ESPN has put together another one of its Best Fan Experience lists, where they rank ballparks, arenas and stadiums for atmosphere, convenience, team success, and other highly arbitrary and pseudo-scientific categories.
Houston doesn't come out too well.
The top three are the LA Angels, the Carolina
Panthers Hurricanes and the Pittsburgh Steelers; Space City doesn't make an appearance until the Rockets show up at Number 17.
The Rocket analysis praises owner Les Alexander for staying in town (Hell, he got a freakin' arena built for him and adds:
He also bagged GM and Moneyballing MIT whiz Daryl Morey, who in turn bagged the two-headed power forward known as Scolandry (Luis Scola and Carl Landry). Their gritty play is fan friendly. But H-Town's latest and greatest takeoff involves season tickets, where the team has increased the number of $25-or-less seats from 3,422 to 5,059 -- a 48% jump in cheap seats. What's more, any season ticket-holder who renewed by March 30 gets a free pair of kicks autographed by Yao Ming -- the kind of flashy footwear you'll never want to ... remove.
You then wade through the Tampa Bay Rays, the Columbus Blue Jackets (that's the NHL, kids) and the New Jersey Devils (ditto) before you get to Number 39 and the Houston Texans. ESPN includes a reference to something we've never, in our entire lives, ever heard: something about how things are supposed to be bigger in Texas.
But it loves the tailgating here:
If everything is bigger in Texas, then everything about Reliant Stadium is Costco-size. Behold a tailgating experience that would drop Emeril to his knees: So many meat smokers fill the parking lot that it deserves its own Food Channel program. For a party that would make Blutarsky blush, fans flock to the Yellow Lot to shotgun beers every 30 minutes to the blast of an air horn. Inside, the stadium boasts four "Wow Wall" HD projection system towers and 1,600 TVs. A radio feed even follows fans into the bathrooms. Comfort doesn't come bite-size either: The Upper Deck Gridiron features extra leg room; fans are closer to the action than at the Astrodome; and 20,000 tons of air conditioning capacity turn Reliant Park into what may be the largest refridged space in Texas. Surprising then that stubs plus parking are about $12 thinner than average.
And where are the Astros, you ask? Down, down, down, past Oklahoma City, past Calgary, past the Detroit Pistons. At number 68, Uncle Drayton's show checks in. ESPN praises the cheap seats available and adds:
Throw in a $35 all-you-can-eat promotion on Thursdays, plus Saturday night deals for Houstonians who want to mingle at the new FiveSeven Patio bar (named after Biggio and Bagwell), and it hardly matters that the team hasn't made the playoffs in three seasons. Actually, it does matter: The Astros suffered double-digit drops in the Fan Relations (26 places) and Players (17 places) categories this season. Yet Minute Maid still has defenders like David N., who wrote on Yelp.com: "The view over the train tracks always leaves me with a warm feeling inside." Until the Astros' woeful farm system starts producing the Killer B's of tomorrow, that view will have to do.
That could be one long wait.