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  • Writer's pictureMichael Davis

Frank Erwin Center - Texas Longhorns

Photos by Michael Davis, Stadium Journey

Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.14

Frank Erwin Center 1701 Red River St Austin, TX 78701

Year Opened: 1977 Capacity: 16,540


The End of the Frank C. Erwin Center

Frank C. Erwin Jr. Special Events Center recently celebrated its 40th anniversary as the premier event center in the City of Austin, and for the University of Texas. Originally known as the Special Events Center, the building was re-named in 1980 to honor former UT Board of Regents member Frank Erwin. The Frank Erwin Center will be a dead-man walking venue next season, as there are plans for a new 10,000-seat arena that will play home to the Texas men’s and women’s basketball teams starting in 2021.

The new arena will double as a concert venue and be able to expand to hold 15,000 people for special events. The arena will also come at no cost to either the university or the public as part of the 35-year deal, and will hold 6K fewer fans for basketball, as the basketball capacity of the Erwin Center has increased over the years to 16,540 (the largest in the Big XII Conference).

The Erwin Center is referred to as ‘The Drum’ because of its exterior décor – a circular concrete building. Frank Erwin Center has hosted numerous NCAA Tournament games, Texas state high school basketball championships, and concerts.

Food & Beverage 3

Frank Erwin Center’s two-level concourse serves all the basic stadium fare at the Fan Fare concessions stands – the Fan Fare and State Fair stands occupy most of the concessions space inside the venue. The menu at these stands has only quarter pound all beef hot dogs, nachos, peanuts, candy, and popcorn, as the rest of the concessions stands inside Frank Erwin Center are from local chain restaurants – there is a Quizno’s, 40 Acres Pizza (local chain in Austin), Chick-fil-A, Bush’s Chicken, Pok-E-Jo’s for BBQ sandwiches (sliced beef, sliced turkey, and chopped beef), Amy’s Ice Cream, El Tambor Mexican Cantina, and the Steerhead Grill (burgers, fries and onion rings).

The Steerhead’s best food option is the Texas Champions Burger Basket, which is a 1/3 lb. griddled Black Angus smash burger, with beer battered onion rings, cheddar cheese, bacon strips, and a signature 1883 Burnt Orange sauce – this item comes on Texas toast with a side of crinkle cut fries. Soft drink beverage choices here are Coca-Cola products ranging from a small size to the souvenir soda and bottled water. The Erwin Center also serves alcoholic beverages: domestic-premium beer, craft beer, wine, and margaritas. Austin is home to many great restaurants, however, but if you can’t make it to any of them while in town, Frank Erwin Center has plenty of options to satisfy your hunger.

Atmosphere 3

Just like most college basketball arenas, the atmosphere changes depending on the opponent and the expectations of the home team. Texas isn’t a basketball-crazed state such as Indiana, and this isn’t Kansas, Duke, or another basketball school that loves the game. Texas basketball fans are more subdued and seem to be waiting for spring football to start. However, the atmosphere is entertaining, making Frank Erwin Center a good place to watch NCAA basketball.

The minute you walk through the doors with your self-scan ticket, the concourse becomes more of a theatre atmosphere – not the typical concourse for a sports venue. Be sure to pick up a game day program, which is free and available at all entrances. As you enter the seating area, the arena becomes spacious, and one of the first things you’ll notice is the logo covering center court – a burnt orange Longhorn in the center of the state of Texas mapped out in white.

Frank Erwin Center will soon fill up with the burnt orange color that separates Texas from all others school with shades of orange. The tradition of having the ‘Horns Up’ and singing ‘The Eyes of Texas’ will commence before the team’s starting lineups, as well as after the game has ended. There is also the typical hype video of Texas basketball before the announcing of the Texas starting lineup, followed by a pyrotechnics firework display as each player is introduced, which puts a little Vegas-style entertainment into the arena – this display always seems to make for an awesome environment for fans. The jumbotron scoreboard and an LCD screen that loops around the arena also keep the crowd entertained and informed with promotions, Austin’s weather, out of town scores, and any events happening in Texas athletics.

The small student section is with the band, in the seating areas behind the baskets on the baselines. Like at some other universities, Texas sets up its seating to appease the donors instead of the students, and this type of seating can cause quiet moments from the crowd. However, to keep this from happening too often the Texas spirit squads use their talents to keep the crowd involved and entertained during the game. The Texas cheer and pom squads also put on a halftime extravaganza during the last two home games of the season; otherwise there is varied entertainment during halftime throughout the season.

The Frank Erwin Center is the largest basketball arena in the Big 12 Conference, yet is one of the worst in the conference at which to watch a basketball game. The good news is that the Erwin Center will soon be razed and become part of the Dell Medical School – the University of Texas is already focused on its future arena, leaving the Erwin Center in its final seasons with the average game day atmosphere it currently presents.

Neighborhood 5

Frank Erwin Center is situated on the southeastern corner of the University of Texas campus adjacent to downtown Austin. Considered part of the Texas Hill Country, Austin joins the connected region in providing a wonderful recreational area within the state of Texas.

Franklin BBQ has earned world-wide fame as one of the best BBQ joints in the area – from celebrities stopping by to appearances on the Food Network, and of course ESPN Game Day, people flock here to join in the BBQ celebration. Keep in mind that Franklin cooks to run out of BBQ each day, which creates long lines that form long before the 11am opening time (don’t be surprised if you get in line at 8am and aren’t served until nearly 2pm). Weekdays typically have shorter lines than the busy weekends.

