It has been five seasons since football fans around these parts had their hearts ripped out
when the Oilers left town for seemingly greener pastures in Tennessee. But thanks to the
perserverance of an entire community, the leadership of team owner Bob McNair and the
eventual construction of what was to become Reliant Stadium, the NFL awarded the 32nd
franchise to the city of Houston. The team was named the Texans, and they began play this
season in a city that welcomed back the NFL with open arms. And with it comes Reliant
Stadium, a brand new, state-of-the-art football venue that dazzles the senses with its sleek
design, imposing architecture, first of a kind retractable roof, and enough of the touches
to make the fan experience here superb.
Getting to the venue
Reliant Stadium is located on Kirby Drive just off of the South I-610 loop, and if you are
driving on the interstates anywhere in the southwest quadrant of Houston, chances are
that you will see this structure dominating the skyline. Quite a few major highways bisect
the stadium complex, and signage along the highways direct fans to their color coded lot.
Here is the first heads up you will need if attending a Texans game here.. there is NO cash
parking on stadium property. One must have a parking pass, and they can be purchased
via ticketmaster for $10 (plus fees). Satellite private parking is limited, mostly due to the
vast size of the stadium property, and the south boundary which abuts the 610 loop.
Parking lot maps and policies are spelled out on the Texans website. (We purchased a
"yellow" lot pass on Ebay for $5, and with us arriving early that put us just a few steps from
the gates, not too shabby).
Outside the venue
Reliant Stadium is the major building in a complex that also includes the venerable
Astrodome, Reliant Arena and an amusement park. Nicely landscaped, freshly paved and
striped parking lots and pedestrian overpasses over Kirby Drive are what you will find
outside Reliant Stadium. So what is the buzz word??? --- Tailgating! Tailgating, tailgating
and more tailgating. The old Oilers had strict prohibitions on tailgating at the Astrodome,
and the Texans decided that not only were they going to lift the ban, but were going to
jump start this great football tradition by opening up the lots and encouraging fans to
come early and stay late and have a good time. In doing so, Houston is trying to
immediately establish itself as one of the NFL's top tailgate cities.
From what we observed, they have already made great strides towards that goal. Lots here
open four hours before game time, and convoys of cars and RV's are already queued up
waiting to get in and begin the day's festivities. Guest relations gals from Reliant Energy
troll the parking lots, snapping photos of the partiers and handing out prizes for creative
decorations.On the south side of the stadium is the "Budweiser Plaza", and there you can
find pregame musical entertainment, refreshments and even bleacher seating to watch
the goings on. Portable restrooms, coal dispensers and waste receptacles are plentiful.
Today was also the beginning of a one week long "Ultimate Fan" contest, where one
finalist would be chosen from among five semi finalists to compete nationally. Delegations
for the contestants were walking the lots and soliciting votes for their candidates (our
choice was Preston from the Bullpen Tailgate, more on that later). Lastly, not only are the
parking lots color coded, but also numbered in a grid format, with ample "you are here"
map signs to get you around and to encourage folks to visit each other's tailgates. The
scene here was awesome - plenty of Texans flags, decorations, proud flags of the Lone
Star State, and a party scene that would rival the best of them in the NFL!
The stadium and concourses
This venue is an architectural marvel! It is rectangularly shaped, with a cream colored
brick facade and expansive use of glass on all four sides of the building to allow natural
light into the concourses and nice views from the inside. Massive red and black "Reliant
Stadium" marquees adorn the north and south sides of the venue. The building is
surrounded by wrought iron fences and lush landscaping, as well as colored pavement to
match the facade of the structure. And of course, the large two part retractable roof makes
for a distinctive cap to the stadium (the roof was open on this picture perfect sunny 70
degree day). Access to the stadium is kind of interesting - the security checkpoints are
well away from the stadium along the wrought iron fence line, and once through there you
are on the large "Budweiser Plaza", where you can enjoy the pregame activities and
entertainment. There are refreshment stands and a comfort station out here as well. From
this point there are four "gates", one in each corner of the stadium. Each gate has a
named corporate sponsor (The Ford gate, the Gallery Furniture gate, etc) That is where
you get your ticket scanned and enter the ramps to take you to your concourse. Once up
the first two ramps, there are also escalator towers available from that point to take you to
the club or upper levels.
All concourses here are inside and protected from the elements - the only outside areas
are the four ramp/escalator towers. As stated, the concourses here are bright, because of
the large amount of glass walls which allow natural light into the building and great views
of the outside. Concourses here are massive, wide, and simple to navigate, even at
halftime. Great attention was given to allow freedom of movement around the building.
Concession stands are decorated with colorful canopies.
