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Houston, We Have A Problem. Again.

Stop It. Just Stop it. The Astrodome had it’s 15 minutes of fame. As glorious as it was, its 15 minutes are up.

Last November, voters defeated a measure that would have used tax payer money to turn the Astrodome into a surely over-the-top visitor center. I mean, come on. It’s Texas. Everything’s bigger in Texas, right? Nonetheless, nothing has been done about the decaying monument. Except for endless talks abut what should be done, instead of what is being done.

Thus, I bring you back to an old article that I wrote last year about the fate of the Astrodome and what its demolition will mean for Houston.

When Aspirations Beat Reality: How Houston Lost the Eighth Wonder of the World

Astrodome

Since 2008, ten sports facilities have opened across the country in 3 of the principal professional sports leagues in the United States.  5 in Major League Baseball (MLB). 2 in the National Basketball Association (NBA). 3 in the National Football League (NFL). The 49ers, Vikings and Falcons are all slated to break ground and christen a new stadium of their own within the next 4 years if all goes according to plan. With innovation and technology developing at the speed of light it seems that keeping up with the revolving door of sports facilities is harder than ever.

Besides a heavy burden on taxpayers, a new stadium can bring about many lucrative deals for not only the team but the city in which it calls home. Sponsorships, naming rights, Superbowl bids, NCAA tournaments and concerts are just a short list of revenue generating possibilities. But what happens when aspirations beat reality? When the pursuit of bigger and better things can leave a city frozen in time? Houston happens. The Astrodome happens.

The Houston Astrodome officially opened its doors in 1965, hailed as a miraculous embodiment of technology and architectural fortitude- literally the first of its kind. Decades removed from its glory days, the astrodome sits empty and used, collecting dust on its 65,000-plus florescent red and orange seats. It’s been more than a decade since its former tenants played their last games. The Houston Oilers last graced the turf of the Astrodome in 1996 and The Astros hit their last homerun in the dome in 1999.  Since officially closing in 2008, the fate of the Astrodome is still in question. As a lifelong Houstonian, I can attest that the situation is complicated. Sentiment, history and an obsession with sports is very much at the root of this unpleasant problem as much as money, productivity and the best interest of the city is.

Imploding an old stadium to make room for a new one is not a novel idea. In fact, it’s a best used practice. Yankee Stadium, Giants Stadium, Shea Stadium and Texas Stadium were all demolished to make room for its successor in 2008 alone. In all four cases, the stadiums were demolished no more than 2 years after its closing. Houston has no shortage of sports arenas. The opening of BBVA Compass Stadium (Houston Dynamo) and Constellation Field (Sugarland Skeeters) in 2012 brings Houston to a total of five sports centric complexes. Some would say that we Houstonians have a mild obsession on our hands here. So what’s the appeal in keeping the astrodome intact? It could be the $29 million dollar price tag on imploding it, just to turn it into a 1,600-space parking lot. Or, it could be the possibility of lucrative future endeavors that could be lured to Houston if renovated or converted.

In 2012, Houston played host to the NBA All-Star game and is set to host the NCAA Men’s Final Four at NRG Stadium in 2016. A newly constructed hotel, movie production studio or even a space themed park (which have all been proposed) would certainly add to the dwindling, lack-luster tourist appeal of Houston. But let’s be realistic. Converting a behemoth structure like the Astrodome would cost millions. Harris County still owes $30 million on the Astrodome, which will make it hard to persuade taxpayers to approve any kind of legislation that would require them to pay more for renovation or conversion. Taxpayers are already shoveling out roughly $2 million a year on maintenance and upkeep alone.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the Astrodome, but if you can get a New Yorker to let go of Yankee Stadium………. you can get the city of Houston to let go of the Astrodome. I’m not saying we have to let it go with no fuss. I propose a farewell tour. Offer tours of what’s still intact and aesthetically pleasing. Sell portions of the turf like MLB does, offer commemorative bricks for fans on the grounds of the new lot or even build a commemorative statue.

I’m dying to stand in its center and marvel at what once was. 100% positive that every banner, every seat and every blade of astroturf holds a meaningful memory to many. Standing in the center would be like standing in a time machine. Houston literally frozen in time. However, all nostalgia aside, the bottom line is a decision needs to be made NOW. Putting it off is only shoving us deeper between a rock and a hard place. It’s like ripping off a Band-Aid. Just do it already.

For the Love of Money

Being the extreme procrastinator that I’am, I have a habit of leaving blog posts unfinished. As you’ll recall, last week I momentarily stood on my soap box to announce to the world that I had officially broken up with the sports industry…..momentarily.

