Photos by Dave Cottenie, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.29
Fertitta Center 3875 Holman St Houston, TX 77004
Year Opened: 1969 Capacity: 7,100
The University of Houston is a public university boasting over 46,000 students. The Houston Cougars basketball team entered the 2023-2024 season joining the Big 12 Conference. The "Coogs" are famous for their teams of the eighties that came within an eyelash of a National Championship while being one of the most exciting teams in college basketball, fondly referred to as Phi Slama Jama. The Cougars played their first season in 1946 and have made six appearances in the Final Four.
Home for the Coogs is the Fertitta Center. It opened in 1969 as the Hofheinz Pavilion and was renamed in 2017 after a donation from Houston Rockets owner Tillman Fertitta. The renaming was not without controversy. Negotiations held with the family of Judge Roy Hofheinz, a Houston judge and politician, resulted in the creation of the Judge Hofheinz Plaza and bronze statue in front of Fertitta Center.
The court was also renamed. Previously it was named after legendary Houston coach of four decades, Guy V. Lewis, but a donation by the Penick Family has the home of the Cougars to be formally known as the Penick Court @ Fertitta Center.
Food & Beverage 3
Concession options at the Fertitta Center are okay, but they will not bowl the fan over. A limited number of concession points sell the expected arena basics including popcorn, hot dogs, pretzels, and nachos. The Hugo’s concession offers some Mexican fare including tacos, guacamole, taquitos, and roasted street corn. Coca-Cola products are the soft drink of choice in Fertitta Center and Red Bull has a fairly significant presence also. Beer is also available with Budweiser and Bud Light the most prevalent major brands.
For a large university in a very large city, the Fertitta Center's capacity of 7,100 is relatively small. The exterior of the arena is very unassuming. Fertitta Center is located with other athletic facilities on campus, north of football’s TDECU Stadium. The building is low-profile with slanted, silver siding exterior and plenty of glass at the entrances. The Holman Street side of Fertitta Center provides the main entrance via the Hofheinz Plaza, named after Judge Roy Hofheinz, whose likeness is immortalized with a bronze statue near the sidewalk.
Upon entering the concourses, Fertitta Center provides a nice main entrance atrium with theatre-style ribbon boards welcoming fans as they enter. The concourses are bright and clean and full of Cougar red and white along with items for the treasure hunter to see. Murals for the “Game of the Century” at the Houston Astrodome from 1968, which saw the Cougars defeat the top-ranked UCLA Bruins in front of over 52,000 fans, are found in the concourse.
A trophy case proudly displays NCAA hardware at the Hall of Honor as well as murals honoring coach Guy V. Lewis, Phi Slama Jama, and the most honored Cougars, Otis Birdsong, Elvin Hayes, Michael Young, Clyde Drexler, and Hakeem Olajuwon.
Inside the Fertitta Center, Penick Court runs from west to east with the best spot to sit to get that perfect center court logo from the north. The north side of the arena is where the retired numbers for Young, Hayes, Drexler, Olajuwon, and Birdsong. Also hanging on that north wall are banners for the NCAA Tournament appearances and the 1967, 1968, 1982, 1983, 1984, and 2021 Final Four appearances.
The seating area is a single tier with the main concourse behind. The south side features club seating that is courtside. There are large video boards at the east and west end of the arena and a ribbon board around the ceiling.
The gameday production is what one would expect from a major college basketball program. The band is terrific and sits in the west corner with the students. Shasta and Sasha, the Cougar mascots, partake in the pregame festivities and traverse through the arena. Cheerleaders and flag bearers are also part of the production.
Fertitta Center is located on the campus of the University of Houston in the Greater Third Ward area. It is part of South Central Houston, just south of Downtown Houston. The immediate area does have some fast food and chain options within walking distance. A short jaunt in the car or on public transit will bring more options including Eric’s Restaurant, District 7 Grill, and Edgar’s Hermano.
There are a ton of other sporting options to choose from in Houston. The Cougars play football just across the road at TDECU Stadium as well as other varsity teams. The Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park; the Houston Texans play at NRG Stadium; and the Houston Dynamo and Houston Dash play at Shell Energy Stadium.
Rice University fields football, basketball, and baseball teams among others and basketball teams hit the court for the Texas Southern Tigers and Houston Christian Huskies. There are a ton of other tourist options in Houston including the Houston Zoo, Downtown Aquarium, Graffiti Murals, and Houston Space Center. For fans who wish to stay near campus, the Hilton University Houston is close by.
Houston Cougar fans pack the Fertitta Center for each game. The relatively small capacity of Fertitta Center allows for a significant fan atmosphere. At the time of writing, the Cougars are averaging over 7,100 fans per game for the 2023-2024 season. The previous season they attracted over 7,400 fans per game. The small capacity of Fertitta Center hinders their support as compared to other Big 12 teams. The student section, known as The Cage was not a factor in the game that was reviewed as it was between semesters when campus is fairly quiet.
The Fertitta Center is located on the campus of the University of Houston, which is in the Greater Third Ward neighborhood of Houston. It is located south of I-45, so there is limited travel through the city to get to the arena. There is parking available on campus, which can be expensive in some places. For those who wish to take transit to the basketball game, the light rail Metro runs a few blocks south of the arena. Some buses run along both Cullen Blvd and Scott St. Fans should check out the Metro website for maps, fares, and schedules.
Getting around Fertitta Center is not difficult. The Cougars, as of this writing, employ a clear bag policy. Stadium Journey recognizes that security procedures for major sporting events are in constant flux. Stadium Journey highly recommends fans consult the Houston Cougars website for the most up-to-date security protocols including prohibited items and bag policy.
Return on Investment 4
With the limited capacity of Fertitta Center, Cougar tickets are not easy to come by. The ticket office makes tickets available only a few weeks before each game. At the time of the review, standing-room tickets were going for about $30. Tickets on the secondary market usually start in the $40 range depending on the opponent.
Parking can be expensive with the Stadium Garage going for $40 and other campus locations going for $30 to $35. A parking bonus for the game reviewed was free parking for the men’s basketball game for fans who paid for parking for the earlier women’s basketball game. Concession prices are about what one would expect at a college basketball game.
The product on the floor is as good as anywhere in the NCAA and the gameday production is solid. Overall the return on investment for a Cougars game is pretty good.
There are no extra points awarded for the Houston Cougars at Fertitta Center. At the game that was reviewed, it was clear that there were some operational issues at Fertitta Center. Limited General Admission seats were sold and also assigned to groups causing some significant displacement of fans.
When dealing with displacement issues, more than one employee was not sympathetic or helpful to those who were displaced. Staff also denied that the error, which has happened on numerous occasions, was the responsibility of the Houston Cougars. Attempts to contact the Houston Cougars ticket office did not produce a response. Hopefully, the University of Houston and Fertitta Center can correct some of these issues going forward and make the fan experience better.
Catching a Houston Cougars basketball game is a great college basketball experience that fans will enjoy. However, some homework should be done before heading out to the game, however, to maximize the enjoyment of the game.