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Trump’s slightly less tiny Ted rally

It’s true what they say, size does matter.

Not Ted Cruz

President Donald Trump’s rally Monday in Houston with U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz has been moved to a bigger venue.

Originally set to take place at the NRG Arena, the event will now be held at the Toyota Center, Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale announced in a tweet Thursday afternoon, describing the demand for tickets as “HUGE and unprecedented.” The Toyota Center can hold about twice as many people as NRG Arena — roughly 10,000 versus 19,000.

Trump set expectations high set two months ago, when he announced he would come to Texas in October to hold a rally with Cruz at the “biggest stadium we can find.” Neither NRG Arena nor the Toyota Center are among the state’s largest venues.

See here for the background. I’m sorry, this will never be not funny to me. I should have something more intelligent to say, but I’m too busy giggling.

Hockey for Houston (again)?

It could happen.

It’s early, the initial talks have only been exploratory and Mike D’Antoni doesn’t have to worry about slipping on the hardwood any time soon. But I can tell you this: [Tilman] Fertitta and Co. are interested if the NHL can make its end of the bargain work. And if Houston finally gets its long delayed Big Four, it could happen much sooner than later.

“I’m very interested in the possibility of bringing the NHL to Houston,” Fertitta said Thursday in a statement. “But it will have to be a deal that works for my organization, the city, fans of the NHL throughout the region and the NHL Board of Governors. We are in the very early stage of evaluating what opportunities may exist but look forward to a thorough process.”

That’s Fertitta. Straight shooter. No cookie-cutter filter.

Barely a month after he was officially introduced as the Rockets’ new owner – I’m still seeing stars from all the camera flashes – he’s met with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and reiterated the obvious: Pro hockey could make serious sense in Houston.

Fertitta has discussed his potential interest in an NHL team since he officially became the Rockets owner, so this is no surprise. If you’re wondering whether this is an overly optimistic view, it’s one that is shared by actual hockey people.

Why doesn’t Seattle have an NHL franchise yet, and why is Houston probably going to get one?

Because one didn’t pass the Gary Bettman Test when it needed to, and the other very well might when it has to.

The Bettman Test has been applied to a dozen markets throughout his tenure as NHL commissioner. The first phase of the test is the most obvious one: Does the NHL plan to expand? Does the league have a need to relocate a struggling franchise to a more viable market?

Spoiler alert: Houston passes the Bettman Test with ease. That doesn’t mean we will get an NHL team, but if the opportunity arises, we will be at the front of the line. I went to some Aeros games in the 90s, and it was a lot of fun – hockey is a great sport to watch live, because the action is basically nonstop. But that was paying minor league prices in the old Compaq Center, not NHL prices at the Toyota Center. I’d have to see what kind of financial commitment it would require. How interested would you be to attend an Aeros 3.0 game?

The Sports Authority at 20

A few stadia, a little mission creep. Where has the time gone?

As the Harris County Houston Sports Authority celebrated its 20th anniversary Monday night with a reception for current and former directors and board members, it moves into its third decade as a considerably different agency than the one that came into being in 1997.

While the city-county agency continues collecting and distributing the hotel-motel and rental car taxes that funded the billion-dollar construction cost of Minute Maid Park, NRG Stadium and Toyota Center, its more visible function these days is as a sports marketing arm that hopes to bring another NCAA Final Four, an MLB All-Star Game, the Pan American Games and other events to the city.

J. Kent Friedman, the board’s current chairman for more than a decade, jokes while that his predecessors – former Texas Secretary of State Jack Rains and Houston developer Billy Burge – presided over an eventful construction boom from the late 1990s into the early 2000s, his role is considerably less glamorous.

“We’re like the folks with the broom walking behind the elephant,” Friedman said.

It’s a pithy quip for a time frame that involves less flying dirt but still confronts Friedman and executive director Janis Burke with significant decisions and negotiations as the authority hopes to squeeze more years out of three buildings that are, in terms of their initial lease agreements, middle-aged.

Basically, at this point the mission of this committee that was originally formed to get NRG Stadium (née Reliant Sstadium), Toyota Center, and Minute Maid (née Enron) Park built encompasses three things: Handling the bond finances for said stadia, negotiating lease extensions for the occupants of same, and trying to bring big sporting events to Houston. They’ve done a pretty good job with the latter, and I suppose if they didn’t exist some other organization would have to be formed to do that work. I hope they do at least as good a job with item #2, because I don’t want to think about what might happen in the event one of those venues is deemed uninhabitable by its tenant. So good luck with that.

