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Approaching football as a business rather than just a sport is the only way to successfully compete in the world’s most valuable sports league, according to Jamey Rootes, president of the Houston Texans. Rootes was selected twice by SportsBusiness Journal as a member of its distinguished “Forty under 40” list of leading sports executives. Under Rootes’ leadership, the 10-year-old team has earned many distinctions, including the American Marketing Association’s Crystal Award for best overall marketing campaign and the SportsBusiness Journal’s PRISM Award, which is given annually to the top major league professional sports team based on business excellence criteria.
“Our mission statement is ‘to create the most respected, most valuable professional sports franchise in the world,’” Rootes says. “It’s simple to say and easy to understand, but difficult to attain.”
The Texans’ key priorities for success are winning championships, creating memorable experiences for its fans, and giving back to the community.
“There are a lot of things that go into any successful organization,” Rootes says. “I think at the core for any professional sports franchise is to have great ownership – which we do with Bob McNair, our chairman and founder – and a great market. Houston is one of the largest markets in the United States. We have a large and ethnically diverse population, a strong corporate base and a great stadium. Traditional manufacturers have their factories; our factory is our stadium. That’s where we welcome our community, entertain them and compete. When you have strong ownership, a strong market and a world-class stadium, it puts you on a firm footing for success.”
Every business in the world – even football – was affected by the economic downturn. Abiding by its core principles enabled the Texans to succeed, Rootes says. “You can’t control the environment; you can only control the way you react to it,” he explains. “We’ve created principles our staff can use to continue to operate at a high level. We’ve sold out every game we’ve ever played, and that includes during those challenging economic times. Our local, national and overall revenues have continued to grow, and we’ve done an even better job of managing our expenses during tough times.”
The Texans have one of the best marketing programs in the NFL because they know how to optimize the brand in a way that generates revenues while engaging fans. Every year, the organization creates a marketing campaign that sets the team apart through the most maximally relevant means. “This year, due to the NFL lockout, we didn’t have the ability to utilize player imagery, which is typically a core component of our campaign,” according to Rootes. “Rather than try to fight the battle, we worked around it. We decided that our 10th season should focus on the fans that have supported us so well throughout the years.”
The Texans created a contest called “Your Story, Your Glory” where fans had a chance to explain why they were the best Texans fan on Earth. The organization received many heartfelt stories and ultimately selected 10 individuals to represent the brand. They put their ambassadors’ faces on the tickets, used their voiceovers on radio spots and featured them in television ads for an authentic third-party endorsement.
“It’s one thing to say, ‘It’s great to come to a Texans game,’ but it’s another to hear it from the fans themselves, how coming to the games moves them emotionally,” Rootes says. “I love hearing about the ways our organization has influenced someone’s life, whether it’s helping a father and son bond like they wouldn’t have otherwise or seeing a family come together around an experience that’s so important to them. Seeing the ways the Texans can positively influence people’s lives and how we can make a positive difference in our community – that gives us a tremendous amount of satisfaction.”
The Texans are committed to “doing great things for Houston” through community involvement, Rootes says. The organization has donated millions of dollars through direct local campaigns and has supported national campaigns for hurricane disasters and other relief efforts. For instance, McNair offered to match dollar-for-dollar what fans could raise for the Hurricane Katrina relief efforts and raised $2.5 million. When Hurricane Ike blew off the roof of the Texans’ stadium, the organization teamed up with sponsors to support hurricane relief.
The organization has generated more than $4 million for youth-related causes through its charitable theme, “Champions for Youth.” Through strategic partnerships with the Boys and Girls Club, the YMCA and the Houston Food Bank, “We think we can make a difference for kids in Houston,” Rootes asserts. The Texans recently opened the Houston Texans YMCA near the stadium and helped build a new food distribution center for the Houston Food Bank.
But there is one goal the Texans have yet to achieve: win the Super Bowl. “Our television ratings are way up, and we will sell out every game we play again this year,” Rootes says.
“That’s a testament to the passion of our fans, but also to the optimism that exists in our market for the Texans that we can, for the first time, become a playoff participant and potentially compete for the Super Bowl.”