In the 6th edition of my interview series, I was able to interview Jamey Rootes, team President of the Houston Texans and former President of the Columbus Crew.
Having been named to Sports Business Journal’s “40 under 40” twice, it was instantly clear how well-regarded Jamey is. After earning his undergraduate degree at Clemson University and his MBA at Indiana University, Jamey worked at Proctor & Gamble before receiving a call asking if he wanted to play a major role in the creation of the Columbus Crew.
After excelling at growing the sport of soccer in the United States, Jamey moved on to his current endeavor where he has succeeded in making the Texans one of the most successful teams in the league in terms of revenue and fan experience.
Along with his impressive career success, Jamey explains just how important mentorship was and continues to be for him. Just as I name four people who have been incredibly vital in my sports marketing career, Jamey lets us know who his mentors were and just how important they were to his success. Specifically, he credits Lamar and Clark Hunt as well as some of the members in the athletic departments at both Clemson and Indiana.
Throughout our interview, we spoke about:
- How Jamey was able to go from Clemson University to the President of the Houston Texans
- The similarities and differences that exist between being the President of a Soccer team and an American football team
- The changes that have taken place from the seasons when the Texans were well below .500
- Advice Jamey would give to those entering the business of sports
Sports Job Interview with Houston Texans President – Jamey Rootes
Sports Job Interview Transcript
Lucas Biebelberg: Ladies and gentlemen thanks again for joining us today on sportsnetworker.com. Today I’m very honored to be joined by Mr. Jamey Rootes, President of the Houston Texans and former President of the Columbus Crew MLS team. Jamey, how are you today?
Jamey Rootes: I’m doing great Lucas! How are you?
Lucas Biebelberg: I’m doing well. Again, thanks for you time here. Let’s dive right into the first question. Starting at Clemson University where you earned your undergraduate degree and then moving on to Indiana University where you earned your MBA degree, what was the professional path you took to become the President of the Columbus Crew MLS team, and ultimately the role you are in now as the President of the Houston Texans?
Jamey Rootes: Leaving Clemson I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do with my life. I was involved in sports as a player. I played soccer at Clemson and I was very actively involved in student life, but I didn’t really spend a lot of time from a career perspective. I worked for a few years with IBM and got an idea of what the working world was like, but I felt like there was something missing. I sat down with the Athletic Director at Clemson, who’s name is Bobby Robinson, and Bobby asked me, “do you want to work on the business side of sports or do you want to coach?” I didn’t really know at the time that there was a difference and so I had to figure that out. That led me to Indiana University where I coached and worked in the athletic department, where I got an opportunity to evaluate both of those paths and make a decision at the end with Jerry Yeagley, who was the men’s soccer coach at Indiana and was a great mentor to me. Being on the business side was what I ultimately wanted to do. I went to the World Cup in ’94 and spent some time working there with a guy by the name of Don Rossin, who is also another good friend and someone who guided my career. But, I couldn’t find something in sports, so I wound up taking a job at Proctor & Gamble. I did loads of informational interviews during this time about what the sports world was all about. One of the gentlemen I met, Tim Connolly, who was with the Kansas City Chiefs at the time, called me and said, “We’re starting up a professional soccer league. You’re in Cincinnati. Would you like to come talk with us?” So I met with him and Lamar Hunt and Clark Hunt and some others and we hit it off and they gave me an opportunity to be part of the start of MLS as the President and General Manager of the Columbus Crew. We built Crew Stadium in ’99 and then a recruiter called me at the end of ’99 and asked if I would be interested in meeting with the folks who were launching Houston’s new NFL team. It wound up being Bob McNair, so I sat down with Bob and we had a great connection and really felt like we saw the world similarly. I’ve been here for 13 years and it’s really been a great ride and a great career experience so far.
Lucas Biebelberg: What are some of the similarities, as well as differences, that exists, in your opinion, in being the President of a soccer team and an American football team?
Jamey Rootes: I think they are more similar than they are different. Certainly the game is different. The psyche of the fan is somewhat different. It’s a litter more international and European from a soccer perspective. In football, it’s truly an iconic American sport. But certainly the numbers are very different in the size of the opportunity that exists. But there is still the same pressure because smaller opportunities and overachieving is, at one level, a larger opportunity. The expectation is to be the very best at what you do, and that creates a lot of energy and tension and all of the things that help you achieve success.
