added 07/07/2013 by Bob Hulsey
Say what you will about the Houston Rockets but they have understood from the beginning the power of having a high-profile gate attraction on their team. The recent addition of center Dwight Howard for a reported four-year, $88 million dollar contract may or may not bring an NBA title to the Bayou City but it does raise the ante for carriers that have turned down CSN-Houston.
Will cable and satellite providers that have spurned the new Astros-Rockets sports channel find it harder to say "no" to Houston sports fans? Up until now, those carriers could smugly say that there was no groundswell of interest to watch the dull Rockets and the duller Astros. Howard's presence may change all of that.
Personally, I think Howard will not be as great a star as the money spent on him would justify but he is the "whale" the Rockets have lusted after ever since they realized they had to sell the new regional channel. Not only should there be a spike in season tickets at the Toyota Center but there should be a similar spike in demand for carriers to show Rocket games in the Southwest.
If, as Howard is claimed to have requested, a third star is added to himself and James Harden, the Rockets will be expected to march deep into the playoffs and local fans will want to see it from their homes. The estimated 40% of area fans who do not get CSN-Houston will increase the pressure to get those games on their sets.
The oddity is that, if the Rockets could so clearly understand the need for such a "whale", why can't the Astros? As the partner with the greater stake in the venture, with more games to telecast and a wider swath of systems to sell to than the Rockets, it still stuns me how the Astros have been completely disinterested in attracting fans with a marquee name at such a critical juncture in the history of their network.
So, maybe the Astros didn't want to slap $25 million/year out for Josh Hamilton in free agency, could it have hurt to overpay Lance Berkman or Michael Bourn to be the franchise "face" that sells the overall product? Houston would have still been the lowest payroll by far in the majors and still would have had plenty of roster spots to parcel out to untested prospects eager to audition for a job in the majors.
It would have given the casual fans one familiar face to justify ordering the CSN-H package if it was available on their system.
In Hollywood, they understand that there are two ways to sell a movie. One is to sign the big stars - a Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt or George Clooney and pair him with a few other known names that will make for a big budget but also, hopefully, bring a big box office reward. The other way is to star a bunch of nobodies, cut corners and make a cheap movie that can hopefully recoup the minimal investment in post-theatre distribution.
The Rockets have wanted the former but the Astros have insisted on the latter, frustrating the Rockets' partnership in the tv deal. The Rockets have been held hostage as the Astros have demanded Tom Cruise fees for a Penelope Cruz product.
Signing Howard may or may not be enough to persuade carriers to add the new channel but had the Astros signed their own Dwightmare, they would have found it much easier to attract viewers and pressure carriers.
The Astros seem determined to follow the austerity course and expect that fans will follow because they are, well, the Houston Rockets and Astros. But fan loyalty can also come when they see the club willing to spend on high-profile players that the casual fan knows and wants to see. To date, we have not seen if Jim Crane understands that principle.