Photos by Eric Moreno, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.86
TDECU Stadium 3875 Holman St Houston, TX 77004
Year Opened: 2014
Houston Cougars – TDECU Stadium
(NOTE: This review took place during the 2020 season; all ratings take into account the limited seating capacity and attendance due to COVID-19 precautions.)
The University of Houston first fielded a football team in 1946. Since that time, the Cougars have been a fixture on the Texas college landscape, and when the legendary Bill Yeoman took over the reins in 1962, the team rose to national prominence. By the time his successor, Jack Pardee, took over in 1987, the Cougars were at the forefront of the game as innovators of offensive football. In 1989, quarterback Andre Ware shattered the NCAA record books on his way to a Heisman Trophy.
The Cougars have won 11 conference titles, spread out over their tenures in the Missouri Valley Conference, Southwest Conference, and current home in the American Athletic Conference (AAC). Since 2014, they have called TDECU (which stands for the Texas Department of Education Credit Union) Stadium their home. This brand-new, state-of-the-art facility is a fitting home for the largest university team in the fourth largest city in the country. It features all the bells and whistles (see Atmosphere section below) of a first-class facility, and is a fitting den for the Coogs.
Food & Beverage 4
In a normal season, TDECU Stadium has an abundance of concessions areas and options for fans attending Cougars games. The stadium has a whopping total of 160 concession points of sale, which is more than enough for any fan base anywhere. However, due to the pandemic, many of these concessions areas have been closed for the season.
There is still a large amount of concessions options on both the main concourse and the upper level seating areas for fans. However, again due to health restrictions, most of the main concessions stands have limited offerings. What they do serve though are all your traditional game day favorites – this includes hot dogs ($5), cheeseburgers ($8), nachos, bags of popcorn, soft pretzels, sodas ($5 and $8 for souvenir cups), and beer ($9 for domestic and $11 for premium).
There are also full-service cocktail stands offering adult beverages for $11 and $12 (or add another $4 for a souvenir mason jar) to allow fans to responsibly drink while enjoying Cougars games. Chick-fil-A and Dippin’ Dots also have stands on the main concourse and offer pared down versions of their popular menus. Food and drink wise, the University of Houston has you covered despite limited offerings.
TDECU Stadium is located right in the middle of the campus of the University of Houston. As such, they tend to draw pretty large crowds and the stands are filled with red on Saturdays. As previously mentioned, a lot of thought was put into the design of the stadium to give fans the most for their game day experience. This includes the east-west orientation of the stadium to take in sun and shade for fans in the stands. There are 26 luxury suites, 42 loge boxes (a great innovation that features table-side seating and dining on the main concourse level), 766 club seats, two suite decks, and four open-air party plazas.
The 68×51 foot LED video scoreboard is one of the largest in the AAC. It is also the setting for the large fireworks display that shoots off after every Cougar score. In lieu of full stands during the 2020 season, Houston has taken a cue from several schools facing the same seating limitations, and has one section populated by cardboard cutouts featuring program legends, fans, pets of fans (either available for purchase for $30), and for their contest on Halloween, characters such as Wonder Woman and Freddy Krueger were in the stands.
Outside of the stadium, the school has done a great job incorporating its history into the atmosphere on game day. The front lawns, which traditionally offer up limited tailgating, are the site of statues of majestic cougars leading up the steps at Gates 1 and 2. Also, on the plaza outside of Gate 1, the school has installed a Legends Pavilion, complete with display boards of all of the Cougars’ accomplishments guarded over by a statue of the late Bill Yeoman. During normal seasons, this area is abuzz with energy before games.
As mentioned, TDECU Stadium is located right on the campus of the University of Houston. It is also at the tail-end of the school’s athletics complex, which is lined up with Schroeder Park and the Fertitta Center, respective homes to the school’s baseball and basketball programs.
With that said, you are going to be limited in terms of dining and hotel options in the immediate vicinity of the stadium. On Scott street, which fronts the south side of the stadium, you’ll find a ton of chain, fast-food restaurants which as you can imagine are popular with the student body. However, there are a couple of options that go beyond the norm; these include Brooks Family BBQ – which, if you’re visiting Texas, you owe it to yourself to grab some of the Trinity (brisket, beef ribs, and sausage) – and Rookies Cookies to indulge your sweet tooth.