After I finished my short, but well-stated rant, I came across an unfinished blog post about a conversation I had with a then-colleague of mine. A few months before our conversation, my colleague too had parted ways with the sports industry. Below is the unfinished and unedited blog post of my thoughts on someone else’s decision to leave the sports industry.

For the Love of Money 

Raise your hand if you’ve ever had to turn down an unpaid internship in your field of choice to accept a highly paid job in a respectable industry that  made you long for a root canal for 8 hours each day. Is your hand up?

Then you, my friend, understand the love of money. 

This dilemma came to my attention when speaking with a colleague of mine who left the word of sports business for a higher paying job outside of the industry. I’ve never been one of those people who said I just want to make a lot of money no matter what I actually end up doing. I’ve known several people who majored in accounting just because it meant having a reliable source of income. He says he won’t go back because he’s too accustomed to “the good life”.

As an intern, he was tired of being poor and was beyond ready to get away from that life. Well, aren’t we all, I thought. 

He says that he misses it everyday and wishes he could go back…..if they paid more. Am I being completely naive in thinking  that doing what I really want to do is worth more than a respectable salary? 

I want to live well and I don’t want to struggle. But does that mean I have to get out of the sports industry in order to do so? Honestly, I don’t think so. Call me naive, but a career is always going to be worth more than a job. An internship is supposed to be hard. It’s a weeding out path like those hardcore freshman courses in school. If you really wanted to do it, then you would. If it were easy everyone would do it. 
A bit of advice, don’t let the nay-sayers discourage you from your dreams just because they couldn’t stick it out past a few internships. If you’re like me and can’t imagine doing anything else then stay the course.  

You are not deterred by the love of money. 

At the risk of sounding like a hypocrite, I have to say that I did not agree with his reasons to leave then and I still don’t agree with them now. My temporary leave from sports was in part due to a small amount of frustration, however my decision was made easier because like most people, I have other passions. There are other industries that I wish to learn about.

The sports industry isn’t for everyone. It’s an industry that requires a lot of hard work, long weekends and lots of experience to break in to. No matter what industry I end up in, I know it won’t be because it’s a respectable industry with a reliable source of income.

Small Schools Don’t Lack Ideas

TSU LogoSmall schools don’t lack ideas, they lack personnel.

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to shadow the marketing department at Texas Southern University. By my second meeting with the staff, I could tell that every salaried staff member was doing the work of at least three full-time employees. Working 60 hours a week, easily.

An employee taking on more work is nothing new. It happens so often that it’s become a commonly used practice. In the past, I always assumed that a lack of marketing efforts was due to a lack of interest or a lack of creativity. I was dead wrong, at least in this instance. I realized that the lack of marketing efforts by the TSU marketing department wasn’t because everyone in the department or school for that matter was creatively bankrupt; it was because they lacked the personnel to carry out the ideas.

According to their website, Texas Southern University has a marketing department solely comprised of one person. Just across the street, The University of Houston employees five. A bit further down Interstate-10, The University of Texas has nine marketing staff members.

Of course, these numbers are purely based on the number of people the department has actually bothered to list on their website. So of course, there could be a few interns and part-time staff  running around the halls of each athletics department.

These numbers may mean nothing to most, but imagine if the responsibility of an entire department rest squarely on your shoulders. Now, imagine if you had four or eight extra pair of hands and eyes to get through your daily tasks and weekly stuggles. Your stress level would certainly decrease and so might your hours.

So how do we fix this problem?

It starts with recruitment. Your marketing efforts are only as good as the people executing them. A well laid out marketing plan can always be ruined by half-assed execution.

The sports management program at TSU is a good place to start. Sports management majors obviously have an interest in working within the sports industry. The good ones will always find a way to shine. True me on this. When it comes to graphics and audio visual things, reach out to graphic design majors and  Radio-Television-Film (RTF) majors who can help create some stellar content. Spark interest by holding a contest to create an intro video for the basketball teams. Make it last the whole semester and reveal a “winner” at the opening home game next season. It can be done, I promise you.

TSU Next game

At the end of the day, recruitment is going to have to start with the students on your campus. With limited funds, it’s basically all you have to work with. Nonetheless, the students will feel good about their involvement and the school may even get some major PR points. You may not have a budget to pay for more staff, but it’s about how you use the resources and people at your disposal.

You don’t have to be a millionaire to have a great marketing idea.

-Rookie Specialist

P.S. If you’re in the Houston area, stop by HPE arena to watch the women’s and men’s basketball teams take on the Grambling State Tigers. Tip-off set for 5:30pm. 

