Some sort of disco music is blaring while Trina Endsley, 16 and foxy, is turning heads on the dance floor. In blue satin pants and jacket to match and a white doily-like halter, Mindy Roady is with her boyfriend.
An airline stewardess named Diane reports from the ladies' room, where all sorts of primping is going on, that there are some girls here tonight," Deejay Sheila Mayhew surves the dance floor from behind her turntables and speakers and pronounces all of this "just like any disco."
There are a boy and a girl about 8 also dancing. There is a guy in a Weedeater cap and a T-shirt, and a 3-year-old is creating keen-high havoc. And off in a corner signing autographs right and left and becoming a star in Nick Megaloudis.
Professional soccer has come to Houston, but Houston is not yet coming to soccer. And that has spurred a sports business marketing drive that sees Houston Hurricane players sailing 11 autographed soccer balls into sparesely filled stands before each game and a beer and disco party afterward for the fans.
Gaining a North American Soccer League franchise in January, the Hurricane are trying to tap into the nation's fifth most populous city which last year saw 2.2 million paid attendance at four professional sports. Half attended Astro baseball games.
Not only did the franchise delay putting a team together (the Hurricane played their first two games with a Yugoslav goalkeeper who couldn't speak English), it also left the team unable to market season tickets. Many of the large and profitble energy-related corporations shuttle workers between Houston and distant lands, where soccer is a national preoccupation. Some play host to large numbers of visitors from soccer-playing nations.
On paper, with 2 to 2.5 million people in the metropolitan area, Houston should be a lucrative market. There are 20,000 kids playing youth soccer. But professional sports have traditionally not done well here and you tend to remember Houston teams for the wrong reasons. The Astros supplied the Cincinnati Reds with some of their best World Series players. The Rockets supplied the victim in one of professional basketball's most brutal assaults. The Aeros just pulled up their tent and sold all their hockey players to Winnipeg. And the Oilers do nothing to help Houston's claim that Houston really is better than Dallas.
In a city where batting 111 is a victory in the oil field (one of nine wells is a success) something more is apparently expected in sports.
"Houston is a town of winners," signed Hurricane President and General Manager Hans von Mende, whose team has been hovering just below the 500 mark. "They've doing well here in business - they want to see that reflected in their outside activities."
"You've got too many people in Houston who like to win," added marketing director Bill Sodon. "In New York, there are so many people you can get 50,000 losers to a game," he adds, harkening back to the early days of the New York Mets.
The Hurricane crowd is not typical. Half is female, and the audience is younger. Soccer tends to be more of a family outing and so Sodon is trying to sell a package of entertainment.
"We are trying to providfe an entire evening of entertainment where people can come after the game and meet players and have fun," he said. "They don't have to make other plans. Everything is planned for them."
The Hurricane drew 15,266 to their first home game but attendance has dwindled since. The team averages about 6,300 people in 35,443 seats roped off for soccer in the Astrodome. The league is averaging about 12,000 and von Mende says the team needs to draw 15,000 to turn a profit.
He won't say how much the team's backers are spending or for how long they will continue to do so. The team has signed two-year player contracts and there is a reserve team to train future talent. Two Houston real estate winners. Kenneth Schnitzer and Gerald Hinds, and financier Ben Woodson have a controlling interest in the team and a Colorado cmpany has the rest.
The team has attracted some spontaneous support from the community. A fan club and a department store teen council that wanted to be cheer leaders approaches club officials without being recruited. There are no fleshy flashes of the kind offered by the NFL cheerleaders in Dallas. The Hurricane is cheered on by a wholesome collection of teen-agers in gym shorts and T-shirts.
Sodon acknowledges, though, that the Hurricane is marketing a little bit of sex - to women. "Nicky Megaloudis goes to work in his shorts," he noted.