So University of Houston head coach Tom Herman went on the radio Wednesday night and shared a few thoughts about the problems with UH attendance:
“To me,” he said, "we’re not selling out every home game. I would ask why? What more do you need to see? You need a better product on field or more exciting game? I’m confused when I ask Cougar Nation why are you not at every home game? I get some blank stares sometimes because the answer is ‘Coach, I don’t have a reason.’ There isn’t a good reason.”
To this I respond, welcome to the University of Houston, Coach Herman, because that’s a question people have been asking since the Bill Yeoman days. But I’ll do you a favor. They might be telling you that they don’t have a reason, but as a person who’s been attending UH football games as a student/alum/game employee/reporter since 1984, I’ve heard a whole bunch of excuses for why UH fans don’t attend the games.
There’s the games-are-at-the-Dome excuse, so there’s no college environment, and if UH just moves games to campus, things will be fine. Then there’s the Robertson-Stadium-is-a-dump excuse that was echoed by many after the team left the Astrodome for campus. Then there’s the neighborhood-isn’t-safe excuse. And the traffic-sucks excuse. Don't forget the problems-with-parking, or there’s-not-enough-good-spaces-for-tailgating excuses.
Move to a better conference, and the fans will come, only they don’t. Or play some in-state schools and we’ll come, but they don’t. Get a new stadium, but that’s still not enough. Fix the stadium Wi-Fi. The concessions cost too much. Play more games at night. Play more games during the day.
As Herman said, there isn’t a good reason for UH fans not to be coming to these games.
Herman wants to know what more he can do, since he’s already put a better, more exciting product on the field. But that’s really got nothing to do with it. The Cougars couldn’t sell out the Dome during the Jack Pardee Run-and-Shoot years (well, the UT and A&M fans sold out the place for those games, but that doesn’t really count). Kevin Sumlin’s teams were good and exciting, and it was still hard to sell out Robertson Stadium — only in Sumlin’s last year as coach did the stadium sell out, but that was a perfect storm of high ranking, Case Keenum and an undefeated season.
Sure, UH has shot itself in the foot a few times. The out-of-conference scheduling has been atrocious, and the Tony Levine years destroyed just about all momentum built up by the program during the Art Briles/Kevin Sumlin regimes. And marketing is not exactly the school’s strength. The losses to Texas State to start the Levine era, and the loss to UTSA on the opening night of TDECU Stadium, also did some damage. And Levine produced some really boring football.
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But enough of the damn excuses. No power conference is ever going to invite UH to join as long as it can’t sell out a 40,000 season stadium on a weekly basis. And SEC and Pac 12 teams play on Thursday nights all of the time and the start times for just about every football team in every conference are dictated by ESPN or some other television network. That’s the way it goes nowadays in college football.
Herman’s putting an exciting product out on the field — a ranked, undefeated 6-0 product. Greg Ward Jr.’s name is actually being mentioned in the discussion for the Heisman. Sure, the schedule sucks. Sure, the conference isn’t that great, but if the idiots are going to sell out NRG Stadium every game to watch a mediocre product week after week, year after year, there’s absolutely no reason that TDECU Stadium shouldn’t be packed for UH every week.
But here’s what’s going to end up happening. Tom Herman will continue to wonder why it’s so difficult to sell out TDECU Stadium to watch his team play until he departs for another school in a power conference that has a stadium that’s always packed with fans. UH fans will continue to complain about a lack of respect and demand entrance into a power conference while failing to sell out the stadium, and along will come another coach who’ll ask the fans what more they need to see while the fans will tell him to schedule better, be more exciting, play more games on Saturday, but not on Saturday night, but not too early in the day and not when there’s too much traffic and only if the stadium Wi-Fi is fixed.
That’s just the way it goes with UH athletics. That’s just the way it’s always been. And apparently that's just the way it’ll always be.