Could Houston become the next Las Vegas when it comes to hosting high-profile sports tournaments? The Bayou City will host the NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four in April and World Cup matches in 2026 — both at NRG Stadium.
“We have great stadiums, great fans, so people think, ‘Oh, they just love to come to Houston.’ But we have a team of people that work really hard,” Janis Burke, CEO of the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority, told Houston Public Media in February. “Every city that can host these want[s] to host these type of events because it deposits a lot of money into the economy. So you have a dogfight, really, behind the scenes with all of these cities really putting their best foot forward … to bid for and win these events.”
According to WalletHub.com, the projected economic impact of March Madness on Houston is more than $300 million. (By comparison, the NCAA Women’s Basketball Final Four slated for Dallas at the American Airlines Center is expected to generate an economic impact of more than $30 million, according to The Dallas Morning News.)
Just weeks before the Final Four bounces into Houston, NRG Stadium will host the 20-day RODEOHOUSTON® Super Series tournament-style competition with championship events in bareback riding, bull riding, saddle bronc riding, steer wrestling, tie-down roping team roping, and women’s barrel racing and breakaway roping — with a total payout of more than $2.1 million. Burke noted that following the rodeo, crews will be busy power washing, dirt removing and basketball-court building.
“This is all we’ve been working for as a city for years,” Holly Kesterson, president of the 2023 NCAA Men’s Final Four Local Organizing Committee, told ABC13.com. “We are getting so close to the big excitement. I am just over the moon about it.”
Adding to that excitement is the fact that the University of Houston is the No. 1 tournament seed in the Midwest region, and the Cougars have the potential to make a Final Four run.
But, as The RealDeal.com real estate news website noted in March, Houston might have a problem when it comes to hospitality. A new ranking of U.S. hotel markets by Trepp places the Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land metropolitan area dead last — citing low occupancy, high delinquency rates, low debt service coverage ratio and low non-commissionable fees growth.
“The metro has several hotel construction projects underway that were paused or had project-starting delays due to the pandemic, so the spike in new hotel deliveries may be putting a dampener on occupancy numbers in Houston,” according to the Trepp report.
TheRealDeal.com predicts the Final Four will “likely offer a short-term boost to the city’s hospitality sector,” but “with the highest percentage of delinquent loans out of the 50 largest metropolitan areas, the city has a long way to go before it can rebound to pre-pandemic levels like its metropolitan counterparts.”
Meanwhile, city tourism officials are keeping on keeping on — already making World Cup plans. And another Super Bowl could be in the city’s long-term future. (Houston hosted Super Bowl LI in 2017.)
“There was a team of us that went out to Qatar to witness what they did, come back with best practices, look at all of the infrastructure that goes around that. We’ve been working for years on that particular event,” Burke told Houston Public Media, adding that there also have been discussion with the NFL’s Houston Texans about bidding on the Super Bowl for 2029 or later.
“We … do try to spread these events out to make sure we have the corporate support and we can raise the dollars that are needed. And also make sure [we] have the infrastructure and the personnel to pull them off. So yes, we are looking at another Super Bowl. We’ve been talking about that behind the scenes.”
Houston has the opportunity to show its strengths beginning right now, and Kesterson is confident visitors will leave with a positive impression of the city.
“I think, at the end of the day, we want people to get to know Houston for what we, as the locals, know it to be: a great, great event city,” she told ABC13.com. “The hospitality, the experience, the restaurants, the things to do over and above just Final Four activities. We know Houston is amazing, and I think people are going to have that experience and remember that when they’re here. Visitors are going to walk away very, very pleasantly surprised as to what Houston has to offer as a big city.”