(The story mentions in passing the litigation with HCHSA’s bond insurer, saying they are “three years removed” from it. The last story I saw was that an appeals court had reinstated the lawsuit, which had been previously dismissed. Doesn’t sound like a resolution to me, but I’m too lazy to google around and see if there are further updates.)

Rockets for sale

The end of an era.

Rockets owner Leslie Alexander, among the longest-tenured owners in North American professional sports, has put the franchise up for sale, team president Tad Brown announced Monday in a stunning, hastily-called news conference after Alexander reached his decision.

Brown said Alexander, 73, has no health issues that led to the decision to sell the team nearly 24 years to the day after he purchased it for $85 million from Charlie Thomas. Brown said Alexander reached the decision that shocked the NBA, the organization and even those closest to him Monday morning.

“It’s something he’s been thinking about a little bit,” Brown said. “It can wear on you after so many decades. There are passions in his life now that are becoming more and more clear, his family and his philanthropic efforts.

“He made the decision. Once he makes up his mind, his mind is made up.”

Brown said there is no specific timetable for the sale of the team, but the NBA does have a list of prospective buyers that have shown interest in purchasing a team. Houston billionaire Tilman Fertitta, who bid for the team in 1993, said he would be interested again. The price tag could run as high as the record $2 billion the Los Angeles Clippers sold for three years ago.

Brown will oversee the effort to sell the team in consultation with the league. He said Alexander is committed to finding a buyer that will keep the team in Houston. It would be unlikely that any ownership group would seek to move the team to a considerably smaller market. The Rockets’ lease with Toyota Center runs through 2033.

Forbes in February placed a valuation on the franchise at $1.65 billion, though Brown said those valuations have typically been “very low” when teams have been sold. The Atlanta Hawks were sold for $850 million in 2015, the most recent sale of an NBA team.

Like most people, I am sorry to see Alexander go. Beyond the cachet he gets from being the owner for two championship teams – and though they are now long gone, he gets credit for four Houston Comets championships, too – he was just exactly the kind of owner a fan could want. He put the team first, he didn’t shy away from letting his GM make a big move, and he was a very good public citizen. I’ve never been embarrassed to be a Rockets fan, and that’s something I can’t say about any other team I root for. Godspeed, Les Alexander. I can only hope your successor follows in your footsteps. NBA.com, ESPN, Yahoo, and the Press have more.

Losing our sports history

This is sad.

The original championship banners for the Rockets and the WNBA’s defunct Comets remain on display at Toyota Center, as do banners saluting both teams’ representatives in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

After that, Houston’s legacy of pro sports banners gets a little fuzzy.

The latest collection of banners to depart the city left in 2013 with the Aeros. The minor hockey team was moved by the NHL’s Minnesota Wild to Des Moines, Iowa, when the team could not reach agreement on a new Toyota Center lease with the Rockets.

Team officials said the Aeros’ 2011 banner for winning the American Hockey League’s Western Division title is on display at the Wild’s training center in Des Moines.

As for the other Aeros banners, they are presumed to be in storage in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, although team officials could not provide details on their location. A team spokesman, in fact, was not familiar with any banners that existed other than the 2011 flag.

Regardless, Toyota Center once was home to banners commemorating the 2003 Calder Cup title, the 1999 International Hockey League Turner Cup title, the 1974 and 1975 Avco Cup titles won by the World Hockey Association team, and the retired No. 9 jersey worn by Hall of Famer Gordie Howe, who played for the WHA Aeros.

[…]

NRG Park spokeswoman Nina Jackson, asked this week about the location of the Astros memorabilia, said, “Nobody knows anything about any banners.”

There was no indication whether the banners were sold during the Astrodome “garage sale” in 2013 and, if not, whether they still are stored somewhere within the building.

Similar questions surround the Oilers’ championship banners and retired number banners. The Oilers left Houston after the 1996 season for Nashville, Tenn., and a spokesman for the Tennessee Titans said the Oilers banners have not been seen in storage in Nashville.

So thanks to two relocated (and renamed) franchises plus one that changed its home stadium, a lot of tangible pieces of Houston’s sports history are at best in unknown locations. The obvious solution to this would seem to be a local sports museum, whose first task would be to try and track down these things that no one will admit to having at this time. Maybe this story will be a catalyst for someone with the money and the inclination to pursue that. Until then, at least we still have people who remember that these things did once happen.

Anyone remember the Comets?

Not much to remember them by.

I remember them

Five years ago Sunday, the Comets played their final game.

There were no balloons, no confetti, no celebration. There weren’t even fans.