For hotels, your nearest option is the Hilton University of Houston, which is within walking distance of TDECU Stadium. However, being that this is Houston, you are not in any way limited in your hotel options; the University is a short 10-minute drive via Interstate 45 from the bustling Downtown area, home to hundreds of hotel, motel, and rental options.
Also, when visiting an area such as Space City, you are going to be hard-pressed to find yourself bored or with nothing to do. Houston is easily the most metropolitan and multi-cultural big city in the state, and you are never without entertainment options. A personal favorite is one you won’t be able to miss on your drive to TDECU, and that is the Houston Aquarium. This multi-story building and its accompanying Ferris wheel are viewable from the highway and will greet you on your trip to the stadium.
As discussed above, the stands at TDECU Stadium are filled with red on Saturdays. The University of Houston averaged around 33,000 fans per game last season, which was near the top of the AAC in terms of attendance. Overall, Houston is an underrated sports city. In general, they’re passionate about their teams and this translates over to the Cougars as well. They have an active alumni group and in normal seasons they show out in droves at TDECU Stadium.
Being located in Houston, you are in no way limited in terms of access to TDECU Stadium. The stadium is about a half hour drive from George Bush Intercontinental Airport, which is one of the largest in the southwest. The stadium is also in the middle of the triangle formed by Interstate 45 and state highways 288 and 69. This means that, in spite of Houston’s legendary traffic issues, you should be able to get to Cougars games with relative ease.
Off Interstate 45 there is a lot of signage denoting the exits for the University of Houston campus, and there is clear signage marking the way there. Once near the athletics compound, you cannot miss the stadium and once you get there, there are ample surface parking lots (parking starts at $20) and a parking garage (permit only though) adjacent to your destination.
The surface lots are home to numerous pedicab and golf cart taxi services that – for a price, of course – will drop you off right in front of TDECU Stadium. These run all during the game, in case you don’t want to make the hike to and from your vehicle. While Houston generally has pretty good public transportation, the METROrail doesn’t run near the U of H campus, so keep that in mind when planning your visit.
Return on Investment 3
The University of Houston has long had the look and feel of a big-time, premier, power five program. They built TDECU Stadium and the surrounding facilities with that aim in mind. Everything looks first rate. With that said, that aspiration tends to show up in the cost to attend Cougars games.
Tickets for U of H football will run you anywhere between $30 and $100, depending on where you look, where you want to sit, and who the Cougars are playing. This is in no way exorbitant, but it is on par with Power Five DI programs.
The concessions and parking are honestly on the higher end, but that again is to be expected with how the program sees itself and in how big-time the stadium truly feels. The AAC is easily the best of the group of five conferences in the FBS, and Houston tends to have a pretty high-end non-conference schedule, so you should get to see some great football which will help ease the hit your pocketbook is likely to take at TDECU Stadium.
What college football does that I feel no other sport can match is include history, pageantry, energy, and passion into each and every game. Every college football game that I have been to has always felt like a big deal and even in the time of the pandemic, my visit to TDECU Stadium lived up to this expectation. All of the trappings that you can expect from a college football game are on hand in spades – fireworks, entrance pyrotechnics, fight songs, mascots, it’s all there.
While normally patrolling the sidelines and interacting with the crowd, the Cougars mascots Shasta (named for the school’s long-time live mascot that currently lives at the Houston Zoo) and his partner Sasha limit their shenanigans to the student section for the 2020 season. The same can be said for the Spirit of Houston Marching Band and the Cougar Dolls dance and cheer squads. While they don’t leave their posts in the stands, they still add to the atmosphere, excitement, and enjoyment on Saturdays at TDECU Stadium.
TDECU Stadium is truly a first-class facility by every measurable definition. It looks great, it feels big-time, and exceeded the expectations I had going in. As a native Texan, I like much of my kin and peers have preconceived notions in regard to Space City; Dallas may be the Big D, but Houston is the Big City.
As such, everything in H-Town is supposed to be inflated, be it the skyline, the costs, the much-maligned (with due reason) traffic, or the attitudes of Houstonians. While this may sound like a knock, it is not. It is simply Houston and we accept it. TDECU Stadium is everything that Houston is – it’s big, it’s flashy, it’s gaudy, and it perfectly embodies a brash program and a brash city. Go Coogs!