When's Houston hosting another Super Bowl? Astrodome's unsettled future may hold key to the answer

Tuesday, September 26, 2023
How the Astrodome is impacting Houston's next Super Bowl bid
Eyewitness News speaks with a top Harris County-Houston Sports Authority official on how the city got the CFP National Championship after three tries.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- For more than a half century, sports teams and sporting events have been woven into the fabric of Houston. While the venues in which the big games are played have changed, our city's passion for playing host has remained fervent.

Space City is a host city, from the NCAA Final Four to the FIFA World Cup, Super Bowls, and to even BMX events.

"We really try not to make it cookie-cutter," Janis Burke, CEO of the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority, revealed about her team's approach to bidding on marquee events. "We really crawl inside the skin of that event. How can we put the Houston thumbprint on it and make it different and special and bigger and better than ever before? We just kept bidding on our reputation."

Burke has been bidding and building on our city's success since she took over in 2006. The woman behind the bids took ABC13 behind the curtain for the inside stories of Houston landing mega sporting events.

Behind the scenes of a big-event bid process

"So, the College Football Playoff - we did not win the first time we bid," Burke shared. "We did not win the second time we bid. So, the third time, I knew we needed a different strategy. I picked up the phone and called the person who was in charge at the time."

Over the phone, Burke extended an invitation for that person to come to Houston for the 2016 NCAA Men's Final Four and the Super Bowl in 2017.

"A couple months later, I get a phone call saying he wants to fly to Houston on his dime to sit down and do a one-city negotiation with you," Burke said of the plans to discuss the 2024 College Football Playoff National Championship. "That's what happened, and that's why we're hosting in 2024."

College football's biggest game is coming to Space City because a decision-maker saw how Houston hosted other big events.

"(It's) showcasing our city when we are doing it so well," Burke said about the key to landing high-profile games.

But one thing will not be showcased in our city when the FIFA World Cup is played here in 2026.

"NRG put millions of dollars forward in order to put their name on NRG Stadium," Burke noted. "During the World Cup, it will not be called NRG Stadium. It will be called the Houston World Cup stadium. Every city in the United States had to grapple with that. We do business in the U.S. very different than in other countries."

An '8th Wonder' roadblock?

The venue known most of the time as NRG Stadium has and will host major sporting events for years. But just steps away, the Astrodome has been dormant for decades. But the stadium known to many as the "8th Wonder of the World" just might be keeping its neighbor, NRG Stadium, from hosting its third Super Bowl.

"Greg Grissom, the president of Texans, and I have been talking about the next Super Bowl bid," Burke disclosed. "To be honest, we do need to figure out the Astrodome situation. I know (Harris County) has that on their radar, and they are trying to come up with a solution for that. I think that will matter. So, again, we're strategically looking at how we put that in the mix. Whatever we do, whether it's a renovation or a teardown, but I think that will matter to the NFL."

After being asked if it's safe to say Houston will not bid on another Super Bowl until the Astrodome's future is determined, Burke agreed it was safe to say.

The Astrodome, now stripped and empty, is owned by Harris County. As of 2021, the county paid $400,000 annually for maintenance and insurance. In 2018, the Astrodome became a Texas historical landmark. It's also designated as a State Antiquities Landmark and is part of the National Register of Historic Places.

Ryan M. Walsh, CEO and executive director of NRG Park, provided a statement to ABC13 about the status of the Astrodome and the claim it's impacting Houston's next Super Bowl bid:

"We are working with stakeholders to find the solution that works best for our community. While those high-profile events are great, the County is interested in taking a well-reasoned, thoughtful approach to the re-energizing of NRG Park that will maximize benefit to our entire community for decades to come."

Harris County Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia also weighed in on Burke's assertion that the Astrodome's future must be decided before Houston can bid on hosting the biggest football game on the planet.

"Harris County is one of the largest media markets in the nation, so I would find it hard to believe that the NFL would hurt its own pocketbook by excluding Houston from a future Super Bowl," Garcia challenged. "The unsettled nature of the 'Dome' didn't stop the league from choosing us previously. The uncertainty around the Dome hasn't kept us from acquiring world-class events like the Final Four, College Football National Championship Game, and World Cup matches, or a stop on Beyoncé's tour. The NRG complex is clearly capable of hosting top events now and into the future. I would encourage the employees of the Sports Authority to share concerns directly with commissioners' court in a constructive and professional manner if there are issues, before speaking with the press."

Playing host to winning teams and high-profile events are as much a part of Houston as bayous and barbecue. But the Dome, another Space City staple, appears to have stopped the clock on football's biggest game coming back to our city.

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