No. 22 Best City to Be a Sports Fan: HoustonAugust 11, 2014
No. 22 Best City to Be a Sports Fan: Houston
How much does where you live matter as a sports fan? The short answer is: It depends.
If you're an Alabama football fan, there's no better place to live than Tuscaloosa. If you're a Red Sox fan, there's no worse place to live than New York City.
But what if you were a free agent, so to speak? What if you loved sports but didn't have a specific affiliation to any team? Say you're moving to a new city. What city would have the most to offer you as a sports fan? What city would give you the best overall experience?
That is what we're here to find out. We took 25 of the best writers from Bleacher Report and beyond to objectively look at their cities and come up with a ranking. To get a better understanding of the categories and grading criteria, click here.
Houston comes in at No. 22.
Houstonians are known more for our ability to consume prodigious amounts of food than for our passionate support of our sporting franchises.
I’m Jeremy Botter, Bleacher Report’s lead mixed martial arts writer. I lived in Houston for 36 years, and though I now reside in Las Vegas, I still consider myself a Texan at heart. I grew up as a family friend of Nolan Ryan and his kids, which means I’m a Houston Astros fan to my very core. I loved the Oilers and was despondent when they decided to move their operations to evil Tennessee.
Love ya blue, forever, is what I’m saying.
I went to Katy High School, where the Texas high school football championship trophy has taken up nearly permanent residence.
I’m qualified to speak of Houston as a sports city, and that’s what I’m doing today. So let’s get started, shall we?
Number of Teams/Events: 15/20
Houston has franchises in every major sport except hockey. We used to have hockey, but the Aeros (a minor league franchise) moved away.
But we have the Astros, who seem to finally be on the other side of a long rebuilding process. We have the Texans, who were supposed to win the Super Bowl last year and ended up being the worst team in the NFL. And we have the Dynamo, who have a shiny new stadium and have won two Major League Soccer championships.
Yes, MLS titles are major championships. I promise. I don’t know why you’re laughing.
We have the Rockets, who are considered one of the NBA's best teams despite not being able to live up to that potential in the playoffs. We have the college scene covered with the Houston Cougars and the Rice Owls. High school football also reigns supreme in Houston, just like it does in every other Texas city.
There's no shortage of sporting events in Houston, no matter the time of year.
Success of Teams in Last 5 Years: 10/20
The Astros have been the worst team in baseball for the past three years, and this might include all minor league teams and Sunday league squads. The Texans were the worst team in the NFL last year but made the playoffs the previous two years and won two division championships.
The Dynamo are consistently one of the better teams in Major League Soccer but haven't won a championship since 2007. They've made the finals twice since then, however. The University of Houston finished 2011 ranked 18th in the country, and Rice has reached back-to-back bowl games for the first time in school history.
Soccer notwithstanding, Houston hasn't experienced the thrill of winning a major championship since the Rockets won the NBA title in 1995. And it may be the Rockets who deliver Houston its next championship; GM Daryl Morey has crafted a squad perfectly capable of contending with any team in the NBA, though it sure would've been better with Chandler Parsons and Chris Bosh around.
As far as stadiums are concerned, Houston has top-shelf selections.
The newest of the bunch is BBVA Compass Stadium, the home of the Dynamo. It's a soccer-specific stadium with amazing sightlines and a design that looks like a UFO sitting on the ground. There are no bad seats, and it is a wonderful place to watch soccer.
Minute Maid Park is gorgeous. It is a wonderful place to watch baseball, even when the baseball you are watching is the Astros. It has unique features like the train on top of the left field wall and Tal's Hill in center field.
The Toyota Center, located mere blocks from Minute Maid, is a fine place to watch basketball.
NRG (formerly Reliant) Stadium is cold and massive, dwarfing the Astrodome that sits next door. But it is loud on game day, has a retractable roof that can be opened on those beautiful fall days when football is the only thing on your mind and has a nice selection of local craft beer to go along with your standard stadium fare.
