease deal reached

We didn’t get the World Cup, but soccer fans here had something to celebrate this week.

The Dynamo have agreed to pay $76 million to build a professional soccer stadium in downtown Houston and then lease it from the city and county for $65,000 a year.

The board of the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority, a joint city-county agency that acts as a pro sports stadium landlord, unanimously approved the deal Thursday morning. While the Dynamo will pay most of the cost of construction, the city and county will own the stadium.

Thursday’s approval sets the stage for construction to begin as early as next month just across U.S. 59 from the George R. Brown Convention Center.

The deal still has to be approved by Houston City Council and Commissioners Court, but I expect both to happen this month. Looking through the archives, the first mention I can find of “Dynamo Stadium” is just over four years ago, shortly after they had settled on the team’s name. You can’t say we’ve rushed this, that’s for sure. Construction is projected to take about 16 months, meaning the stadium may be open in time for the 2012 MLS season. In addition to being the home of the Dynamo and TSU football, the new stadium will also be a live music venue.

The Dynamo’s owners, entertainment giant AEG Worldwide, will be looking to book musical acts into the 22,000-seat stadium.

The Dynamo has worked out a somewhat informal non-compete clause with the Toyota Center, but there’s no such agreement with the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion.

The Pavilion’s capacity is about 17,000; with field seats the new stadium could hold 25,000.

“We’re a larger venue…Our parent company is AEG, that’s their business, live entertainment and they do a lot of musical shows across the country,” Canetti said. ” So I suspect that we’ll be looking to do a handful of shows if not more in the new stadium.”

Canetti noted the Pavilion’s success. “I think they have a niche both in terms of where they’re located and the size of the venue and I think we’re going to provide something that’s just a little bit different for everybody.”

Sounds good to me.

No World Cup for you!

Bummer.

In a mild upset, tiny but oil-rich Qatar was awarded the 2022 FIFA World Cup only a few minutes after Russia was awarded the 2018 bid in a process that was decided by a vote of FIFA’s 22-member executive committee today in Zurich.

[…]

The Go Houston Bid Committee held a private viewing breakfast at the George R. Brown so top city and county leaders could watch the announcement’s broadcast together with some of Houston’s top soccer officials and backers.

“There’s 17 other U.S. cities that are as disappointed as we are,” said Robert Dale Morgan of the Houston Bid Committee. “I think the U.S. bid committee did an outstanding job. Whenever you bid on something of this magnitude you know the competition is going to be stiff.”

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett and District I councilman James Rodriguez, two supporters of the city and county’s decision to help the Dynamo build their new stadium on the East End, attended the viewing party.

Both were visibly dejected.

“I’m disappointed that the U.S. will not host the 2022 FIFA World Cup,” Rodriguez said. “Our country would have put on an amazing World Cup. Many thanks to our local World Cup Bid Committee for all of their efforts.”

Emmett, whose children played soccer growing up, vows to continue to help further soccer’s growth in Harris County.

“It’s a major disappointment because I thought the U.S. bid was very strong,” Emmett said. “And locally it would have really benefited us a great deal. The soccer community is ready for it. By 2022, just think about that, that’s 12 years from now and how much more soccer we would have going on in this community. Now I think all we can do is accept the decision, take the energy that we have for soccer here locally and channel it.”

Qatar is apparently going to spend a ton of money on stadia and infrastructure, including solar-powered air conditioners to battle the 120 degree summer heat. I wish them the best of luck. In the meantime, it may be awhile before the US gets another shot at this.

China is already tabbed as the front-runner to host in 2026, and the tournament would be expected back in Europe for 2030. There is no timeline for those decisions.

That’s a little too far into the future for me. Anyone know where the post-2011 Women’s World Cup events will be? I couldn’t find an answer via Google.

World Cup locale decision time

We’ll know by tomorrow if Houston is still in the running to host the World Cup in 2022.

Houston’s soccer, business and political communities will join the rest of the international soccer community in anticipation as FIFA announces the host nations for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup on Thursday in Zurich, Switzerland. Former President Bill Clinton, one of many powerful members of the Go USA Bid Committee, will travel to Switzerland to speak on behalf of the United States during the final presentation as an honorary chairman of the bid committee.

[…]

A decision Thursday in favor of the United States would not automatically benefit Houston. A timetable hasn’t been set for winnowing the list of 18 U.S. cities in contention to host matches to between 10 and 12. But representatives of Houston are excited.

As far as infrastructure costs, Houston won’t have many, considering Reliant Stadium is set for major international sporting events, as evidenced when it held the 2004 Super Bowl. The 2011 NCAA Final Four is also set for Reliant.

U.S. bid committee members maintain that serving as a World Cup host city has an impact similar to hosting a Super Bowl.

Houston’s odds of serving as a host city appear high considering it was among the select cities U.S. Soccer presented to the FIFA inspection committee in September.

Obviously, the US has to be chosen as the host country, or the rest is moot. If that happens, then you have to like Houston’s chances, though of course anything can happen. I’m rooting for it to happen.

We can’t discuss an event like this without discussing economic projections:

Billions of dollars in revenue are at stake for U.S. Soccer. Moreover, according to an independent economic study cited often by the local bid committee, host cities would take in between $400 million and $600 million.

[…]

The stakes in Houston could be greater than $600 million if — along with Reliant Stadium’s hosting matches – the George R. Brown Convention Center were chosen for the international broadcast center. That would mean media from throughout the world would set up shop downtown for more than a month.

“When you look at it, the economics of an event of this magnitude are obviously tremendous,” said Robert Dale Morgan of the Houston Bid Committee. “But what it also presents to us is an opportunity to be in the eyes of the world. Houston is known internationally in many business circles. This would provide us yet another platform to be on the world stage.”

You know how I feel about these oft-cited but seldom-checked-after-the-fact studies. Having said that, I would expect the host city to get a pretty good boost from the event, just from the sheer number of visitors staying here for a couple of weeks. The 2010 event ran for a month, from the start of group play until the finals. Lots of people are going to need lots of hotel rooms, rental cars, places to eat, and so on. Maybe we’ll even have another light rail line or two built by then. Keep your fingers crossed.