The final game the WNBA team played was at Strahan Coliseum in San Marcos, where it was moved after Hurricane Ike hit the Houston area. It was the latest setback in a string of them for the Comets that season.

Six weeks before that game, the team was put up for sale and its operations were taken over by the WNBA.

Despite their troubles, no one in the organization thought the Comets were folding. So when they played their final game in the Texas State University gym, worried about their friends in hurricane-ravaged Houston, they never thought it would be their last.

But three months later, the league suspended team operations and the franchise that won the first four WNBA titles was no more.

“We knew there was trouble,” former guard Tamecka Dixon said. “But it never crossed our minds that we wouldn’t be playing in Houston the next year. We understood that there would be new owners and that the league would run the team for a while, but I never thought it was over.”

[…]

The Comets won the league’s first four championships from 1997-2000. No other team has won more than two. The team’s average attendance was a WNBA-high 11,442 from 1997-2002, then fell to 9,592.

[…]

“No one saw it coming,” former Rockets guard John Lucas said. “No one. And it’s too bad, because they were a big part of Houston basketball. When the Rockets weren’t playing, you had the Comets. It was an important part of the sports cycle for the city of Houston.”

So when the Comets traveled from Chicago to San Marcos for their last game of the regular season Sept. 15, 2008, no one on the team knew they would be on the floor for the last time.

“It’s sad to think that there was no celebration for the Comets, nothing,” Dixon said. “We weren’t even in Houston. The fans didn’t get a chance to have a real goodbye, a real celebration. And Houston had such loyal fans. That is a franchise that deserved a real sendoff.”

The Comets did indeed have a loyal fanbase, with fans as rabid and dedicated as any you’d see at a Texans game. But it was a dwindling fanbase, and if we’re honest with ourselves we will say that it hadn’t been treated very well towards the end. Speaking as a many-year Comets season ticket holder, the move from the Toyota Center to Reliant Arena for that last season would have killed hardier franchises than that. Reliant Arena, to put it delicately, was a dump. You could probably find a dozen high school gyms, and likely a few junior high gyms, that offered a better fan experience for watching a basketball game. Dark, dingy, lousy sight lines, worse acoustics, few amenities – it was a depressing way to watch a game. Had the team continued to exist, I doubt we’d have renewed our tickets for another year – the kids were too little to enjoy the games, and unlike the Toyota Center where you could at least walk around the outer corridors with them in some comfort and with some awareness of what was going on in the game, there was nothing at Reliant for the fan with small children. For a franchise that won four straight championships, something very few teams in any league can claim to have done, they deserved better. Speaking for their once rowdy fans, so did we.

Adios, Aeros

It was nice knowing you.

After 19 years, the Houston Aeros will be no more after this season.

The Minnesota Wild, who own the majority of the Aeros AHL franchise, were unable to reach a new lease agreement with the Toyota Center.

According to person familiar with the situation, the team [sought approval] Thursday from the AHL Board of Governors to relocate the franchise to Des Moines, Iowa starting next season.

The Iowa Wild would play at Well Fargo Arena, which holds over 15,000 for hockey. A press conference is expected on Monday in Des Moines.

According to the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority, the Toyota Center felt they were turning away more profitable concerts to accommodate the Aeros, who often tie up weekend dates between October and April.

The Wild and sports authority sought, but were unable to find, a suitable alternate venue for the team in Houston.

See here for background. The approval was granted, and the team will henceforth be known as the Iowa Wild. My interpretation of this is that we shouldn’t expect another franchise to seek out Houston as its home anytime soon. If the Toyota Center isn’t available, it’s probably not worth their time. Sorry about that, hockey fans. Hair Balls has more.

Is this the end of hockey in Houston again?

Looks like it.

As the Houston Chronicle first reported in January, it appears the Houston Aeros’ 19-year run in Houston is all but over.

An announcement could be coming in the next couple of weeks, basically after the Aeros’ season, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported Tuesday.

The Aeros, affliated with the NHL’s Minnesota Wild, are expected to move to Des Moines, Iowa.

The reason for the move was that the team has been unable to extend its lease at Toyota Center.

The Harris County-Houston Sports Authority has looked into alternative venues – primarily Reliant Arena – for the minor league hockey franchise but has found none suitable.