Franklin certainly serves some amazing BBQ, but if you don’t want to spend a day waiting in line, check out Stubb’s BBQ which is not too far away, and will satisfy your BBQ craving. On the walk from Stubb’s to Frank Erwin Center you will also find Scholz Garten, which is ideal for pre/postgame drinking – this restaurant features a huge patio where fans can mingle, and it becomes a festive atmosphere. Besides Scholz Garten, there are many good restaurant choices near Frank Erwin Center, from Eddie V’s seafood and American cuisine to The Shady Grove, or Hula Hut on Lake Austin Blvd. Austin also features several local breweries, which are increasingly popular, including the Wright Bros. Brew & Brew or Hops & Grain Brewing. Or if you are a food truck junkie then you’ll love Austin – the food trucks here serve everything, including donuts, BBQ, cupcakes, tacos, and Asian food.

Austin is certainly an interesting city with plenty to do around town. Besides being the state capital and hometown of the University of Texas, Austin is considered by many to be the live music capital of the world. If you want to test that theory, just take a walk along 6th Street and you’ll hear someone performing – 6th Street is a Bourbon Street-style environment with bars, live music, and restaurants. The annual South by Southwest film festival and the Austin City Limits music fest are a staple of the Austin music and arts scene. In addition, nearby Lake Travis, Lake Austin, and the Colorado River provide water activities like kayaking and sailing. There are also trails and parks along the Colorado River that border downtown, and there are numerous caverns to visit throughout the Texas Hill Country.

With a population just short of one million, and being the state’s capital city, Austin has plenty of lodging options. The closest to Frank Erwin Center is the Doubletree by Hilton, just on the other side of I-35 and down the hill from UFCU Disch-Falk Field (home of Longhorns baseball), and the AT&T Hotel & Conference Center is another great option just up the road on W Martin Luther King Jr Blvd. Or if you want to make your stay in Austin extra special there is the Driskill (Hyatt), which is the oldest operating hotel in Austin, and well-known across Texas. While it could be out of most people’s price range, it is an interesting place to visit if you have time.

Fans 3

According to the NCAA Basketball attendance numbers last season (2018-18), Texas fans showed up at Frank Erwin Center in a decent amount, averaging about 10,600 fans per game. Although it hurts the energy when the large cavernous arena is only 65% full, the fans are normally on cue in getting loud at the right moments during the game. And for the highlighted games on the basketball schedule such as Kansas or Oklahoma, the place will be filled – the past has shown that when the Longhorns have a quality team in the national rankings, the fans can be some of the best in the country.

Access 3

Access to Frank Erwin Center can be frustrating for fans making their first trip to Austin. The location of the arena just off the exit on Interstate 35 is a two-edged sword; the positive is that the facility is easy to find, but the negative is that the traffic goes along with a city like Austin. There is no free parking in campus lots, but by planning using the arena’s website you can prepay for $10 parking. The parking garages along San Jacinto and Trinity Street are also available for event parking on game day, but be prepared to walk, and although many people walk through this area, the terrain is not flat. Some fans choose instead to park in the residential area east of I-35 near the Denny’s restaurant for free, however, it is not recommended to park in this area, as the Austin Police Department patrol it and issue parking tickets.

The ingress and egress to Frank Erwin Center is smooth and fast since there are plenty of entrances with access to either the terrace or mezzanines levels. Frank Erwin Center does have the clear bag policy implemented for security measures, but is ADA compliant with mobility impaired and floor guest entry on the Red River entrance of the arena. The locations accessible by wheelchairs are reserved and are in Row 32 of selected sections on the arena level, and in Row 3 of selected sections on the mezzanine level, as well as on the arena floor for all events at which public floor seating is available. If you have any questions concerning ADA ticket availability, please call the Texas Box Office at (512) 477-6060.

Frank Erwin Center is divided into a two-level layout: the lower arena and upper mezzanine. The concourse has a theater feel more than a sports arena, and the circular concourse can seem a little tight, but there are enough glass pockets that is it isn’t overwhelming. The sections inside the facility are also well marked – the lower level bowl begins with section 20 and goes around the building to section 49, while the upper bowl begins with section 60 and rotates around to section 95.

Return on Investment 3

Texas basketball tickets normally range from $15 to $80, which gives them the second-highest ticket prices in the Big 12, behind Kansas. The best way to obtain Texas basketball tickets is to plan and look at other avenues such as a third-party ticket vendor, instead of buying through the box office, which could save you up to 50% on tickets for games.

The added cost of parking in Austin, as well as the high concessions prices, leads to a below average return in a building that is ready to for the wrecking ball. In general, Texas basketball tickets are easy to get – there are games that have the potential of a sell-out, such as Kansas or Oklahoma, but generally you’ll be able to see top level college basketball at a reasonable price.

Extras 2

The University of Texas campus being in one of the nation’s most enjoyable cities to visit is a plus – there is so much to see and do in the state capital city, and a Texas athletic event can be just as enjoyable.

Final Thoughts

Austin is a great travel destination, regardless if traveling to the city for a sporting event or just for a visit. The fact that a sports fan will be able to see NCAA basketball while here is a bonus, however, don’t expect anything extraordinary if you make a trip to the Frank Erwin Center – the University of Texas is focusing on their new arena in improving any game day experience for the fans, spelling the end of Frank Erwin Center.

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