Sports Summit: A New Approach to Networking in Sports

Let’s take a short trip down memory lane. Think back to the last conference or job fair you attended. Don’t just think about the people you met. Think about what you wore, the lines you stood in and the food you ate.

job fair cartoonIf you’re anything like me, chances are you just thought about how uncomfortable your outfit was, the time you waited in a long line to spend five hurried minutes speaking with a sports professional and the considerable lack of food for the 100+ attendees.

Chances are, this is what every conference or job fair you’ve ever attended was like. As aspiring sports business professionals, we’ve grown accustomed to overcrowded job fairs and speed-dating style interviews. We’ve all done the mad dash to the booth of the most prominent team after the welcome address to get first impression points. I’ve always wondered why 99.9% of sports business conferences and job fairs are held in university lectures halls and conference center ballrooms. My assumption, it’s the easiest, most efficient way to mix and mingle 100+ recent grads and undergraduates with current sports professionals.

Easy and efficient may be ideal for job fillers and conference speakers, but what about the job seekers and conference attendees? Now, think outside the box with me for a moment. Think outside of the crowded auditoriums, long lines and rushed meetings. What if there were a way for job fairs to be more relaxed? For conferences to be more about sharing ideas and networking than shaking hands and handing out business cards?

summit founders
Left-right: Summit’s Jeremy Schwartz, Jeff Rosenthal, Elliott Bisnow and Brett Leve

A little over a year ago, I was introduced to Summit Series, a now 7-year old startup company founded by five young entrepreneurs. Elliot Bisnow, Brett Leve, Jeff Rosenthal, Jeremy Schwartz and Ryan Begelman began gaining notoriety for hosting annual, weekend-long conferences in exotic locations. In 2011, Summit took over a cruise ship headed for the Bahamas and in 2012 invaded Squaw Valley, California. The 2010 Summit Series featured an appearance by former President, Bill Clinton and the Summit at Sea weekend featured nightly performances by The Roots.

When I first heard of the series in the October 2013 issue of Wired Magazine, Summit had just purchased Powder Mountain to serve as its company’s headquarters. Like most conferences, Summit’s events take place over an entire weekend to give those hoping to network ample time to mingle. The key difference that separates Summit Series from every other conference, attendees are looking for more than just jobs, they are looking to create a culture of innovation and to share ideas.

I’m not naive, I realize that you need more than an idea to make a living. Ideas don’t pay the rent or buy food. People need jobs, I know. Just keep thinking outside the box with me for a moment longer.What if something like Summit Series were to pop-up for sports business professionals? Granted, it would certainly cost more than the standard $30 student rate, but then again, none of those conferences or job fairs included an appearance by Bill Clinton or nightly performances by The Roots.

Standing in long lines and following around conference speakers with your resume and business card in hand is not fun. I always doubted that I stood out from the other 20 people in line behind me. Yes, I have attended a job fair with the hopes of landing a job shortly thereafter. However, I’ve recently caught myself looking for conferences and happy hours just to interact with like-minded individuals. However, the million dollar question here is, do other people do the same? Would current sports business professionals be interested in attending a sports summit? Would YOU be interested in attending a sports summit?

At this point, I merely would like to create a discussion on the topic. A discussion on the possibility of creating a new approach to the way we do conferences , job fairs and networking.If you’d like to continue this discussion or tell me how completely ridicules I’m being, feel free to email me at rookierundown@gmail.com. 

-Rookie Specialist

The Yellow Haze, formally known as Lance Armstrong

The days of yellow jerseys, roses on podiums and yellow wristbands are long gone. The fairy tale of a stage four Cancer survivor who beat the odds to win The Tour de France a record seven times, has rapidly dissipated. A yellow haze has descended upon the world of cycling.

13 years ago, 60 Minutes aired its first story on Lance Armstrong, dubbing him “The Miracle Man”. That story, among others were all part of an elaborate hoax, orchestrated by Armstrong himself.  After 13 years in the driver’s seat of writing and controlling the narrative of his life story, the jig was finally up.

Today, the story of Lance Armstrong consists of courtrooms, lawsuits, angry fans, athletes and sponsors.  Most recently, the saga unfolded into a tell-all interview that posed more questions than it answered. The highly anticipated and much overdue tell-all interview was supposed to answer all the lingering questions and finally but an end to this 13-year charade.

However, the United States Doping Agency (USADA) and Travis Tygart, CEO of USADA have different plans. Tygart and USADA have extended Armstrong’s original deadline of Feb. 6th  to Febr 23rd to testify under oath if he truly wants his lifetime cycling ban to be rescinded. However, the fate of Armstrong and his “comeback” is not solely in the hands of USADA and Tygart as they would like to believe. The courtroom is not the only place where the Armstrong saga plays out. The court of public opinion has taken up the case and has been in session for 13 years and counting.