I confess, I don’t follow the Aeros very closely – it’s been at least ten years since I’ve been to a game. I didn’t even realize they were now affiliated with an NHL team. What I do know is that if they can’t renew their lease at the Toyota Center, they may as well move. Tiffany and I were for awhile season ticket holders for the Houston Comets, and they played one year at Reliant Arena, their last year before folding. It was a truly awful venue – dingy, lots of poor sight lines, lousy or non-existent amenities, and no option to park for free on the street. Maybe it’s better now, and maybe the replacement facility that has been talked about as part of an Astrodome plan would be better – it could hardly be worse – but that would be of little help to the Aeros. So yeah, Toyota Center or bust. Good luck with that. Hair Balls, which also wrote about this last week, has more.

2013 NBA All Star Game officially awarded to Houston

Yay, us!

Source: Chron.com

Seven years after last hosting, NBA commissioner David Stern announced Wednesday that the All-Star Game and weeklong festivities will return to Houston in 2013 at Toyota Center.

“Houston is a spectacular sports city, and for one week it will be the basketball capital of the world,” said Stern, who made the announcement, attended by city leaders and nearly a dozen former Rockets players, during a news conference at Toyota Center. “I want to thank the city and the Rockets for welcoming us once again.”

The three-day event will be held Feb. 15-17. Among the events planned are the NBA Rising Stars Challenge and NBA All-Star Saturday night, which features the 3-point shooting contest and popular slam-dunk contest.

The NBA All-Star Jam Session, an interactive fan experience, will begin earlier in the week a few blocks away at the George R. Brown Convention Center.

An estimated 200,000 fans are expected to attend the three-day event, Rockets and NBA officials said.

It should be noted that Houston was reported to be in line for the 2013 game last August, but as that was during the lockout it wasn’t made official. Now it is, so go ahead and book those plane tickets.

You know what’s coming next, right?

City officials estimate that the economic impact on the region could be $100 million.

It always gives me a warm feeling inside to read an economic impact estimate for a sporting event. I note that the story from August said that the 2006 All Star Game had “an estimated economic impact between $80 million to $90 million”, which compares quite favorably to the NBA’s before-game estimate of a “total economic impact up to $79.6 million”. Not that we have any actual, after-the-fact data to back any of it up, but I think I’m mostly over that by now.

Houston to get 2013 NBA All Star Game

Assuming the lockout has ended by then, of course.

The game will be played Feb. 17 at Toyota Center, which also hosted the 2006 game.

“It’s a done deal,” a person familiar with the bidding process told the Chronicle on the condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak publicly. “We’re just waiting for the NBA to make the announcement.”

There is no timetable as to when the NBA might formally award the game to Houston, although an announcement could be delayed until the end of the labor lockout, the person said.

[…]

The last time the All-Star Game was here it had an estimated economic impact between $80 million to $90 million.

sigh How is it that after all these years, the Comptroller’s office can provide before-the-fact estimates of “economic impact”, but can never seem to provide after-the-fact sales tax figures so we can have some kind of objective data points? Yes, I know there’s more to “economic impact” than that, but it would be a nice starting point. And if the Comptroller’s office does provide this data, why is it that the reporters who write these stories never seem to be able to include it? This has been your regularly scheduled rant about “economic impact” estimates.

During the past decade, Houston has been host to some of the country’s top sporting events, among them Super Bowl XXXVIII and Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game in 2004, the NBA All-Star Game in 2006, NCAA South Regionals in 2008 and 2010 and the Final Four this past April. Reliant Stadium, home of the NFL’s Texans, also will host the 2016 Final Four.

Before this busy decade, there was quite the long drought for such events. As the story notes, the last NBA All Star Game to be held here in 2006 was in 1989, at the Astrodome. The last MLB All Star Games was 1986, and the last NCAA championship game – there wasn’t a “Final Four” back then – was 1971, both also at the Dome. The last Super Bowl was 1974, at Rice Stadium. I don’t know how long we’ll continue to be in the mix for these things, but it’s nice while it’s lasting.

Are we really still looking for an NHL team?

Haven’t seen this pop up in awhile.

Fans purchased more than 17,000 tickets to watch the Aeros split the first two games of the American Hockey League’s Calder Cup finals against Binghamton at Toyota Center on Friday and Saturday.

The minor league team is seemingly thriving here, on and off the ice. But because this is considered a major league city, some wonder what might be.

“We love having the Aeros,” Janis Schmees said. “They’re a great team. But if we’re able to bring in a NHL team, we’re going to jump at that opportunity.”

Schmees is the executive director of the Harris County Houston Sports Authority. That organization would be one of the driving forces behind any such venture. At the moment, she said there is no such movement afoot.