The University of Houston is building a new football stadium on campus.
Fan Passion: 6/10
Houston fans are passionate...when their teams are winning.
When they are terrible, like the Astros and Texans, they tend to tune out. They stay away from the stadiums, and they don't watch on television. In bad times, Houston sports fans are as fair-weather as they come. But even when the teams are average, the stadiums are mostly full of fans. You won't see sellouts, but you won't see empty stadiums, either.
When the teams are winning? Expect sellouts and massive television ratings. Because if there's one thing Houston loves, it's a team that wins. That standard is applied to the professional teams all the way down to local high school football squads, which can often put 20,000 fans into a stadium on a Friday night.
General Fan Experience: 10/15
Downtown Houston has undergone a revival over the past 15 years. It was once the home of faceless oil companies and tall, glass-encrusted buildings with little spark or soul.
The oil companies are still around, and the buildings aren't going anywhere. But a cultural revolution is happening in the area around Minute Maid Park, the Toyota Center and BBVA Compass Stadium; craft-beer bars and restaurants offering unique fare have become the go-to places for fans looking to participate in pregame activities. Lucky's Pub overflows with boisterous Dynamo and Rockets fans on game days, and food trucks line the streets.
Over at NRG Stadium, the Texans tailgating experience is one of the best in the country.
It may not equal New York or Chicago for culture, but Houston is on the rise.
Due to a silly television deal, the only way Rockets and Astros fans are able to enjoy their teams is by subscribing to Comcast. If you aren't a Comcast subscriber? You're out of luck. It's a situation that has led to some Astros games being seen by so few people that the Nielsen rating service can't even gauge an exact number.
Those who can see the broadcasts are in good hands, however. The ageless Milo Hamilton finally retired, but veteran Astros broadcaster Bill Brown deftly guides fans through games. On the Texans side, the hiring of the ultra-knowledgable John Harris as the sideline reporter was a brilliant move. And on the television news side, David Nuno is a former radio host with an extremely bright future in television.
For football tactics, nobody beats veteran radio broadcaster Lance Zierlein.
The Houston Chronicle also has John McClain, one of the prominent NFL beat writers in the country. And with four active sports talk radio stations, fans never want for more discussion of their teams.
Star Power: 7/10
The Astros, in the midst of rebuilding, are filled with players who could be future baseball stars. Right now, though, they boast a roster of largely unknown prospects. George Springer is one name to keep an eye on, and Jose Altuve is one of the best young hitters in baseball.
The Texans have plenty of big names: J.J. Watt, Brian Cushing and now Jadeveon Clowney anchor a strong defensive squad, while Arian Foster and Andre Johnson help lead the offense. Well, Johnson helps lead the offense for now; a spat with the team over the summer appears to have been resolved, but who knows how long Johnson will stick around if the Texans continue being terrible?
The Rockets have James Harden and Dwight Howard. They came oh so close to getting Chris Bosh, and they made a play for Carmelo Anthony. In the end, Rockets fans will have to settle for Trevor Ariza.
The Astros were founded in 1965, which is a far cry from other American League teams that were founded in the 1800s. They weren't even an American League team until last season, so it's hard to say they have the same kind of tradition as the Red Sox, Yankees and others.
The Texans were an expansion team in 2002, so there isn't much history there, either. The Rockets were founded in 1967 but played their first four years in San Diego before moving to Houston, and the Dynamo came into existence in 2005.
Houston is known for many things: great food, great high school football and more. But sporting traditions aren't one of its calling cards.
Final Tally : 65/100
Houston isn’t a bad sports town. There are moments when it is a great one, in fact. But those moments are heavily dependent on teams putting a winning product on the field. If a losing team shows up, the fans historically don’t show up.
The culture is developing, though, and it’s largely due to the slow restoration of downtown Houston as the place to be for sports fans. We’ll never have the same unique traits as, say, Chicago or New York, but we’re developing our own.