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Official Review by Paul Donaldson, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
From 1982 to 1984, Houston Cougar basketball was on top of the sports world. With future NBA greats like Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon and Clyde “The Glyde” Drexler lighting up the court with high flying dunks, Texas’s tallest fraternity of basketball dunkers became known as Phi Slamma Jamma. The Cougars would earn a berth into the Final Four championship game each year during the three season stretch, and also come up just short in each championship game. By the time 1984 concluded, it seemed the sky was the limit for Cougar basketball.
After appearing three consecutive times in the championship game, UH would only receive four invites to the tournament after 1984. Attendance has fallen from overflow capacity to lackluster crowds. Hofheinz Pavilion is aging and is due either for a massive renovation or to be replaced by a new facility.
Though the golden years of UH basketball appear only distantly in the rear-view mirror, there’s a renewed sense of hope with a move from Conference USA to the American. The 2013-14 season has delivered some elite level competition that includes Louisville, UConn, Cincy, and Memphis. Fans have been reminded what great basketball looks like. Though conference greats Louisville and Cincinnati will be moving on at the conclusion of the 2013-14 season, a higher caliber of conference basketball remains. If you pick your matchup right, the Houston Cougar basketball experience can still serve as a memorable one.
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".
Concession options are not exactly a strength of the Hofheinz experience. Your bare basics are covered, but there isn't really a single item to get you excited. The only bright spot is the availability of alcohol which will certainly come at a high price.
Here's a shot of the main concessions menu:
I recommend grabbing a bucket of popcorn. For $5 you'll get enough to snack throughout the game and it doesn't make any sense to save a dollar and get the much smaller "small popcorn" size.
In my experience attending various UH sporting events, the hot dogs are always atrocious. The bread is always hard on the ends and the dogs taste very old. The nachos taste fine, but the serving size is too small for the price and no effort is made to jazz the dish up at all. It's just tortilla chips in a plastic tray with cheese sauce on the side. The main stands are operated by Aramark.
There are only two main concession stands throughout the concourse. Depending on the size of the crowd, this could cause an issue with ease of access. Hofheinz has additional concession stands built in but usually do not utilize them since crowds have shrunk from the Phi Slamma Jamma days. Here's a picture of an average sized line:
There is also a separate "refreshment" stand that offers assorted beers, alcohol, and wine. Expect around $7 for beers and $8 for margaritas.
The experience could be much improved by adding in some variety and providing a specialty item. There are stands built in to the Pavilion that are currently going unused. You'll notice a closed stand that sells BBQ. Having this open for all games or at least selling a few BBQ items through the main stands would be a major plus.
Constructed in 1969, Hofheinz Pavilion has served as the home court to Houston Cougar basketball for over 40 years. With a capacity of 8,479, most of which seem on top of the court, the Pavilion can provide an intimidating environment for visiting teams when the crowd is at capacity. Seats are arranged in a bowl style with all of the seating areas below the concourse level. Suites were added during the 1998-99 season offering a cozy view for fans willing to dish out a few extra dollars. Here's a panoramic view of the seating areas:
Every seat in Hofheinz is cushioned, which provides a comfortable experience, when you're not on your feet.
The scoreboard hangs from a low ceiling and comes equipped with video panels on all four sides. Though it's behind the massive video boards of present-day basketball, the video adds to the overall atmosphere.
You can't miss the plethora of banners honoring past Cougar greats and accomplished seasons. It's pretty neat to see the names of Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler, Michael Young, and Elvin Hayes hanging from the ceiling. There's also a banner for each of the three Final Four appearances.
The overall atmosphere is hit or miss. Though the facility is aging, the arrangement of the seating areas and loud acoustics can make it an electric experience. When the crowd is large and the fans get into the game, you'll be surprised just how loud the Pavilion can get. Unfortunately, there are some drawbacks, including waning fan support and a visibly old looking facility.
You can always count on the spirit squads of UH to bring passion and noise. The Spirit of Houston pep band is located along the endline next to the student section. Music selection will be dominated by the band as opposed to piped in music, which is a plus for college sporting events. UH has two costumed mascots, Shasta and Shasha. Both the cheer and dance teams will make various performances through the game breaks.
The University of Houston and Hofheinz Pavilion are nestled next to one of the worst neighborhoods in the Houston area. It's important to keep in mind that our Stadium Journey reviews of the neighborhood primarily focus on the immediate area around the stadium or arena. Though downtown Houston is just a couple of minutes from the UH campus and offers plenty of restaurants, attractions, and lodging, the immediate area definitely does not.
