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Official Review by Michael Davis, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
In 2014, the University of Houston unveiled a brand new on-campus football stadium, TDECU Stadium, on the same site as their previous venue, Robertson Stadium. Known as "The Cage," the facility cost $120 million, and was built by the same general contractor as the Dallas Cowboys' AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The first game at TDECU Stadium was played on August 29, 2014 in front of 40,755 fans, a 27-7 loss to the University of Texas-San Antonio.
The stadium was constructed from east-west to give spectators a fantastic view of the Houston skyline. Most of the seating is bleacher-style seats, with some chair back seats available in the front sections near the 50-yard line, which are primarily available to season ticket holders. On the west side of the stadium, TDECU Stadium is equipped with a 38 ft x 68 ft HD video screen scoreboard. The stadium features 26 suites, with an additional 42 loge boxes, which should help attract revenue to the football program. The highest attendance so far at John O'Quinn Field at TDECU Stadium is 42,159, achieved on November 14, 2015 during a game versus the Memphis Tigers.
The Houston Cougars football history is highlighted by their time in the Southwestern Conference. The program has sent many players to the next level, playing on Sunday afternoons in the NFL, and the University of Houston also has a Heisman Trophy winner, Andre Ware, who won the prestigious honor in 1989.
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".
There are not many food options around TDECU Stadium, but the concessions get high marks due to the sale of alcohol here, which most college venues do not offer.
The food menu has the typical stadium fare, with prices of $5.50 for popcorn, $4.25 for peanuts, or $4.75 for a pretzel. Fans can also choose $4.50 hot dogs or $5.25 corn dogs, as well as nachos starting at $5.75, or pizza for $7. There are even a couple of outside vendors from Papa John's and Chick-fil-A.
The most filling yet expensive items come from the Whose House BBQ stand. Here you have a choice of BBQ brisket, chopped BBQ, or brisket baked potato, all for around $10. Alternatively, the H-Town concession stand provides a large spicy burger (double burger with jalapenos, chipotle mayo, and jack cheese).
Non-alcoholic drinks include Coca-Cola products, with soda prices between $4.25 and $6.25 depending on the size. The best value is the large souvenir cup at $6.25, as it comes with one free refill during the game. Domestic beers around the stadium are $8.25, while premium beers are $9.50, and wine by the glass costs $7.75.
The atmosphere for any college football game begins with tailgating; the University of Houston encourages tailgating and has policies in place for tailgaters. Tailgaters seem to be broken into areas based on type of fan, with Shasta Square for students and Party on the Plaza for alums and others. The tailgating atmosphere here at TDECU Stadium is really subdued compared to other college football venues, and is very disappointing especially compared to NRG Stadium during Houston Texans games. Texans fans are one of the best tailgating groups in the NFL, yet this doesn't carry over to the college game here.
In addition to tailgating, a common tradition in college football is the player walk to the stadium. At TDECU Stadium, the Cougar Walk begins 2 hours prior to kickoff, and is located on Cullen Boulevard by Entrance #14. The University of Houston's band, The Spirit of Houston, walks with the players towards the cougar statue on campus, past the tailgaters and into the locker room.
Besides the cougar statue, there are other sites to see outside TDECU Stadium. Just outside the stadium at the northeast entrance, near the student tailgating and the main Cougars fan store, is "Bill Yeoman Legends Plaza," which was constructed to recognize "the proud tradition of Houston Football." A statue of Coach Bill Yeoman greets fans as they arrive on the plaza.
Once inside TDECU Stadium, there is plenty of the pre-game pageantry that surrounds college football, such as the band playing the fight song, the color guard, and the dance team and cheerleaders doing their part to get the crowd excited as the Houston Cougars come onto the field. The team is led by flag bearers with flags spelling HOUSTON COUGARS, coupled with flames of fire spurting into the air.
The rest of the atmosphere here at TDECU Stadium depends on the visiting team, score, and attendance. This is typical at many college football venues across the country, but being in Texas the atmosphere here is a little bit of a let-down. Overall, attending a game here provides a fun filled family-oriented type of entertainment, but games in College Station or Austin seem to bring a much higher level of energy.
TDECU Stadium is located on the University of Houston's campus, just southeast of downtown Houston, in an area known as the "Greater Third Ward." The UH campus is also near two other institutions of higher learning, Rice University and Texas Southern University. The neighborhood towards Rice University is the Medical District and home to the Houston Zoo.
The area around the UH campus isn't exactly fan friendly, but there are a few restaurants that are well situated and near the campus. It is easy to get to this area because the freeway signs promote it as general parking for Cougars games. Even though this area is about a ½ mile from the stadium, it is the easiest place for newcomers to Houston to come for a game.
Restaurants near TDECU Stadium include Frenchy's Chicken, which is next to the Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church where you can park for $10. Other restaurant options include nearby sports pubs, such as Calhoun's Rooftop on Calhoun Road. This pub is similar to the rooftop bars near Denver's Coors Field, but without the stadium view. The food is good and the beer is cold, with lots of televisions to catch other game action. Next door to Calhoun's is another choice, Pink's Pizza, which is known for their deep-dish pies but also serves a good selection of beer. A Jimmy John's is in the area as well, but as you walk toward the stadium through campus, there is another option, The Den Campus Pub. The Den offers 30+ beers on tap, so it easily becomes packed with hometown college students.
