On Sunday, about an hour before the Rockets took on the Cleveland Cavaliers on national television, pitting two MVP candidates and culminating in one of the most exciting overtime wins in recent memory for your local NBA team, KILT 610 was on my radio while I was running errands and the discussion surprised me.
James Harden and Lebron James were about to go, literally, one-on-one in what some believe is a battle for most valuable player for the year, and local sports talk was covering who would make a better backup quarterback for the Texans. Instead of Harden v. James, I got Savage v. Fitzpatrick.
Unfortunately, for fans of other sports, the Texans dominate the conversation among sports fans in Houston. The Rockets have one of the best teams in the NBA and a legitimate contender for best player in the league. The Astros are, once again, an interesting team with a young nucleus of players that could be part of a winning team in a year or two. More importantly, they are both on TV after the debacle that was CSN Houston over the last two seasons came to a conclusion.
But, Houston is a football town. Period. And for fans of any other sport, that sucks.
I tweeted on Sunday that if you surveyed 1,000 sports fans in Houston asking them to name their favorite sport, 800 would say football. It might be more. I count myself among those who appreciate football. For me, it probably goes basketball, football and baseball in order of my rooting interests. But, the irrelevance of the other two pro teams in Houston -- with all due respect to the Dynamo -- is remarkable.
And this is not solely about sports radio. It is common knowledge that ratings for programs drop dramatically when they stop talking about the Texans and that is further emphasized by what listeners hear every day. Four of the best (and relatively new) full time on-air personalities are former NFL players, but there is not a single former pro basketball or baseball player that captains a show. Only a couple -- Matt Bullard and Kevin McHale -- have regular segments. KILT, the flagship for the Texans, has several multi-hour Texans-centric shows (paid for and hosted by the team) every week in the offseason. That number grows during the season.
It extends beyond local media. The power of the NFL marketing machine is so great, there has been talk that ESPN and others would love to make their NFL coverage the bulk of what they do on air. The magnifying glass that comes with only 16 games played, for the most part, on one day of the week, ratchets up the intensity. Then there are fantasy leagues and gambling -- and a bunch of crossover between them -- both overwhelmingly favoring football to other sports.
As someone who truly does enjoy the NFL, it's great the options available to fans, but when the conversation is closer to 80/20 football even during the most dead times of the year, I have to wonder if that is healthy for the sports landscape.
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Locally, the Rockets are not helped by the fact that they have one only a single playoff series since 1997. The Astros, well, they have been one of the worst franchises in baseball for nearly half a decade. Both were kept off the air for two years while millionaires fought with billionaires over, what else, money. But, something feels different this time around.
The Rockets are in the midst of one of the most intriguing runs since the days of the championships, coincidentally on the 20-year anniversary of the second title, with a signature star that is only 25 years old. They rank third in the brutal Western Conference despite their second best player, Dwight Howard, missing now 23 games to injury, and heading into the stretch run for the playoffs.
The Astros are entering spring training with former Astros signed on to coach and current young talent brimming with possibility. Sports Illustrated crowned them the 2017 World Series champs in a ranging discussion of analytics and how the Astros use them. And speaking of analytics, the Rockets and Astros happen to be two of the most forward-thinking teams in sports when it comes to their use of statistics while the Texans rank at the bottom of that list according to ESPN.
The Texans are an interesting team in their own right and JJ Watt is one of the most promising stars in Houston history, but enough to merit the discussion of who should be the backup quarterback for the team an hour before one of the most exciting games of the NBA season that involves the Rockets? I guess ratings don't lie.