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Saturday, November 28, 2020

Commentary

Texans tailgating becomes a hassle


A quick look at most people’s Facebook or Twitter feeds on any given fall Sunday will undoubtedly reveal some sort of football-related gameday updates.

“Off to the tailgate. GO TEXANS!”

“Game time! Yellow lot here I come!”

“Cooler: check. Battle Red jersey: check. Blue lot pass: double check – let’s roll.”

But add the Texans to the growing list of NFL teams that are now telling the cybersphere and everyone else to check their ticketless party at the stadium parking lot gates.

In the wake of the unprecedented fan turnout for the Sept. 26 game against the Cowboys, the Texans announced last Thursday they would no longer allow fans without a game ticket onto Reliant Park premises on game days, unless they purchase one of 2,000 first-come, first-serve $10 tailgate-only ticket, which must be purchased by season ticket holders. Among the several reasons cited by team officials, an estimated 20,000 ticketless fans reveling in the Reliant parking lots put such a strain on facilities and stadium personnel that they had to do something to protect the season ticket holders’ game-day experience.

But before fans cry foul and start tossing their armchair-referee flags, they should examine the situation from the team’s perspective. That’s not to say fans’ feelings of rejection aren’t valid. After all, as a non-season ticket holder that frequents the tailgate scene, I felt a bit of a slap to the face; however, if the compromise they’re after is to ever be achieved, both points of view must be explored.

Basically, this boils down to liability — more specifically, that of the Texans and Reliant Park when it comes to rowdiness on their property. Then there’s the issue of money, or a lack thereof, going from ticketless tailgaters’ pockets and into McNair & Co.’s coffers.

But as owners and players always say, “It’s not about the money.”

Right. And in my last relationship, it really wasn’t her, it was me.

As for the former reason, the Texans have done a great job of allowing tailgating since the team’s inception in 2002, all the while avoiding the consequences that can come from a group of liquored-up revelers turning a good time into a disaster — as they’re known to do.

Some of this may have to do with the fact that Houstonians were finally able to tailgate like the rest of the football world. Bud Adams, owner of the Tennessee Titans, the franchise formerly known as the Houston Oilers, strictly prohibited it during his tenure in the Lone Star State.

Another reason may have to do with the team simply turning a blind eye in hopes of appeasing a football-starved public that was in a never-ending search of all things Texan. Either way, a good thing got too big and something had to be done.

Texans’ Vice President for Ticketing and Event Services John Schriever told David Barron of the Chronicle that the team started monitoring parking lot activity during games last season and noticed the number of unticketed guests rise from 4,000-5,000 midway through last year to 8,000 by season’s end. The figures ballooned to 10,000 for the team’s preseason game against the Cowboys and the regular season-opener against the Colts. Then came the Sept. 26 return engagement with the Cowboys, which saw an estimated 20,000 fans with no intentions of going into the stadium converge on Reliant Park.

“We saw people walking onto the property with tents and coolers, and that hadn’t happened to such a degree,” Schriever told Barron. “We wanted to be responsible and take care of our season ticket holders and paying customers.”

That they did, along with infuriating and alienating a different sub-group of their fan base. Now comes the tricky part — how do the Texans strike a balance and appease people from both sides?

A start would be re-examining what at first glance appears to be an arbitrary limit of 2,000 non-ticket-holding customers, all of whom have to pay $10 per person to enter the tailgating area — so long as they are lucky enough to know a season ticket holder and are early enough to scoop up a pass.

Reliant Stadium holds 70,000-plus, so allowing in less than 3 percent of that figure for tailgating purposes only serves to pacify those season ticket holders who want to leave their tailgate setup intact and in trusted hands while watching the game from the comforts of an air-conditioned stadium. It’s as if the Texans are saying, “We’ll let in your friends because you pay us so much year in and year out, but you better believe they have to pay, too.”

That’s what the majority of fans opposed to this new policy want — a chance to pay to play. Increasing the limit to, say, 5,000 or even 10,000 would certainly make that many more people happy and, more importantly, feel included. Taking it a step further, increasing the cost to $15 per person would surely go a long way toward offsetting any costs incurred by having so many more fans just roaming the parking lots.

That being said, I’m far from a math whiz and I’ve never seen the inside of the C.T. Bauer School of Business, so I’m not claiming to have a money-making cure-all for this issue. These are just starting points and they reflect what the people want — access and a sense of camaraderie.

At the end of the day, those most affected by this change weren’t going down to Reliant on game days in hopes of sneaking into the stadium. They were going to be a part of something big, to cheer with their fellow fans in an outdoor setting that is unique to football. Now they feel like the players sometimes do — that NFL stands for “No Fun League.”


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