EDITOR'S NOTE: This article originally appeared in the Houston Texans Gameday magazine on Sept. 9, 2012, for the Texans' home game against the Miami Dolphins.
As part of the Houston Texans' 10th Anniversary celebration, the team is profiling a different original member of the organization in each edition of the Houston Texans Gameday magazine this season.
Texans president Jamey Rootes was one of the team's first employees. Hired in January 2000, more than two years before the Texans began play in 2002, Rootes is responsible for all business functions of the club. He has overseen the Texans' efforts to secure stadium naming rights and sponsorship, coordinated radio and TV broadcasting relationships, engineered the club's successful ticket and suite sales campaigns, led the creation and launch of the team's identity and developed the team's highly-acclaimed customer service strategy.
A native of Stone Mountain, Ga., Rootes joined the Texans from the Columbus Crew of Major League Soccer. He helped launch MLS as president and general manager of the Crew and helped lead the construction of Crew Stadium in 1999, which was the first stadium of its kind in the United States.
Here, Rootes reflects on his memories of the franchise's first decade.
What led to your decision to join the Texans in 2000?
"This was the NFL. I was running a professional soccer team in Columbus, Ohio. I had just gotten married. We had just opened the stadium. I got a call from a recruiter who said, 'Would you like to work in the NFL in Houston?' I said, 'Houston doesn't have an NFL team.' She said, 'They're going to.' I said, 'You know what, I just got married, so I need to talk to my wife and see what she thinks,' and I hung up the phone, and I remember looking at the phone for what felt like an hour, thinking, 'What do you mean you can't say yes?' So I picked up the phone, redialed her and said, 'I don't know whether I can take the job or not, but I absolutely want to go down and hear what they have to say.' I came down, spent some time with (Texans vice chairman) Philip Burguieres and (Texans chairman and CEO) Bob McNair, and I felt there was a connection. We saw the world the same way, and it felt very natural and a great next step in my career."
What was the organization like when you first arrived?
"There wasn't much here at the time. It was very corporate where the offices were downtown, suit and tie. You didn't really get the feel of the sporting environment. Where I came from, we worked every day out of a stadium. It was on the field, doing the sporting side, so it felt very different, but I knew that in a relatively short period of time that it would be back to games and excitement and pageantry and all the things I love about this industry."
Were you with the Columbus Crew from the very start of that franchise, too?
"I was. I was the first employee. It was very similar, coming in and being one of the first people within the Texans organization, starting with a blank sheet of paper. I would always rather start there and build and create. I'm a creative person. I like taking nothing and turning it into something, working with Bob to create the vision for the franchise, what we wanted to be when we grow up, how we do what we do. It was really energizing. You could start without any preconceived notions. You could say, 'Where is the state of the industry now? What's best practice?' and put that into our organization. We looked at a lot of different people as success models, took a little bit here, took a little bit from Baltimore, took a little bit from New England, took a little bit from Kansas City, put it all into our own stew and executed it in our own way. It was our plan, and it seems to have been pretty effective so far."
What are some of the key principles and tenets you wanted to establish within the Texans organization from the very start?
"'Create Raving Fans' was the first vision and stake in the ground. We wanted to create an experience that people felt so good about, an organization that performed so well, that everybody we came in contact with couldn't help but go and tell other people about it. The thing I loved hearing, it was the first year that we sent out our tickets, and for the first time, tickets in Houston came out in a FedEx package. These people at a Starbucks all gathered around a table with one guy zipping his FedEx package open, 'It's from the Houston Texans,' 'You're not going to believe what the Texans did,' 'You're not going to believe what the Texans sent to me,' 'You're not going to believe what they did for me.' Those things build a reputation. It does build an expectation so that every year you have to top what you've done, but you're something special and at that premium tier, at that top tier. You set the standard, and there's only one best, and that's what we've always tried to be."
What are some memories that stand out from the early years of the franchise?
