Culture / Sporting Life

UH Pushing to Make Its Big 12 Football Opener a Night Game With Major Concert Power — TCU Matchup to be a City-Wide Event

Being the First Stop in the Big 12's New High-Profile Concert Series Would Be No Small Cougars' Coup

BY // 05.08.23

The University of Houston has been pushing to make its Big 12 football opener against TCU a night game, allowing an entire weekend — including what could be the first of a new high-profile, major act Big 12 concert series — to be built around the September 16th game. The idea is to make UH’s long awaited first game in the Big 12 a massive event in the city that reaches beyond just football.

“I’m really pushing hard to see if we can get a late afternoon or evening kickoff,” UH athletic director Chris Pezman tells PaperCity. “You can roll into that thing and be pretty spectacular. So that weekend is really shaping up to be an event.”

Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark has talked about making music a major part of the new Big 12 experience. Yormark is the former president of Jay-Z’s Roc Nation. And it’s no super secret that a Big 12 football concert series is coming. The Big 12 Basketball Tournament in Kansas City brought a taste of that last March, featuring acts like Fat Joe and Shaquille O’Neal putting on shows off site.

Like with most things surrounding the sport that drives almost everything in college athletics, the football concerts will be even bigger.

The first one being held in Houston before UH’s Big 12 opener would be something of a coup for the Cougars’ athletic program. Such a concert would be held at the Fertitta Center on Houston’s campus or the House of Blues downtown on Friday, the night before the game, an entertainment source tell PaperCity.

It is all about making the University of Houston’s first Big 12 football game resonate throughout the nation’s fourth largest city. As not just a football thing. But as a major can’t-miss happening.

“If you’re Nebraska and you’ve sold out for 197 games or 20 years, they don’t have to do that,” Pezman says of the Cornhuskers’ NCAA record sellout streak which actually stands at 389 games and 60-plus years heading into this season. “But we’re younger so we have to figure out ways to draw people in.

“Because we’re pretty confident once they get here and experience it, they’re going to come a few times. But we’ve got to figure out a way to get them in the door.”

Some significant Big 12 excitement is already there. UH sold a record 5,000 new season tickets in the first 60 days the ducats were on sale.

Still, Houston is a big events town — and a Big 12 concert/night game combo could be huge towards building city-wide excitement around the university’s new Power 5 conference reality.

“By and large, the city of Houston has been an event driven city,” Pezman says. “You think about the Rodeo, even the Astros, the Texans, the Rockets — all of them — it’s always been around an event. The Lakers are coming to town or the team is so good it demands it.

“(UH) basketball is transcending that. But we’ve got to get to the point where football is transcending that too. We’ve got to get to the point where people are coming to watch us. Not who we’re playing. Basketball’s done that and we’ve got to do that with football.”

University of Houston Cougars lost to Tulane University tin overtime, Friday at TDECU Stadium
University of Houston coach Dana Holgorsen and the Cougars are excited about starting Big 12 play. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)

Opening its Big 12 run with a night game against TCU would allow UH’s game day operations staff to try and recreate the excitement of that 2016 night game blitzing of Louisville and Lamar Jackson that saw a sold-out crowd taking over TDECU Stadium — and rushing the field after Cougars sacked Jackson 11 times. That kind of atmosphere cannot be faked.

“It comes down to butts in seats and energy in the building,” Pezman tells PaperCity. “And that’s what we’ve got to. . . that’s what we’ve focused on. We’ve got to get butts in seats and really create that level of excitement.

“It starts with the pregame — in tailgating. Getting people into the building and how you interact once you’re in the game. Making sure they’re energized and having fun. Providing all the services as simple and cost effectively as you can. Concession lines, things like that, we’re continuing to evolve.”

Pezman already has the UH athletic staff focused on making sure the long lines that created some issues early in the 2022 season are a thing of the past. Stadium staffing is set to be significantly increased for the larger crowds to come. “Our calls on game day are going to be four to five times what they’ve been for labor,” Pezman says.

Yes, that’s four to five times more stadium workers. More options on how to buy concessions also will be available.

“We’re working with our concessionaire on things we’re trying to get done for fall,” Pezman says. “Grab and go locations. Things like that, that helps with speed of service. Knowing that our crowds are going to be significantly larger than what we experienced.

“Trying to prepare everybody for what is coming. It’s easy for me to stand up there and say we’re going to have a good crowd. When 40,000 people show up for TCU or Texas. . .”

“It comes down to butts in seats and energy in the building. And that’s what we’ve got to. . . that’s what we’ve focused on. We’ve got to get butts in seats and really create that level of excitement.” — UH athletic director Chris Pezman

Pezman and his team have held meetings with the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority, with HPD and HFD,  Houston Transtar and TxDOT to make sure everyone knows and understands what truly is coming to Houston’s campus. How much more traffic there will be. How different things will be in this new Big 12 reality.

“We’re going from an athletic department event to a University and community event now,” Pezman says.

In many ways, it will all start with that historic Big 12 opener against TCU at the University of Houston’s own on-campus football stadium. UH’s football games will become some of the biggest events in the nation’s fourth largest city. Period. The days of UH football games being just a university thing are over.

Which is why Chris Pezman and UH officials want to make that first Big 12 football game such an event. There is nothing like setting a tone for what’s to come.

This is the latest in a series of stories on the University of Houston athletic department, the future of sports at the school and the historic transition to the Big 12. For more of Chris Baldwin’s extensive, detailed and unique insider coverage of UH sports — stories you cannot read anywhere else — bookmark this page. Follow Baldwin on Twitter here.

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