In addition to restaurants, Houston provides plenty of hotel options to choose from, so you'll be able to find lodging that suits your needs and wallet. The closest lodging is The Hilton University Hotel across from the student union building on campus. This option is a University of Houston student-run hotel, which offers fans an easy, comfortable, and accessible stay for events on campus.
Besides football at TDECU Stadium, Houston is the 4th largest city in the United States, so there is of course plenty to do away from the UH campus. Check the Houston tourism website for more, but some attractions in the area include Saint Arnold Brewery, the Art Car Museum, Discovery Green, the Menil Collection, Houston Zoo, and possibly a Houston Astros or Houston Texans game if you are in town on the same weekend.
In the first few years at TDECU Stadium, the average attendance has increased by 5K per year. The current average attendance is close to 39K, just shy of the stadium's 40K capacity. However, although the numbers seem to indicate that Cougars fans are well represented, it was just last season that Houston's Coach Tom Herman went on his local radio show and blasted the Cougar faithful for not selling out every game. Games at TDECU Stadium do tend to show a lot of empty seats, proving that the UH head coach's statement is accurate.
A positive note regarding the fans is the team's 16-3 winning home record. Cougar fans show up to the game, seem to enjoy their time at the stadium, wear UH colors, cheer, and just take in the game. The fan base covers all cultures and demographics, from older alums to a rowdy student section in the end zone, all showing support for their Cougars.
TDECU Stadium being on campus and located in a major US city such as Houston gives you a few options to travel to the game, other than by car. The Houston light rail has a stadium stop on the purple line just outside Gate 3 on the west end of the stadium. If this is your choice of transportation to the game, then plan your trip by going to the Metro Rail website. There are always taxis and buses as well if the light rail is not suitable for your needs. Shuttle buses are also available throughout the campus area from parking lots starting 3 hours before kickoff and for 1 hour afterwards; a parking map with shuttle bus routes can be found on the University of Houston website.
There is a parking garage adjacent to the stadium, however, this option might not be best as the traffic on and off campus will be heavy around game time. There is plenty of parking on campus, but don't expect it to be free; the prices are $10 for cars, $20 for limos and cargo vans, and $30 for RVs, buses, and trailers. Due to conditions in the surrounding neighborhood, avoid trying to park for free.
The easiest access for parking and restaurants, especially for those visiting the UH campus for the first time, seems to be using the Spur 5 exit off I-45. However, be prepared to walk, as parking in this area is about ½ mile from the stadium. Once at the stadium, though, there will be plenty of access points inside. The concourse, concessions, bathrooms, and seating are all very easy and painless to access.
Houston Cougars football ticket prices are right on target with the rest of the American Athletic Conference, at $24 for general admission and $36 for reserved seating, with UH students admitted for free using their student ID card. However, there are cheaper prices to be found; if you do your homework searching third party markets you could find a bargain, or take a chance near the stadium, as sometimes people give away free tickets outside.
TDECU Stadium is intimate, so any seat is a good view; the best investment is to opt for the cheapest ticket and possibly move to the lower level. The parking is a guaranteed cost of $10 unless you use public transportation, which is cheaper. The stadium concession prices are standard with a low variety of choices on the menu, so eating before the game will be a better financial decision. If you plan ahead, you can come away with an above average return on investment for a game at TDECU Stadium.
You can take in a picturesque view of downtown Houston from inside TDECU Stadium, and the seating is very intimate.
Recently, the University of Houston was mentioned about possibly joining a Big 5 conference, perhaps in the Big 12. Although the football program is definitely on the way up as far as the talent, the game day atmosphere is not. However, if you love college football, then spending a day at the Coogs House will certainly satisfy you with a fun filled day of entertainment.
Member Review by pwdonaldson on Dec 19, 2014
In 2014, the University of Houston unveiled their brand new football stadium, replacing the venerable old Robertson Stadium. The venue cost $120 million to construct, and was ready for opening day in 2014, when 40,755 packed the 40,000 seat stadium to see the Cougars lose to UTSA 27-7.
The stadium features 26 suites, with an additional 42 loge boxes, which should help attract revenue to the football program.
There’s no doubt that Houston loves its football team, and the new venue should go a long ways in helping the Cougars compete in the American Athletic Conference and beyond.
The Houston Cougars have a strong football history, highlighted by their time in the Southwestern Conference including their 1979 season where the team finished 11-1, ending with a victory in the Cotton Bowl over Nebraska. The Cougars can also boast of having a Heisman Trophy winner, Andre Ware, who won the prestigious honor in 1989.
Member Review by Aaron S. Terry on Oct 28, 2015
The Cougars new stadium is gorgeous, and of course it looks modern since it was just built, with good clean lines and little wear. The surrounding neighborhood is a little sketchy, though. Still, the fans are very supportive of their team, and the venue has some nice amenities including the dual mascots (male and female, which seems to be an emerging trend in college sports) - maybe we need to invent a gender-neutral one to cover all bases?
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