Above both the 100 and 500 concourses are large red facades with unusual orange
symbols. These walls pretty much wrap around the entire circumference of the concourses
and even appear on some of the concession marquees. We looked at these with
puzzlement at first, wondering what they meant. Then it hit us.... they are symbols of
CATTLE BRANDS. How wonderful! How truly, truly great!!! Here we are in Texas, where the
oil and ranching industries are king, and the designers of this building thought enough to
celebrate their state's proud culture and heritage in a simple, yet meaningful way. Thumbs
up from us!!!
In the 100 concourse above each of the four ramp exits are gigantic ad panels for that
gate's sponsor, and they frame a huge video board which shows the action on the field.
These displays really look imposing. Add to this mood lighting, low metallic ceilings as you
make your way to your seats, and a view of the seating bowl from the concourse, and
you've got a set up here which comes together very nicely.
The seating bowl
With over 69,500 seats, Reliant Stadium's seating bowl is colored in red, blue and gray
seats to emulate the team's colors. The seating area here is actually squared off, with
massive pylons in each corner of the upper deck to support the roof and retractable roof
panels. Save for some of the lower bowl seats, all fans here are weather protected, and
the retractable roof slides together in two panels, and they join together above the 50 yard
line. High above each end zone are large video boards joined with several dot matrix
boards, stationary ad panels and the "Reliant Stadium" logo. Along the sidelines are
additional dot matrix boards offering game information, out of town scores and out of town
individual stat information for the fantasy leaguers, as well as a sequence of synchronized
changeable ad panels. All presented very nicely and without the look of clutter.
"Go Texans" is the name of the team store, located on the ground level outside the
Budweiser Plaza. Throughout the concourses are a number of "Go Texans Express"
merchandise kiosks. We looked for a Texans 10 gallon hat but there were none to be
found so we settled for a jersey and a sweatshirt. Food concessions are grouped
according to Texas themes (and corresponding cattle brands), with choices such as
Cactus Cantina and 5 star dogs. Along the sideline area concourses are very long
margarita bars offering the frozen stuff in regular glasses, with the large size served in
some of the weirdest shaped souvenir glasses you ever saw.
As is the case with newer NFL venues, club seating here spans both sidelines on the
mezzanine level. Here too, the club concourse has a terrific view of the seating bowl, and
along the glass wall are seating rails and even a couple bars. In the center of the club
concourse is a sweeping atrium style court area with full bar, carvery and seating area,
and again, full glass walls to the outside offering dramatic views. The club concourse is
carpeted, but here designs are interwoven into the carpet in the shapes of the state of
Texas. In addition, luxury suites ring the entire seating bowl directly above and below the
club level. There are limited single club seats available, with costs ranging from $160-$275.
We tip our caps to the Houston Texans front office for refraining from hanging some stupid
banner like "Fans #1", or "Best Attendance By An Expansion Team For A Sunday Night
Season Opener". For now the rafters are clear of such nonsense, and with the titles and
the great players will come the appropriate banners. It is unfortunate, however, that the
situation being what it is, names Earl Campbell, Dan Pastorini, Bum Phillips, Warren Moon,
perhaps others, and even a tribute to the fans who made "The House of Pain" what it was
are not given a place of honor in the building. Perhaps the fans of Houston and the team
will do the right thing in due time.
Touchdown - To the many, many fans who extended a warm Texas welcome to us and made
our visit so very special. We want to give special props to the Bullpen Tailgate in the Blue
Lot. Pete, Kimberly, Preston, Alan, Andrew, Vinny and many others whose names we don't
have but were just so great to us. Sandy is "The Matriarch" of the Bullpen group and
invited us to sign a Texans commemorative flag which will eventually be framed. In our
one lame attempt at trash talk, Andrew signed it as follows, "Bills 41-Oilers 38, the Greatest
Comeback Ever!" All in fun folks!
Also thanks Blaine Tamplain and his gang, also in the Blue Lot, who emailed us months ago
with the tailgate invite and even asked what we wanted on the menu. (the jambalaya was
awesome!). We arrived early and stayed late and soaked in the great Texans tailgate
scene. Lots of love to you guys and we hope to see you again next year!
Touchdown - to sports writer David Barron and photographer Chris Perez from the
Houston Chronicle. David did an article in late summer about tailgating in the NFL and
asked for our opinions which became a part of that story. He called on us again right
before our visit and we hooked up in the building for an interview. We figured we'd get a
mention in the Chronicle's extra points section with a few sentences. Then Chris the
photographer arrives on the scene and we knew something was up. Well Pete headed
down to the hotel lobby at 5:45 AM Monday morning to get the paper, and there we were
with a FULL PAGE SPREAD! Are you kidding??!!! We are grateful and humbled by the show
of interest in our story.
