Nov 7, 2021; Miami Gardens, Florida, USA; Houston Texans president Greg Grissom watches from the tunnel during the second half between the Miami Dolphins and the Houston Texans at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
John McClain: Ryans hiring, expectation of drafting franchise quarterback have created excitement throughout Texans organization
The excitement over the DeMeco Ryans hiring and the anticipation of the Texans acquiring a franchise quarterback with the second overall pick in the draft has reverberated through NRG Stadium and impacted the administrative side of the organization as well as the personnel department.
Sales, the lifeblood of every franchise, have been stimulated since owners Cal and Hannah McNair approved general manager Nick Caserio’s recommendation to bring back Ryans to Houston, where he began his career as the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2006. Whether it’s sponsorships, suites, club seats, or season ticket renewals, the Texans have created a buzz as they get closer to the three-day draft that begins with the first round on April 27. And nobody appreciates that buzz more than team president Greg Grissom, who oversees the administrative side.
“The last couple of years have been challenging, but the fan base has been responding,” Grissom said recently. “DeMeco’s a big part of it, of course, and I think it’s also all the work we’ve been doing on the football and business sides of the organization.
“Everybody’s very excited. The way that excitement is manifesting itself is the response of the fan base. We expect to be over 90% renewal on our season tickets, which is 5 or 6% better than last year. That’s more typical of how it was in the past. We’ve sold double the number of new season tickets than we had this time last year. From a ticket sales environment, I think we’ll be back in a position the way we were for a long time.”
Back when the Texans were winning two AFC South titles under Gary Kubiak and four under Bill O’Brien, including four playoff victories. Since the start of the 2020 season, when O’Brien was fired after an 0-4 start, the Texans have struggled on and off the field. Their record over the last three seasons is 11-38-1, causing interest to wane and sales to plunge to an alarming level. They became a portrait of instability by employing O’Brien, David Culley, and Lovie Smith as head coaches over a three-year period and having a revolving door at quarterback, including the Deshaun Watson controversy.
The McNair family, Caserio, and Grissom believe Ryans will provide the kind of stability the Texans had with Gary Kubiak (2006-2013) and O’Brien (2014-2020) as their head coaches. Since Ryans was lured from the 49ers with a six-year contract – the same number of years Caserio received – attention on the Texans has been universally positive with fans and media. The more positive publicity the Texans can generate, the better it is for sales.
The Texans hope the Sunday afternoon frustration caused by fans from opposing teams outnumbering the home crowd will disappear, and NRG Stadium will become a more difficult place to play than the last three seasons when the Texans compiled a record of 3-20-1.
“You see that in a lot of stadiums,” Grissom said about seeing so many enemy jerseys at NRG Stadium last season. “The macro trend is fans are traveling to more stadiums. You saw it more than we would have liked in NRG Stadium.
“Our season ticket members have been so loyal for so long. Most had tickets last year, and they were either selling them or not coming. We’re doing a lot of things to reengage them and to incentivize them to use their tickets to the extent they can control who buys them. If they do sell them, we’d love for them to sell the tickets to Texans fans. We want the energy and excitement back in NRG Stadium – from tailgating when people get there to celebrating a victory on the way out the door. We want it to be a great experience.”
Ryans, free agency, and the draft offer hope for fans who want to see improvement next season. They don’t have to make the playoffs in Ryans’ first season, but they do have to improve enough on both sides of the ball for fans to believe in the team again and sell out NRG Stadium the way they did for their first 18 years before the pandemic hit in 2020, and the team’s record plummeted the next two seasons.
Last season, Hannah and Cal McNair began to engage with fans and media more than they used to. That trend will continue because the owners know a good opportunity when they see it. And this is a good opportunity for the organization. O’Brien and Jack Easterby are gone, and everything’s positive on the home front. Last week, the McNairs announced a new Fan Council.
“To collaborate with the team on decisions that will help influence aspects of the organization and the fan experience,” the Texans said in a release. “The volunteer council will be comprised of 50 diverse and dynamic fans who will participate in regular, in-depth focus groups and other exclusive opportunities throughout the 2023 season. The council will have the unique opportunity to collaborate with us on a variety of topics that will directly impact their experience. The feedback we receive will be at the heart of our decision-making moving forward.”
The McNair family welcomes the feedback, and it’s up to Grissom and his department heads to put it to good use.
“This has kind of been a hallmark of the last couple of years to fearlessly evolve, to challenge ourselves to think differently,” Grissom said. “We’re looking to reimagine our entire game-day experience from music to the way we do the video board to team intros – everything. We’re committed to having our fans be part of the process. We want to listen to our fans. That’s something Cal and Hannah have reiterated to us — it’s something incredibly important. The fan council is another way to engage voices so what we’re putting out is what our fans want.”
The fans want to win, of course. No more three- and four-victory seasons. Fans hope those days are history – bad history.
Caserio signed an impressive list of free agents to help fortify different areas of the team. He has 12 draft choices, including two in the first round – second, and 12th overall. The only way the Texans can dampen the enthusiasm generated during the offseason would be to bypass a potential franchise quarterback.
“Who we take is up to Nick and DeMeco, but we saw last year after the draft there’s a second surge,” Grissom said about ticket sales. “There’s continued interest in what we’re doing. In late April and early May, the interest is going to grow, and this year, I think it could grow significantly.”
Fans also should be interested to know that, at some point, NRG Stadium is going to need renovations. The stadium opened in 2002 and will need repairs. It’s going to be a collaborative effort.
“There’s a lot of work being done in partnership with the county and the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo to determine what the future of NRG Park and NRG Stadium is,” Grissom said. “We have great opportunities in front of us. It’s a great facility, and we’re all aligned that NRG Stadium is really important to Houston and Harris County, and how can we work to ensure it’s as good as it can be for long as it can be?”
That’s a story for another year, but it’s something fans should keep an eye on as they prepare for the draft and what the Texans are doing to create a buzz at the most important time of the offseason.
Oh, by the way, at this time next year, the Texans will unveil their new uniforms at the 2024 draft – the first change since the franchise debuted in 2002. And changing uniforms creates a lot of interest – something the Texans are working overtime to generate at this crucial juncture in franchise history.
(John McClain writes four columns a week for GallerySports.com. He can be heard Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday on Sports Radio 610 and Thursday on Texans Radio. He does three weekly Houtopia podcasts for 610. He also can be read three times a week on SportsRadio610.com).