However, if the NHL were to settle in Houston with the Toyota Center as its home base, Schmees said Rockets owner Les Alexander would own the team — specific language was written in the Toyota Center lease saying as much. If another individual or group expressed a desire, another venue would have to be located or built.

Alexander, who has flirted with the possibility of NHL ownership on at least two occasions during the past decade, declined to comment.

The talk has been around for longer than that. Have we forgotten the Les AlexanderChuck Watson feuds already? Part of what made the Toyota Center saga so dramatic was the argument over who would be able to bring a major league hockey franchise to the new venue. The NHL did a lot of expansion and a few franchise moves in the 90s, which helped fuel that speculation, though things had been largely stable since then. With the Atlanta team moving to Winnipeg, I guess that’s all starting up again. I confess, I haven’t paid any attention to the Aeros lately, but it seems to me that the case against an NHL team, which is mostly that the game experience would be a lot more expensive than it is now, hasn’t changed. I doubt the likelihood of Houston emerging with an NHL franchise has changed much either, but I guess you never know.

No, I can’t hear you now

I haven’t attended that many events at Reliant Stadium – a couple of Rice football games, including the 2008 Texas Bowl, and a U2 concert – but that’s enough for me to confirm the lack of wireless coverage in the stadium from my experience. The main thing that I’m curious about regarding this is not answered in the story, however:

Reliant Park officials, however, say the stadium is configured along the lines of virtually every other stadium or arena, with a distributed antenna system that provides access to customers of all mobile providers.

Mark Miller, general manager of Reliant Park, said the DAS system at the stadium and at Reliant Center is designed to handle traffic for the more than 100,000 people who visit the area during the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo and for technology-heavy events such as the Offshore Technology Conference.

“Everybody works off one set of antennas, and I know that they are looking at a 4G upgrade to the system,” Miller said. “I don’t have a recollection of a lot of issues coming to our customer service people involving cell phone service. We work with the carriers to provide the best possible service.”

Cellular providers, given the competitive nature of the business, are reluctant to talk about the specific configuration of their networks or the demands required to service buildings such as Reliant Stadium.

There is, however, one constant to network designs, said Matt Melester, a senior vice president of Commscope, which installed the DAS system at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington and has provided similar systems for the last two World Cups.

“There is no bottom to capacity,” Melester said. “As soon as you get better capacity, it gets used. It’s been an impressive program to have to constantly add more capacity.”

The question is, how does the experience at Reliant compare to stadia in other cities? Heck, how does it compare to Minute Maid or the Toyota Center? Yes, I know Reliant has greater fan capacity than either of those two, but how much worse is it there? I get that there is going to be a problem any time you have a lot of bandwidth-demanding people in a small space, I just want to know if it’s any better or worse at this particular place. Anyone want to offer an opinion about that?

The hole the Sports Authority is in

Sure is a great time for stuff like this to happen, isn’t it?

Harris County taxpayers may have to inject up to $7 million a year into the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority for the next two years due to a financial crisis sparked by the souring of bonds used to build Minute Maid Park, Reliant Stadium and the Toyota Center.

Facing balloon payments on $117 million in variable-rate bonds, the authority now is obliged to pay off the debt in five years instead of 23 years. That would require $24 million a year — a figure that, together with more than $30 million in additional obligations, would push the authority to the brink of insolvency.

The alternative: Convince major banks to provide lines of credit that would give the authority a two-year window to refinance. That would cost $7 million a year.

But those deals would create a new set of problems: The authority would have to take $7 million a year now used for stadium maintenance and the expenses of the Harris County Sports and Convention Corporation and spend it on repaying the loans. To make up the difference, Harris County may have to pick up some of those expenses with property tax revenue, a step that some say indirectly violates stadium boosters’ promise that taxpayer dollars would not be used to pay for the new venues.

Bloomberg had a story about this a few days back as well. I’ll admit it, I voted for the stadium deals when they were on the ballot. I believed at the time that they provided an economic boost for the cities that built them – the research is clear now that that is not the case – and I believed the assertions about how they would not be paid for with tax revenues. Live and learn. I still don’t regret my votes, as I believe the city has gotten value out of all that construction, and I suspect that in the end the refinancing will go through, which will make this not be a crisis any more. But it isn’t what we were promised, and there ought to be some consequences for that – if it means the dissolution of the Sports Authority, or at least a huge curtailment in its mission, that’s a good start. I’m curious as to why the name Gene Locke did not come up in this story, since he has longstanding ties to the Sports Authority and has touted his involvement in the stadium deals as part of his qualifications to be Mayor. Seems like it would be a good idea to get his reaction to this on the record, don’t you think?