Extra point - Texans fans really know how to participate in event presentation. Here in
Houston when they announce the starting lineups they only give the first names, leaving
the fans to shout out the last name. For example, the announcer says, "...and at
Quarterback, from Fresno State, number 8, David....", and the fans shout out "CARR!". Very
very cool! Warning to Texansfan... how are you guys going to cope should players Tim
Biatabatuka or Chris Fuamatu-Ma afala ever get signed by the team and make the Texans
Fumble - to the parking gate guy in the yellow lot. This guy wasn't a cop or an orange
vested directional person, but an older gentleman who was dressed like one of those
Salvation Army guys you see around Christmas. By the time we left and headed for our car,
the lots were down to a few late tailgaters and things had pretty much cleared out. We
head to the main exit onto Main, and there's Salvationarmyguy with the gate closed,
barring our exit and that of others who were also trying to leave, and waving us to another
gate. So we searched in vain for another way out, but everything was padlocked... in
frustration we were following other cars and other cars were following us, all looking for
egress. Finally about 30 cars converged back at the main exit, honking and flashing
headlights and demanding that Salvationarmyguy open the gate. He did so, but very
reluctantly, and with eight or so exit lanes available he only opened the gate a small crack
to allow one car at a time to squeeze out. Obviously he didn't want to strain himself since
he'd have to be fresh in the morning to haul out his kettle and clang his bell in front of the
Fiesta Supermarket. As we inched out through the narrow passage, we were treated to his
scowl, the only one we encountered on this entire trip in this friendly community. What a
Fumble - The Texans being an expansion team, we knew it would take a huge dose of USRT
karma to pull out a victory for the home team. And darn it we did try! The Texans gallantly
rallied from a 17 point deficit and had the ball in the closing minutes, poised to get the
tying score. But they fell short to the division rival Jacksonville Jaguars, 24-21. You would
think that would be a real downer, but Houston fans are just so overjoyed just to have the
NFL back, they can handle the losses... for now.
Touchdown - to Texans Senior VP for Marketing James Rootes, who we were introduced to
by David Barron and who also gave us a warm welcome to Reliant Stadium. Jamey
furnished us with club seat passes and we got to enjoy (and photograph) the stadium for
most of the 3rd quarter from some of the best seats in the house.
Extra point - entertaining at the top of 100 level end zone is a real live band, sitting in the
seats and playing their horns and getting fans into the game. They are easily recognizable
wearing white Texans "32" jerseys.
Fumble - For a stadium that cost over $300M and has been open since August, there are
still some rows of seats (ours in the fifth row of sec 505 included) where permanent seats
have not been installed, and in their place are tightly packed folding chairs offering little
shoulder/elbow room. The permanent seats two rows ahead were plenty comfortable.
C'mon guys, let's get this place finished!!!
Extra point - Outside the stadium in the southeast corner is a monument honoring the
15,000 or so Personal Seat License holders who paid the extra money to help fund the
construction of this beautiful building. A nice gesture for the fans!
Extra point - in places like Miller Park and Skydome, fans are invited to stick around and
watch the retractable roof close after the game, but here at Reliant Stadium they
apparently leave the roof open, so there was no show to be had. Speaking of which,
apparently the NFL has issued some guidelines as to what circumstances the roof can be
opened and closed. Can you imagine on an inclement day, the home team is on offense
and the roof is closed, and when the team goes on defense they open the roof and expose
the visiting offense to the elements and wind? How hilarious would that be?!
We really love visiting Texas, and Houston in particular. This whole mystique about Texans
being friendly is really no myth, and every time we come here it seems that people are
going out of their way to make us feel wanted and welcome. OK... about Reliant Stadium...
the building is architecturally stunning. The first of the generation of retractable roof
stadiums in the NFL has raised the bar for other teams to follow. But then again, we have
toured more than a few spanking new NFL stadiums in the past year, why is this one any
different from the rest? The answer - the Houston Texans not only have built a stadium
with bricks and mortar to bring fans in to watch a game, but they have built an EXPERIENCE
for visitors to enjoy. The Houston Texans management GETS IT. With season tickets,
including PSL seats, going strong and Houston fans filling the place in this inaugural
season, it would be easy for them to perch themselves on a throne of arrogance and
indifference. Yet we got the sense that these people really care that their patrons have a
good time, before, during and after the game. At the many guest relations stands, they
pass out questionnaires asking patrons everything from their opinions on food selection
to cleanliness to the overall experience. The courtesy and friendliness of game staff here
(excluding Salvationarmyguy) was absolutely outstanding. And the stadium is one of the
most spectacular we have seen anywhere. Lastly, in their first season of operation they
have established themselves among the best NFL tailgate cities, and that is no small feat.
We are proud to designate the Houston Texans and Reliant Stadium among the elite of NFL
venues! THANK YOU HOUSTON for making our visit truly extraordinary!!
Food and team store 9
Scoreboard and electronics 7.5
Fan support 6.5
Location and neighborhood 6
Banners and history 3
In game entertainment 7
Concourses/fan comfort 9
Bonus: Tailgate scene 3, USRT assist 1, End zone band 1, Player intros 1, Retractable roof 1