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Official Review by Paul Donaldson, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
So you've heard about the incredible experience of attending a Texas Southern football game, from the big crowds, to great tailgating, and unbelievable halftime shows. You think to yourself, what better way to get the best experience than at their home stadium. If this sounds like you, you may want to rethink your plans. Like many HBCU (historically black college and universities) institutions, the best atmosphere will be found at one of the "classic" match-ups which usually takes place at a neutral site (i.e. the Labor Day Classic between Texas Southern and Prairie View A&M hosted at Reliant Stadium).
If you can't catch one of the classic matchups or your favorite team is playing at Texas Southern, you'll at least be pleasantly surprised at the quality of the facility and marching band. Texas Southern, beginning in 2012, has made the newly constructed BBVA Compass Stadium (home of the MLS Houston Dynamo) their home stadium for non-classic match-ups. BBVA Compass Stadium has a listed capacity of 22,039 which is usually more than accommodating for non-HBCU/classic match-ups and provides a state of the art venue for TSU football.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
One of the benefits of playing in a major league stadium is the high quality concession facilities that usually aren't available at non-professional venues. BBVA Compass Stadium comes equipped with several different themed concession stands and carts. However the majority of them will not be available at Texas Southern home games.
Expect two of the concession stands (one on each side of the stadium) to be utilized. The options you can expect are: cheeseburgers ($7.50 - $9), grilled chicken sandwich ($8.50), hot dogs ($6.50 - $8.50), veggie burger ($9), chicken tender basket ($8.75), personal sized pizza ($8) and side items including chili cheese fries, French fries, pretzel, peanuts, cookie, popcorn, and nachos ranging from $4 to $6.50.
Fountain drinks are a pricey ($4.75-$5.75) and a bottle of water will cost you $4. Beer is available for about $9.50 a bottle. The quality of the items won't blow you away, but you won't be disappointed either. However, the price for what you get certainly doesn't add up, but that's nothing new for stadium grub. With so many unique restaurant options available in Houston, I'd recommend grabbing a bite to eat before or after the game and skimping on the concessions.
BBVA Compass Stadium is located on the edge of eastern downtown Houston just a couple of blocks from Minute Maid Park, home of the MLB Houston Astros. Just behind the west grandstands, you can catch a view of the Houston skyline if you are sitting at least a few rows up from ground level. The stadium is about three miles north of the Texas Southern University campus, making it a fairly accessible off-campus venue for the university community.
Built specifically for soccer competition, BBVA Compass Stadium has the look and feel of a European soccer stadium on a smaller scale. The stands wrap around the entire field with a consistent height and in a double decked format. A large covering shields both the east and west grandstands from weather and direct sunlight. If you're looking for chairback seating, you're in luck as almost the entire stadium is equipped with them.
The playing surface at BBVA Compass Stadium is real grass, a benefit of playing on a field built for soccer (depending on your preferences). The large video scoreboard is located in the south endzone and offers crystal clear replay views.
My recommendation for seating is the 50 yard line on the east side just below the upperdeck. This will give you the best view of the field with the skyline of downtown Houston facing you. Don't expect a midfield logo during the MLS season as the real grass field is used primarily for the Houston Dynamo. Wherever you choose to sit, you really can't go wrong since there isn't a bad seat in the house. Visiting fans are likely to find friendlies located in the east side bleachers.
The band (if in attendance) will likely be located next to a somewhat visible student section on about the 25 yard line in the SW corner of the west side bleachers. Texas Southern (and other HBCUs) have a very strong band tradition, and in many cases folks come out to the game more for the halftime show than the football. However, like previously mentioned, you won't get the full experience if it's not one of the classic match-ups. The cheerleaders stay in the game constantly prodding the crowd from the west side to the endzones. Texas Southern has two tiger mascots accompanying the cheer squad. The student section gets into the game for big match-ups but don't expect an overwhelmingly loud crowd.
As the fourth largest city in the United States, Houston offers tons of great restaurants and attractions within a short drive from the stadium. For a great place to get drinks before or after the game, Lucky's Pub is just across the street from the stadium. If you're looking for an authentic Texas Southern experience, you should head towards the Texas Southern campus and give Frenchy's Chicken a try. You might become a bit unsure from the looks of the place and you may even experience a little culture shock, but the fried chicken is to die for.
Depending on how much time you are spending in Houston, you can't leave without getting some great TexMex at Ninfa's on Navigation or Vietnamese grub at Les Givral's.
As for attractions, if you're traveling with children, the Children's Museum is a must stop (actually, the entire Houston museum district is a great value).
You really can't beat the experience at Saint Arnold Brewing Company. For just $7, you get a brewery tour, a souvenir glass, and tokens for free beer samples.
A couple of drawbacks to being in downtown Houston is that the stadium location doesn't feel the safest at night (so I wouldn't recommend walking around by yourself) and the area surrounding the stadium isn't really set up for an authentic tailgating experience.
If the band is on hand, expect some of the loudest cheers to come while they're playing or performing at halftime. TSU fans get into the game on big plays (turnovers, scores, etc), though it's not uncommon for them to also cheer on third downs when their team has the ball.
If you're travelling to Houston for the game, you shouldn't have much of a problem getting into town. You can fly either into George Bush Intercontinental or Hobby. I'd recommend Hobby because it's much closer to downtown and you'll likely pick up a cheap flight from Southwest since they have a hub there.
Houston is in the process of expanding its Metro Rail system, but until the additional lines are added (expected completion in 2014), a rental car is the best way to get around. As for where to stay, I recommend booking a hotel in the downtown area and the Hilton of Americas (if it's in your price range) is a great option. From there you could make the walk to the game, but I'd only recommend doing so during the day. If you choose to park, there will be plenty of surface lots around the stadium ranging from $5-$15. If you do a little searching, you can find a reasonably close $5 lot.
As you approach the stadium from the parking lot, there are several gates to enter through and all will be pretty painless. Lines at the ticket windows are short and staff are friendly. You'll have no issues making your way through the spacious concourse or up and down the accommodating aisles. The restrooms are spacious, clean, brand new, and located in multiple areas of the concourse. The stadium is handicap accessible.
Tickets will range from $53 (president's club seating) down to $15 for upper level endzone seating. Unless you are fairly certain the game will be close to a sellout, I would recommend grabbing the $15 seats because once you enter the seating area, you'll find it to be pretty much general admission seating throughout the partially occupied stadium. As mentioned, the concessions prices are a little outrageous for an FCS program. This likely has more to do with standard BBVA Compass Stadium pricing for Dynamo games, but regardless of who is responsible, it's way more than you should expect to pay.
If you skip the concessions and get into the game with the $15 seats, it's hard to say you made a bad investment. Your investment will certainly be improved if you ensure the band will be in attendance prior to booking your trip. Overall, it's not a bad bang for your buck, unless you forget to eat before you get to the game.
The game being held in downtown Houston is definitely a plus. You'll have easy access to a wide variety of pubs, bars, restaurants and attractions. Another major plus is the band, the Texas Southern Ocean of Soul. Just the halftime show alone is probably worth the admission price.
So is it worth it? If you adhere to the tips above on parking and concessions and if you're due for a trip to Houston, the overall experience will be positive. You can score relatively cheap tickets to the game and experience all that Houston has to offer in the same weekend.
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