How Gamedays in Austin Are Bigger—and More Burnt-Orange—Than Ever

With lower prices, more to do, and more burnt-orange pageantry, Saturdays in Austin get a massive upgrade.

Big changes have come to Texas football. Possibly on the field, but certainly all around it. ¶ By partnering with the Texas Exes, Texas Athletics has transformed the fan experience on gameday, and the first experiments were in effect at the Horns’ home opener on Sept. 8. The stretch of San Jacinto Boulevard from 20th to 23rd streets was re-christened Bevo Boulevard, the lawn of the LBJ Presidential Library turned into a miniature music festival dubbed

Longhorn City Limits, and—perhaps most importantly—cold beer was readily and cheaply available, both inside the stadium and out.

New features, new pricing, and new options are the hallmark of the revised gameday program, and the first outing seemed to fit, or exceed, the expectations. The north and west sides of DKR-Texas Memorial Stadium buzzed with fans hours before kickoff, and people lingered, sipping beers, playing giveaway games, buying memorabilia, and even getting autographs from Longhorn athletes. The crowds surged for Bevo XV’s march down his namesake boulevard and the team’s entrance—or “stampede,” as UT Athletics calls it—into the stadium.

Starting four hours before kickoff, home games now feature food trucks, games, giant TVs broadcasting Big 12 games, and plenty of beer and wine vendors, giveaways, and mercifully, lots of places to sit. The Texas Exes tailgate sits in the middle of it all, and in and out of the stadium, prices for food and beverages have been dropped an average of 30 percent.

“We’ve been tailgating at the Alumni Center for so long; it’s always been the place to be on gameday,” Texas Exes Executive Director Chuck Harris, BBA ’86, Life Member, says. “Now we have the same great party with a front-row seat to Bevo Boulevard.”

For years there seemed to be a certain lackadaisical nature leading up to game time, with good odds you might find more scalpers than fans milling around. At this year’s home opener, the scalpers were severely outnumbered.

At 3 p.m., tailgaters ignite grills around campus, and Longhorn Band members in sporty polo shirts tote sousaphones and piccolos across the parking lot and around the Thompson Conference Center, bound for the Butler School of Music’s harvest-gold-and-orange-clad band hall. More tailgate tents surround the LBJ buildings, and only at the northeast corner of the stadium do things start to look different.

There’s a bandstand on the lawn, and food trucks on the corner. In about half an hour, a 10-piece soul band, The Nightowls, will play for the crowd munching Stubbs’ barbecue on the hill overlooking the LBJ fountain. At 5 p.m., beloved blues rocker Jimmie Vaughan (brother of Stevie Ray) will take the stage.

“We’re just getting started,” says Drew Martin, the executive senior associate athletic director in charge of external affairs and the leader of the new and improved home game experience. He says the carnival-like atmosphere is meant to celebrate the school, its fans, students, and alumni. “We wanted to throw a party for our fans.”

The focus on fan festivities has been attributed to Chris Del Conte, the director of athletics since just last December. “Chris calls a football game ‘a celebration of all things Texas,’” Martin says. That explains Bevo XV’s grand, if slightly behind-schedule, parade down his eponymous boulevard accompanied by all the pomp and pageantry the university can muster: cheerleaders, the pom squad, the band in their Stetsons, Smokey the Cannon hauled by the Texas Cowboys, and the beast himself, of course.

For his part, the day is a relief for Martin, poached from TCU only 93 days before the home opener. “That’s a very short lead time,” he notes.

Around 4:30 p.m., the football team rolls through. This is not the easily recognizable College GameDay Built by The Home Depot-type entrance, however; no quick leap from the bus, headphones in place, waving to a small crowd. By timing the team’s arrival closer to the game, and having them also promenade through the sizeable crowd now lining the pedestrian-only boulevard, the folks in Athletics have created a genuine spectacle, with the crowd pressing in, phones in one hand, high-fives offered by the other.

After the team files through Gate 1, a member of the coaching staff sends Martin a text, saying it was the “hands down best team entry to a stadium on gameday in the country.”

Inside the stadium, there are even more changes meant to delight fans beyond lower prices. Roaming, radio-connected cameras can capture fans anywhere in the stands now for the Jumbotron, and on-field presentations have been greatly curtailed. Even the well-known T-E-X-A-S flags carried by the cheerleaders have been revamped. The flagpoles now spray pyrotechnic sparks as they whizz down the sideline after the Horns’ first touchdown.

Also notable as fans begin to file in, is the fact that the newly unified student section is packed. I’m beginning to consider returning to UT for another bachelor’s degree, because the students are all about this. They came early, were loud, wore orange, and stayed very late, thanks to an afterparty back at Longhorn City Limits featuring a silent disco, in which attendees dance under swirling nightclub lights to the sound of whatever’s in their headphones. It is a notion both risible and strangely appealing—wouldn’t you like to select all the songs in a club without bothering the other patrons?—and in practice, this particular party quietly raged until around midnight.

Throughout the day, students were everywhere, along with plenty of kids and families. Some were already strolling past face-painters, bouncy houses, and beer carts at 3 p.m., and some stayed until midnight. Texas football elicits plenty of emotions these days but all around the stadium, fun was still readily apparent.

With the silent disco going through the night, one might imagine the ghost of ol’ Lyndon himself lurching across the LBJ Library courtyard like the elder Hamlet on the battlements of Elsinore, craning his hangdog face to look at the soundless revelers below, and recalling his own words from 1965: “I want to be the president who educated young children to the wonders of their world.”

A wondrous sight indeed. The Horns scraped by, 28–21 in case you missed it, a showing that earned little hype and some measure of hand-wringing. But that’s not on display as the students sway around to no apparent music. They’re just having a good time.

Once the day has ended, the booths have been broken down and the tents struck, Martin is pleased. He says his team is happy with 95 percent of the day, and working on the other five. He thinks the success boils down to a simple idea: “It felt like Austin,” he says. Cold beer, live music, Texas football, and lots and lots of people? That does sound like Austin.

Photographs by Jeff Wilson.


No comments

Be the first one to leave a comment.

Post a Comment