For two days in the middle of January, 3.2 million viewers watched the hardest, fasted fall from grace in the history of mankind. Millions watched a man who has never known defeat deal with it publicly. We watched a man grasp hopelessly in the dark for redemption, while trying to save face and a sliver of pride all at the same time. Armstrong’s half-truths kept my attention over the two day, two and a half hour interview. However, one particular moment stuck me more than the others. During the first half of the interview, Oprah read an email from a friend to Lance. It read:

“I’ve heard that he (Lance) is a real jerk. But I will always root for Lance. He gave me hope at a very dire time. My first-born son had just been diagnosed with leukemia two weeks before his first birthday. And I’m in intensive care barely able to breathe and my brother sends me Lance’s new book, It’s Not About the Bike, I read it cover to cover through the night, it showed me there was hope for my son to not only live but to thrive. I had a choice to make that night on how I’d respond to my son’s illness and teach him how to face the world. My prayer for Lance is that as he faces his demons he remembers it’s not about the bike.”

And with that, I decided to read “It’s Not About The Bike. My Journey Back To Life” by Lance Armstrong.

Unlike most people, I decided to read a book by Armstrong AFTER he admitted to doping in all seven of his Tour de France victories. Call it curiosity, call it boredom, call it whatever you want. But at that moment, I wanted to know more about the man behind the bicycle.

As I read his book, I read it from the POV of a man with cancer, who just so happened to be a cyclist. Not as a cyclist, who just happened to have cancer.  It’s actually kind of interesting to read something knowing how it ends. I knew Armstrong would defeat cancer, yet I felt like I was right there with him in the hospital with every word. I knew he would win the Tour de France in 1999, yet I was still happy for him, even though I knew he would be stripped of his title and it vacated 13 years later. But I’d be living in a fantasy world if I said I took in every word whole-heartedly, without skepticism. At one point in the novel he states:

“Doping is an unfortunate fact of life in cycling. Inevitably, some teams and riders feel it’s like nuclear weapons-that they have to do it to stay competitive within the peloton. I never felt that way, and certainly after chemo the idea of putting anything foreign in my body was especially repulsive”.

I literally laughed out loud. Did he knowingly just tell a flat out lie or was he sincere for a brief moment, a brief moment before he began years of doping. In his tell-all interview, Armstrong said that he viewed the situation as “one big lie that he repeated a lot of times”. Had Lance told this lie for so long, that he began to believe it himself?

But living in a fantasy world built by your own denial does not give you a free pass. Athletes around the world are furious with him. Any athlete that has ever chosen to complete clean has every right to be furious. Cheating is a choice and it always will be. I in no way condone his cheating, doping or bullying. But he makes a valid point when he states:

“Too many athletes live as though problems of the world don’t concern them. We are isolated by our wealth and our narrow focus and our elitism.”

Granted, this statement was made in regards to Cancer and the numerous diseases that plague us “ordinary people” of the world. But it still has merit. He’s right, world class athletes are viewed as people of an elite class. Their instant fame and six figure plus salaries confirm it. But I had to ask myself if this assumed elitism is also another factor as to why Armstrong was so brazen and adamant of his innocence. Did he believe that his position as a world class athlete, world champion and Tour de France winner add to the idea that he could cheat and lie for so many years and get away with it unscaved?


On the bike Lance Armstrong was Superman. He battled Cancer and found his way back to competitive cycling. In an almost poetic twist of fate, the very drugs that gave him what he wanted ultimately became his kryptonite and now leave him with no means of future income for the foreseeable future. I hope now, Armstrong realizes that partial truths will only get you so far. They only make people want to expose you even more. Even after 13 years, the Lance Armstrong story is still a story of deception.

The Lance Armstrong that wrote “It’s Not About the Bike” was happy with the life that he had, simply because he had a life. I imagine that he still feels the same way today, despite his current situation. Coming clean is never easy, but I’m sure it’s much smaller of an obstacle than battling stage four testicular Cancer. At the end of the Oprah tell-all interview, he still had his life; sans a few shreds of dignity, but life nonetheless.

Even after all of the lies and deception, I still chose to root for Lance. Just days away from his deadline, all I can do today is offer Lance my understanding. For he is just a man; with flaws, troubles and weaknesses just the like the rest of us. My only hope for him is that he realizes now more than ever, that it’s not about the bike. The journey towards redemption is a foot path with no short cuts. I have no doubt that he will blaze that trail, as he has done so many times before.

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