UH has a few restaurants available on campus, so if you're looking for a bite before the game on campus, you'll be able to find it. Pink's Pizza is a great stop and home to some of the best pizza in the area. Frenchy's Chicken isn't much to look at from the outside, but the fried chicken is absolutely amazing. I'd recommend getting it to go and tailgating before the game closer to Hofheinz. The Den is an on-campus sports pub. You'll find some decent pub grub, a great beer selection, and some HD TVs. Eric's is a student run restaurant inside the on-campus Hilton. The restaurant offers "casual dining with a Mediterranean flair" and is probably a bit more upscale than casual, at least for the average sports fan. Speaking of the Hilton, this is my recommended place to book a room if you need overnight accommodations. It's conveniently located on the UH campus.
Outside of hanging out at The Den before or after the game, there really isn't much to do in the form of attractions. I wouldn't recommend walking around much when the campus gets dark. Your best bet for fun and nightlife options is to head into downtown, the museum district and/or midtown.
It's been a few decades since the golden era of UH basketball. The years of Phi Slamma Jamma with Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler, and other greats can only be relived in memories. UH fans still carry their heads with pride and hope that the next year will finally seize the opportunity to return to what once was. Many of your loyal Cougar basketball fans are older alumni.
Houston overall is pretty regularly known as a bandwagon sports city. Whether it's the Texans, Astros, Rockets, Dynamo, or a UH team, the stadium or arena will be on fire when the team is winning. At the first sign of a non-championship caliber team, once packed facilities become near ghost towns. Simply put, UH basketball has offered little in the recent years to entice the non-alum or student to make an investment.
Today's student body is getting further and further away from the golden years. Your average student doesn't even relate with Michael Jordan, much less era greats like Hakeen the Dream and Clyde the Glide. The greatest years of UH basketball history took place before most current students were even a twinkling in their parents eyes. With that said, student pride is relatively high at UH. With the recent success on the football field, the pride of obtaining a Tier 1 status, and good things happening for the university, you'll still see decent student attendance. However, the student showing is much more like a Conference USA experience than a Big East experience.
The student section carries out a few interactive traditions. When the Coogs are at the free throw line, students will clap and then raise the Coog hand symbol:
If you throw up an airball, the student section will remember and remind you of it until the final seconds tick away. Other than the students, the rest of the crowd will only get into the game in key moments and after big plays.
As you arrive on campus, getting to the Pavilion and around once inside is very accessible. Parking is available relatively close and will run about $5. Lines are short at the ticket booth and you'll get through the gates quickly. The main concourse surrounding the entire seating area is spacious and easy to navigate. Aisles are wide enough to get up and down to your seats. Walking space between rows is a bit tight. The restrooms are on the older side, but are large enough to generally avoid any lines.
Getting to the campus may be a different story. As anyone in the Houston area is well aware, navigating the Houston freeway system can be an absolute nightmare at times. One of the worst stretches of this system is I-45 heading through downtown. If you're attending a weeknight game, getting there will likely be an adventure. Weekends, however, are much lighter with traffic.
The overall cost of attending a UH basketball game at Hofheinz Pavilion is a pretty good value. Depending on where you park, you're looking to be out about $5. The game program is $1. Concession prices are fairly average with $4-$5 for popcorn, $3-$4 for a hot dog and $4-$5 for a fountain drink. Admission runs from $10 (general admission) to $20 (reserved). Though the strength of UH basketball is a shadow of the Phi Slamma Jamma years, the on court action is still near the top of Division I competition even without the elite Big East basketball schools. Return on investment is fairly strong.
UH does a solid job of remembering former basketball greats and recognizing great years. Each seating entrance will have a banner hanging above it.
There's also a nice trophy case just inside the main entrance referenced as "The Milner Lobby."
If you showed up to the game without red and white, you'll be happy to find an apparel stand inside Hofheinz to purchase UH gear.
Member Review by pderrick
Opened in 1969, Hofheinz Pavilion has the been the host to many great games as well great teams. During the mid 80s it was the host to the one of college basketball's greatest assembly of talent, Phi Slama Jama. Today the only remnants to that great era are the retired numbers hanging from the rafters.
With only one NCAA tournament appearance since 1992 the University of Houston basketball team seems to lack the magic that once graced Hofheinz Pavilion. As I entered the concourse of the pavilion I thought about all the great games and players that have called the pavilion home, such as Clyde Drexler, Hakeem Olajuwon, Michael Young and Elvin Hayes. Watching a game today at Hofheinz pavilion you can only see the hope on the faces of fans that one day that spark will return to the Pavilion. With 2010 bringing the University their first return to the NCAA tournament in 18 years, there is a sense that greatness may be returning.
6102 Scott St
Houston, TX 77021
4800 Calhoun Rd
Houston, TX 77004
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4800 Calhoun Rd
Houston, TX 77004