Lucas Biebelberg: Within the Houston Texans organization, what are some of the team functions that you’re directly responsible for?
Jamey Rootes: I’m responsible for the activities that occur off the field; all of that side of the house. I spend a good deal of time on revenue generation because that’s incredibly important with tickets and suites and sponsorships. We’ve got a great team in place, and I would say more and more my time is spent attracting and retaining the finest people that we possibly can and focusing on culture, direction, and strategy. My job is really to look over at the horizon and help to bring our group of people and our fan base and our community along for the ride.
Lucas Biebelberg: What changes have you noticed within the organization from the years when the team was well below .500, to now when the Texans are considered a legitimate Super Bowl contender?
Jamey Rootes: For our first ten seasons, we sold out every game that we ever played, even during those really challenging years going 2-14. We came off of that with another sold out performance. From a revenue perspective across all metrics, we’re amongst the leagues elite and have maintained that status for a decade. So it’s been great. We have a wonderful community here in Houston. We’ve got a great stadium. Reliant Stadium is one of the great stadiums on the planet. The tailgating experience we’ve created lots of folks tell us is the best in the National Football League along with the fan experience. So all of the fundamental blocking and tackling pieces of the sport experience we have done exceptionally well in and we have been rewarded from a financial perspective. We have a great owner in someone who is truly committed to Houston, and that has certainly been a big advantage for us. It was great leading into last year, going to the playoffs, doing the amazing things that our team did. The expectations for this year are now grade + 50%, so it’s really been a great ride and our best years are certainly in front of us.
Lucas Biebelberg: What would you say is the most powerful and influential decision you were involved in throughout your career in sports?
Jamey Rootes: Well when you do something for 20 years, a lot of things happen. I’d look back at the construction of Crew Stadium. Not that it is the greatest sports facility on the planet, and from an investment perspective it was relatively small. But the fact that we as an organization in Columbus and the community had to try three times before we got it done required some great assistance from the state of Ohio. I recall the day I got a call from the owner of the Ohio exposition center folks saying, “Hey would you like to come and look at our property? Maybe we can provide a place for you to have a stadium.” And that stadium has really been a catalyst for the growth of soccer in America. Lots of stadiums have come since then, but there is only going to be one, and the opportunity to be apart of that with Lamar Hunt and Clark Hunt and all the visionary things that they brought to the table really made me feel like we made a difference to the sport.
Lucas Biebelberg: Jamey, the last question we have for you today is having been selected twice as Sports Business Journals, “40 Under 40,” what advice would you give to those aspiring to break into the business of sports today?
Jamey Rootes: It’s a challenging industry to break into. It’s very different than a lot of other industries and people get so focused on the team sport aspect. If you want to live in Houston and you want to work in the NFL, there’s really only one option. So, you have to really check your heart and make sure that this is truly what you want to do. One of the best ways to do that is to get an internship and spend some time with a sports team or with an agency or whatever that area of sports that you want to work in is and get some experience to make sure that it is what you want to do. If the answer to the question is “this what I love to do,” then you have to figure out what makes you special. What are the talents that you bring to the table? It’s so competitive. If you don’t know what makes you special and you don’t bring that to the table everyday, then you’re probably not going to make the kind of progress that you want to. Figure out who thinks you’re special. Who are your raving fans? I think about my career and all the people that helped me get to where I want to go. The mentors, I mentioned Jerry Yeagley, Lamar Hunt, Bob McNair, and lots of others including my parents. Those people have been the wind beneath my wings that have helped me get where I want to go. Figure out who those people are and use those connections to help you get done what you want to do. If you’re passionate about it and really want to do it, commit to it, because if you’re passionate and you love what you’re doing, you will make whatever it is you want to make happen and you’ll have a lot of fun along the way!
Lucas Biebelberg: Jamey thanks again for joining us, and for sportsnetworker.com I’m Lucas Biebelberg.
Do you aspire to be the President of an NFL team? What was the most important thing you learned from Jamey Rootes experience in sports? Let us know in the comments below or send us a tweet @sportsnetworker.
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