Sept. 11, 2001
By Brian Hennessy
Success has come naturally for Jamey Rootes, whether it was in his college days at Clemson as the student body president and a member of two national championship soccer teams or today, as the marketing director for the Houston Texans, the NFL’s 32nd franchise.
It was apparent early on that Rootes, the starting midfielder on Clemson’s 1987 national championship soccer squad and a whiz in the classroom, would make it to the big-time. The irony is in the fact that it would be with the Houston Texans, the expansion NFL football team which will play its first season in 2002. The Stone Mountain, GA native accepted the position of Senior Vice President and Chief Sales & Marketing Officer with the Texans in February 2000. Prior to moving to Houston, he served as the President of the Columbus Crew of the MLS, America’s premier professional soccer league.
After a stellar high school career at Stone Mountain High School outside of Atlanta, Rootes decided on Clemson thanks in part to coaching legend I.M. Ibrahim. In 1984, his freshman season, Rootes saw limited action, appearing in just seven games while starting one. He netted two goals and one assist. Although he came off the bench, he was a member of Clemson’s first national championship team that year. Seeing that team’s success motivated Rootes to contribute in bigger and better ways in the future.
“At the end of my freshman year, I felt like I had some unfinished business because I didn’t play in the championship game,” stated the now 35-year-old Rootes. “I redoubled my efforts and got to the point where I was a starter as a sophomore.”
The midfielder started all 19 games in 1985 for the ACC Champions, which finished with a stellar 19-3-2 overall record. He also started every game as a junior, netting five goals with seven assists in 1986. But in both his sophomore and junior season, the Tigers failed to match the 1984 team’s success of winning a national championship.
“In the summer before my senior year, I had a dream where I was standing on the field with five minutes left in the national championship game. We were up by two goals and no one could beat us. I shared that dream with my teammates in the preseason. There were a couple of slides during the season that were a wake up calls.” Clemson struggled in 1987, but limped into the postseason with a 1-4-1 conference mark and was ousted in the first round of the ACC Tournament. Furthermore, the NCAA only handed out 24 bids in 1987 for the NCAA Tournament. Fatefully, Clemson received one of the last at-large bids into the field.
“On the bus ride back from the ACC Tournament, we all came together and decided once we got in the playoffs, no one would stop us,” recalled Rootes, who garnered first-team All-ACC honors as a senior. “Then in our next practice, I remember Coach Ibrahim tossing the ball up and saying ‘I’m not blowing my whistle. There are no fouls and I want to see who wants to play, and who has the courage and heart of a champion.’ And that was the most intense practice I ever participated in.”
The Tigers, with the likes of stars Bruce Murray and Pearse Tormey, steamrolled through the tournament, upsetting one team after another on the road in hostile environments, including at Indiana and at Rutgers. The 3-2 win over the Scarlet Knights, where Rootes had the game-winning assist, gave the Tigers their second Final Four appearance in four years. Clemson was also awarded the host site for the Final Four. After a convincing 4-1 win over North Carolina, which had beaten the Tigers twice earlier in the year, the Tigers faced San Diego State in the championship game in front of an overflow crowd of 8,332. Clemson claimed the title with a 2-0 win over the Aztecs, bringing to fruition his dream before the season.
“The fact that we played at Riggs Field in the championship game was a huge advantage. It had the new stands and was on national television. It was a day that I’ll remember forever.”
Rootes’ off-the-field achievements were just as noteworthy. Along with being Student Body President his senior year, the marketing major was a two-time Academic All-American, a three-time Academic All-ACC member and had four straight 4.0-GPA semesters in his last two years at Clemson. “That was the only reason they kept me on the soccer teamŠI raised the team GPA,” Rootes joked.
“Clemson had a profound affect on my life. My first, second, and third priorities were to play soccer, and my fourth was to have an active social life. Clemson provided me with some great opportunities to be a leader on campus, whether it was with soccer, student alumni council, my fraternity, and with being student-body president. Those experiences gave me a clear direction where I wanted to head and also gave me some great contacts.”
After graduating in 1988, Rootes chose to continue his education in pursuit of an MBA at Indiana University, where he was an assistant coach on the soccer squad. Rootes worked with the World Cup towards the end of his time at Indiana, but was looking for something permanent in the sports-business world. When he couldn’t find anything just after getting his MBA, he went to work with Proctor & Gamble, and still continued looking. He then went to work for three years at IBM, where he learned to sell, but there was “something missing” on the sports side and Rootes wasn’t sure if he wanted to coach or be in sports business. That is when he met with Clemson Athletic Director Bobby Robinson and it all came together.
“One day, I got a phone call from a business executive with the Kansas City Chiefs. He offered me the opportunity to work with him. I met with him and Lamar Hunt, who was getting involved with the soon-to-be-formed MLS (Major League Soccer), in Columbus, OH. The league was just a concept at that time. When I was driving back home, I said to myself, ‘I think I got the job, but I don’t have any idea what job they’re hiring me for!’ They wanted me to be General Manager of the Columbus Crew. It sounded great but I had no idea what a G.M. does. So over the next five years I found out what a G.M. does. I helped launch the team and identity. I also built the front office staff and selected the players.”
Under his tutelage, the Crew developed the league’s largest season-ticket base, highest attendance, and strongest brand. He also led the efforts to build the first-ever soccer-specific stadium in the United States. Columbus’ stadium was named the “Foremost Sports Facility-of-the-Year” in 2000 by the International Sport Summit. As the head of the Crew, he headed up a staff of 40 and helped make decisions to lead Columbus to three straight Eastern Conference Finals from 1997-99. He was also named MLS Executive-of-the-Year in 1996.
Then, early in 2000, Rootes had an opportunity to jump to the summit of sports… the NFL. “The decision to come to the Texans was easy because I wanted to be in the biggest pond, which is the NFL, in a large market,” says Rootes. “My focus today is in revenue development, sponsorship, naming rights, broadcasts, tickets, PSLs, suites and branding.”
“The transition from soccer to football hasn’t been that difficult. The difficulty lies in understanding a different organization. Putting in the building blocks of a world-class franchise and developing relationships in the community have been the most difficult part of the transition.”
Since joining the Texans, Rootes has led the negotiation of the largest naming rights relationships in history ($300 million, 30 years). He has also already coordinated the largest radio broadcasting deal in the NFL, engineered the club’s successful PSL and suite sales’ campaigns, and helped lead the Super Bowl Task Force that secured Super Bowl XXXVIII for Houston.
“I have an appreciation for the game of football because I was a big Clemson football fan. I follow the team every year. The presence that Clemson football has an its importance to the community is something that I can apply to the Texans.”
Rootes and his wife, Melissa, have been married for three years. They met in Columbus, as Melissa attended Ohio State. The couple is expecting their first child in November.
Brian Hennessy is a former student assistant and graduate assistant in the Clemson Sports Information office and now lives in Houston.
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