"When we first went over to Robertson Stadium (at the University of Houston) to play the Cowboys in that exhibition game, before the preseason – just the passion that these fans had. It was miserably hot. The place was packed, tailgating all over the place. We kind of felt good about tailgating prior to that, but at that game, we really saw how much people just craved that celebration. That game was what it was, and then we came out to Reliant Stadium. It was 10 times better, the pregame activity and going into the stadium. I have a very vivid memory of the opening game, standing down on the field when we played the Cowboys and thinking, 'My gosh, it's been 30 months; does it have to end here?' Then we have this breakthrough play and we score and we go on to win and Billy Miller and all the great things from that night. That was one of those nights that you would like to have go on forever because it was your first game, you were 1-0, undefeated all-time as a franchise."
What do you remember about the first time you walked into Reliant Stadium after it was completed?
"It was beautiful. It felt like the Colosseum. There are timeless principals that were applied by the architects to give people an intimate experience. It was so intimate for a 70,000-seat facility. I've gone all over the building; I haven't found a bad seat yet. You feel connected to the action. The fact you could put the grass in and it doesn't die automatically – we now take the grass in and out – and to have that retractable roof, that was fantastic. But the intimacy that we can provide for our fans, no seat feels very far away from the game."
What were some of the challenges the organization faced early on as an expansion franchise?
"It's a double-edged sword. We wanted to get out of the blocks stronger than anybody ever had, and so there were incredibly high expectations. Fortunately, because of the ownership that we have, the market that we have, the stadium that we have and the product that we have, NFL football, we were able to realize those things. So we did it, but I can imagine that it could have been much more challenging if these milestones that we set, if we didn't achieve one of those along the way: Full stadium, breakthrough sponsorship number, breakthrough naming rights number, breakthrough broadcasting revenue. On the field most recently has been great, but we've had our ups and downs. But it starts here in the building. We've got to feel good about what we're doing, and if we feel good, we can inject that positive, optimistic attitude in all the community around us. So that's probably been the biggest challenge is keeping everybody on the boat energized, positive and motivated, believing that we can be something very special, and no matter how long it takes. We're getting there, and that feels really good and is reinforcing. Now, people have seen success. They want greater success. They will commit more deeply to the organization to get us to that next phase."
What are some of the things about which you're most proud from the last 10 years?
"I'm very proud of the experience that we've created and that each year as an organization, it really starts here with the vision within the Texans of what we want to be. It's a partnership with our fans, asking them what they want. If they can't go out and do it, they tell us, and we go out and do it for them. The fact that we've created an experience through wins and losses and good times and bad has delivered a decade of consecutive sellouts, that's probably the one thing that I can point to that, you know what, we started with a vision, we executed upon it, our fans helped us build it. They tell us it's one of the best in pro sports, and they've rewarded us with their loyalty."
What was it like last year to finally have a playoff season?
"It certainly gave you a glimpse of what the future could be. It was wonderful, the passion that came out when our team was as successful as we were to win the division. From that point on, we were a different thing. We were no longer one of several sports teams in Houston; we were the Houston Texans, division champions. Way below that is everybody else. It put us into a different place. You couldn't help but after the Ravens game think about what could have been. It's left me hungrier than ever to take a step forward. To see what we achieved, what that felt like, you want to do that and then some. I can't imagine what it's going to be like when we win a championship. When we win the Super Bowl? I look forward to experiencing that."
What do you think the future holds for this franchise?
"As great as the past has been, the future is much better. Rick (Smith) and Gary (Kubiak) and Cal (McNair) and Bob have done a fantastic job building something to last. We now have a system. We have a Texans way of doing things. There's a confidence, a swagger, that our team's bringing to the table that is reinforcing. You look at the great teams of all-time, they believed in advance. They looked like a champion prior to being a champion. We had all the look of a champion, had some bad luck last year, some bad breaks, some injuries that we had to wrestle with that not everybody did. Imagine the year that we take that swagger, that confidence, that end of the season, that we maintain the personnel that we've had, the top-flight folks who we've brought to the table. Imagine what this team could do. Midway through the year last year, expectations were raised. Our sights were raised. We look forward to realizing those going forward. This could be a team that's very, very good for a very long time."