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Volume 20 No. 46
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Crisis creates a long to-do list for Rootes

Houston Texans President Jamey Rootes was in a Mercedes-Benz Superdome suite on Saturday, Aug. 26, in New Orleans during the second quarter of the team’s third preseason game when his phone vibrated. It was a text from the team’s affiliate station with a stark message from the station’s meteorologist: Contrary to earlier reports, Hurricane Harvey would hit Houston in hours, and with near biblical rainfall.

Thus began a frantic nine-day, on-the-fly sojourn for Rootes and his staff as they had to reschedule not only the fourth preseason game in Houston, but the Texas Advocare Kickoff game between LSU and BYU, set for the following Saturday at the Texans’ NRG Stadium.

“Here’s a stat,” he said, “Ticketmaster said we set a record for refunds in one week.” In the week, he said, the team refunded 200,000 tickets and sold 100,000 (this is in part because after rescheduling the fourth preseason game for Dallas, that too was canceled to allow Texans players to go home).

The team had an emergency plan already in place so senior managers would know when to call in and start reacting to events, critical in the crazy days that followed for Rootes. After the Saints game, the team rerouted to Dallas. Rootes got to his bed in the Marriott Las Colinas at 6 a.m. Sunday and after two hours of sleep his phone rang. It was ESPN, calling about the fate of the Advocare game. Three hours later Doug Thornton, who runs SMG’s venues, including NRG Stadium and the Superdome, called offering the Superdome for the college game, now just six days away.

Rootes wasn’t just worried about the games, but his hometown, the team’s contribution and his own personal situation (his home was spared and his family safe).

On Monday, the team began practice at the Cowboys facilities (another quick fix Rootes had to work out). He and his staff began refunding the fourth preseason game, agreed to play that game in Dallas, and soon after reached an agreement with Thornton to move the college kickoff game.

“When you take something you have worked on for 18 months and built a crowd of 65,000 and try to re-create that in four days, I don’t care who is playing in the game, it’s a little bit challenging,” he said.

On Wednesday, the day before what would have been the fourth preseason game, he flew to New Orleans, where the next day he met with SMG, the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Sugar Bowl staff and New Orleans Saints executives. All pitched in to promote the Advocare game (they sold 54,000 seats).

Some Texans staff members who were still in Houston, 15 in all, also needed to get to New Orleans. Houston’s airports were closed, so some drove to Dallas and flew, and some just drove.

The team also had to start thinking about whether it could play the first regular-season home game Sept. 10 as scheduled at NRG Stadium, but that decision became easier when the Astros successfully played games at Minute Maid Park on Sept. 2 and 3. NRG Stadium did not suffer the Harvey-related flooding that much of Houston did.

It was tougher for the 15 to 20 team employees who were left homeless or whose cars were destroyed. The club has begun a grant and loan program for them, and are under orders from Texans owner Bob McNair to do the right thing.

“Two principles I live by: Never make a decision before you have to, but when you have to make it be decisive,” Rootes said. “Second: Is it the right thing to do and how do you pay for it, and never mix the two.”

As for Rootes, perhaps his biggest hurdle was staying clean. When he first left for New Orleans he packed for two days and ended up on the road for nine.

“I did text my wife. … I said, ‘How often do you have to wear a garment before you consider it dirty?’” he said, laughing. After using hotel sinks and laundry, he shopped at a Tommy Bahama in New Orleans for more clothes, and picked up a baseball cap with the word “Relax” on it. That hat became a message, he said to his staff.

“It’s all going to be OK,” he explained.

Rootes and his staff are now back in their Houston offices, as back to normal as possible as their city embarks on recovering and rebuilding.