In just over six weeks, Houston will once again host the NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four, the fourth time the city hosts the tournament finals.
But this year’s tourney is not the only major sporting event Houston is preparing for in the coming years. Janis Burke is the CEO of the Harris County, Houston Sports Authority. She spoke to Houston Matters with Craig Cohen on how they are preparing for major sports events.
The Final Four and the World Cup in 2026 are two of the larger events coming up, but the city could be the host of other major events. But getting these events to come to the Bayou City requires more than being a desirable location, Burke said.
“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,” Burke said. “Every city that can host these want 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, to bid for and win these events.”
Houston’s stadiums are a main attraction for many events, and Burke said without them, Houston probably would not host so many events. Houston was also the site of the Final Four in 2016.
“We’ve morphed into this sports marketing machine,” she said.
During these events, it puts millions of eyes on the city. It also means that there is scrutiny, from the conditions of the fields and courts to the weather.
“We do put a lot of preparation and work with the NCAA quite closely on public security, escorts to the teams to the hotels, getting the building ready,” she said. “Remember, we have a huge rodeo, it’s the world’s largest rodeo event that takes place, just before we have to start loading in for men’s Final Four. So the power washing, the removing of the dirt, and then getting that basketball court that is built up off the ground. And the seating system in place is a lot of work by a lot of people in the community.”
Events like the Final Four often bring conversations of economic impact. Burke said they focus more directly on the spending, like how many hotels rooms are sold, how many people are coming from out of town, and how many people are buying things that generate sales tax.
“Those type of numbers is what we really concentrate on. And the last time it was over, you know, several $100 million, I don’t have the exact number until we get through this. It depends on the schools that come in, the travelers that come,” she said. “But these are huge events that deposit big money into any local economy. And that money is circulated and spent on putting more police on the on the ground putting filling in holes on the road. So these tax dollars that are generated from these events are not just go back into spending for you know, bidding for the next event.”
Burke said they also look at what is displaced: how many people did not go out because of the traffic and crowds.
“But I like to focus really on the halo effect of the event and what it means to the community. So you have a lot of free concerts that are happening. 75,000 people a day went to the concerts last time Final Four was in town and that was a free ticket,” she said. “But things like that are what bring a community together and what I think makes our Houstonians embrace these type of events versus ‘Oh, I want to get out of town,’ or grumbling and complaining. I think they really enjoy it.”
The money leftover from these events also help the community, she said. Last time the city hosted the Final Four, extra funds from the event put in playground equipment at Tidwell Park.
Houston will also host World Cup soccer matches in 2026, and preparation has already begun for it.
“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,” she said.
Burke said the city also likes to spread out large events. She said they have been in talks with the Texans about bidding for the Super Bowl again, which probably won’t happen until 2029 or later, she said.
“We are looking at it that 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,” she said. “World Cup, we have to go out and raise, you know, many millions of dollars. So you want to spread those type of events out. And also make sure you 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.”