Late to the Game: Simply FAN-tastic


Senior editor Chris O’Connell isn’t from Texas; he’s from New Jersey. That’s OK though—he’s here now. But without growing up in a place that cherishes college sports the way many parts of the South—and especially Texas—do, Chris has taken it upon himself to learn more about all aspects of college athletics in a series we like to call Late to the Game.

We live in the future. Technically this is always a true statement, but it’s never more true than right now, as we navigate a murky, post-Jet-Pack-Man world. That is, a person used to rocket high above the field at DKR fueled by a jet pack before Longhorn football games, but doesn’t anymore. That’s ancient history. Jet Pack Man, 2014-14, is gone forever, but more importantly, we’re seeing a big change in the fan experience on campus. Jet Pack Man was an experiment, a marketing one at that, and it was trial and an error.

Fans hated Jet Pack Man. I imagine he is now like Lou Ferrigno’s Incredible Hulk at the end of each episode of the eponymous television series, except instead of walking, like people did in 1978, he’s flying aimlessly from town-to-town, looking for a new beginning. Does Baylor need something dangerous and superfluous to wake their fans up before home games? he wonders aloud as he floats north toward Waco, touching ground only for a bag of Beaver Nuggets at Buc-ee’s. Jet Pack Man didn’t work, but if its any indication of the hyped-up fan experience currently going on all over the Forty Acres, it won’t be the last big idea unveiled at a Texas sporting event. Here’s what else is going on—big and small—at venues around campus this year.

The Frank Erwin Center has been dubbed “Club Erwin” by Statesman beat writer Brian Davis, and he has a point. Unimpressed by the rote proceedings during Texas basketball games, athletics director Steve Patterson hired a woman named Felisa Israel to “sprinkle some professional sports dust” inside the arena. Israel sprinkled a $7,500 disco ball, pyrotechnics, and a DJ all the heck over basketball fans last season, which rankled some traditionalists and even caused some Millenials to—gasp—have fun at a sporting event on their campus. Some whippersnappers even received some of those newfangled bucket hats  … and wore them indoors! Sickening.

All kidding aside, these amenities, if we can call them that, are an obvious response to two things. One is rising ticket prices at every sporting event in America, professional and collegiate, that makes taking a family of four for a night at the ballpark or arena economically unfeasible for many. It’s just cheaper to gather ’round ye olde 50-inch flat screen TV. The game experience has to be heightened to entice fans to change out of their burnt-orange pajamas and get off the couch.

The other reason for the modern fan-stravaganza is the ongoing arms race between professional and college teams to go bigger and better in every aspect of both the athletes. Texas A&M football players have a barbershop in their new locker room. There’s a puzzling monstrosity of an RGIII statue outside the fancy new McLane Stadium in Waco, which is a beacon of modern conveniences in its own right, replete with free WiFi, an Italian bistro, and a tailgating cove, into which you can steer your boat before (or while) slamming Lone Star tallboys, responsibly. There’s also a gluten-free cronut shop that only accepts bitcoin inside the Cotton Bowl this season. Nah, I made that last one up.

You also may have heard that beer and wine are available for purchase inside DKR-Texas Memorial Stadium beginning with Texas’ home opener against Rice on September 12. This is obviously a boost to the fan experience, especially if the Longhorns are 6-7 again. Again, I’m talking about drinking responsibly here, folks. Just a little buzz to ease Saturday’s flow into Sunday. Additionally, there are new food options for hungry fans inside the Unfrozen Tundra, including Alcalde staff-favorite Torchy’s. No word yet if the secret menu will be available during games. You can, however, drown your sorrows or savor the taste of victory in a cup of melted cheese. That’s what really matters.

Tailgating, obviously then, will be different this season. No one used to drink at tailgates before games, because it’s illegal to drink on public property in Austin outside specifically marked TABC zones, and Longhorns don’t break the law. For the first time, there will be official, booze-soaked tailgates at the stadium before games, and before the Rice game, Toby Keith Kenny Chesney Brad Paisley is playing! Beer and wine and smoked meats abound, and again, that’s what really matters—cheeses and meats and adult beverages. We’re entering a new era of college football at DKR, hopefully one that includes free queso and beer for all following a national championship. I’m holding my breath. No word on DJ DKR yet, though a McConaughey guest spot would be welcome by all. Re-entry is also an issue this year, in that it basically doesn’t exist unless you’re coming to drink a beer with me—responsibly—inside the beautifully repainted, air conditioned Etter-Harbin Alumni Center.

One final note on the fan experience. Gregory Gym is following in the footsteps of the soon-departed Frank Erwin Center to become … Club Gym? Le Gregori? The name isn’t official yet. Volleyball matches this season will feature, according to UT Athletics: improved audio and video content, live in-game entertainment including a live national anthem and intermission performances at select matches, Deejay Honeycomb, and something called the YP Hype Squad. That all sounds great, but here’s the best part of watching a volleyball match at Gregory: The Longhorns almost never lose! Since opening in 1982, the Longhorns are a whopping 334-53, good for an 82.9 percent winning percentage. In the last eight seasons, Texas has only lost six times at Gregory.

Now that’s an enhanced fan experience we can all can get behind.

Illustration by Melissa Reese.


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