Coronavirus Sports

‘Everything right now is on the table’ for UH athletics events in fall, beyond

While UH athletics wishes to have fans be able to attend live games this fall, contests without a live audience is a real possibility. | File photo

While UH athletics wishes to have fans be able to attend live games this fall, contests without a live audience is a real possibility. | File photo

Chants and screams from passionate fans are the standard when it comes to the UH athletics game day experience, and imagining a contest without a live audience is almost impossible.

A UH football game without hearing, “C-O-U-G-A-R-S. Who we talking bout?” or a basketball game without any yells and distractions when an opposing player is at the free-throw line just doesn’t feel right.

Fans even help shield the coaches when they get heated in the middle of a game as athletic director Chris Pezman pointed out on Wednesday evening.

As much as fans love it when men’s basketball head coach Kelvin Sampson takes off his tie, what he is saying the moments leading up or after he unknots it is a different story. As for football, well, hot mics have already picked up some of the dialogue that gets loose in the midst of a contest.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, however, the status of fall sports is still undecided, and a big factor that will go along with playing the games will be if people will be allowed into the stadiums to watch the UH athletic teams play.

“Everything right now is on the table,” Pezman said during the first of three “Virtual Coaches’ Caravan” Zoom meetings on Wednesday evening. “Having fans in the stands is very significant for us financially, so we are trying to figure out how to make that happen.”

Unlike professional sports that get most of their revenue from TV deals, college athletic programs rely heavily on ticket sales and apparel

“For us, our department budget, about 30 percent of it comes from TV revenue, the rest comes from a combination of ticket sales, development, and then the ancillary revenue streams, parking concessions, all that,” Pezman said. “So it becomes problematic if we don’t have fans in the stands.”

Due to the impact that fans have on the success of the athletics program as a whole, the UH athletic director is optimistic about figuring some way to let them safely in the building.

“My sense is we’ll find a way to have some portion of fans in the stadium just because without people in the building, it just (doesn’t work in college athletics),” Pezman said.

Football head coach Dana Holgorsen doubled down on Pezman’s statement that college sports doesn’t work without fans during the Zoom meeting.

“The last case scenario is going to be playing without fans,” Holgorsen said. “We’re going to do everything that we can to make sure that we, one put a product out there that our fan base and the support system can be proud of, but two, also let them enjoy it as well.”

For the football team leader, he doesn’t see a way to have games without the supporters.

“I can’t fathom having any kind of game without fans,” Holgorsen said. “I mean this is kind of all about the fans, and it’s one of the reasons why we’re doing (the Zoom call) right here.”

Men’s basketball assistant coach Kellen Sampson attributed the Cougars’ stellar home record to the passionate supporters of the program.

“(The fans) are one of the reasons we’ve had the success that we’ve had here,” he said. “Since the Fertitta Center opened, we are a hard out every time we run out on the tunnel and onto that floor and a big, big, big part of that is Cougar nation.”

While Pezman said the University doesn’t plan on making any decision about fall sports until mid-to-late June, he also revealed that UH is working with the Texans, Astros, Dynamo and Rockets, along with their respective venues to determine the best way to implement social distancing practices and safe hygiene procedures once that phase arrives.

“(Implementing) social distancing rules in the stadium is not an easy proposition,” Pezman said. “We’re very fortunate with here in the city of Houston (to work with those teams).

While the status of large gatherings like sporting events is unknown, one message that was shared for fans was that the University values their passion and will look for every possible way to be able to let some of them in to watch games safely.

“We look forward to seeing each and every one of you (fans) just as soon as they let us,” Sampson said.

For more of The Cougar’s coronavirus coverage, click here.

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