The announcement today that the Bayou Bucket will extend at least into the first year of the separation of Rice and Houston into different conferences sets aside for the moment concerns about the immediate future of the series. The next two games will be played at Reliant Stadium as originally announced last fall, only now the second game will be a nonconference game.
The question in the minds of many Owls fans remains on why the move to Reliant in the first place? Why give up a game at Rice Stadium, when the Owls have won the last two Buckets played on their home turf?
There's no disputing the facts on paper regarding our record of success against Houston at home in recent times. Rice has won the Bucket four times in the last seven Rice Stadium contests dating back to 1993. But Rice's record as the home team in the series only improves when you factor in the 10-7 win at Reliant in 2004.
Home games at Rice Stadium have a familiarity to our fans who have a time-honored routine for each game. There is a comfort level that only comes from being in familiar surroundings and with familiar faces.
So why make the move?
Simply because Lone Star Sports, whose mission is to produce sporting events at Reliant Stadium of both high interest and quality, made it very clear that they view the Bayou Bucket as a signature event for the City of Houston, an event that is a central component of their buildup to the Meineke Car Care Bowl and to their sports lineup overall.
Moving this one game allows Rice to tap into the promotional muscle and reach that Lone Star has at its disposal. The game will be promoted inside other events at the stadium, most notably to the sellout crowds at Texans games on Sundays, reaching an audience that far exceeds anything we could do on our own. When the mission is to reach the largest audience possible to promote Rice Football specifically, as well as the Centennial Celebration of Rice University, it became an easy decision to make.
It allows us to marshall our marketing efforts on our remaining five home games, and part of that effort will include promotional messages inside Reliant during that game.
One of the greatest memories of the 2008 Texas Bowl at Reliant was the number of Houston sports fans who were in the stands that night along with our faithful Owls supporters. One of the most frustrating aspects of that game was not being able to leverage that momentum towards the future. To have those same fans in their seats and be able to reach them directly about our remaining home games is another invaluable asset.
Any reflection upon the fan experience of previous Rice games at Reliant has to be divided into two distinct periods. There were the early games dating back to our first appearance there in 2002, and then most recent game, which was the 2010 season opener against Texas.
Those early games were not produced with the same level of commitment or overall marketing power that exists today. As a fan, in the days before I came to work at Rice, I stood in the heat and long lines while attempting to get into the 2004 Bayou Bucket through one of the few ticket windows that were open. I saw first-hand how many people walked away in frustration and could only be frustrated at an opportunity lost. That won't happen this year, or in 2013.
The 2010 Texas game was heavily marketed, but to a fan base that extended far outside the greater Houston area. We will benefit from that same promotional clout this time, creating an opening for our fans to invite friends and neighbors to join them at this great event.
We know our season ticket holders have been frustrated to see past home games played at Reliant were not offered as part of their package. That won't happen these next two years. Very shortly, our season ticket renewal letters will hit the mail. In them, we detail some exciting offers we are making available to those of you who have been our most devoted supporters, as well as others who want to join us for the 2012 season.
If the 2012 Bucket was the last game of the series and there was no return game there in 2013, the move of this year's game alone would be worth it for all the reasons mentioned above.
But with the added knowledge that our fans will have access to great seats for the game in 2013--rather than the smaller allotments allocated road teams--and Rice Football will tap into Lone Star's promotional energy for a second consecutive year, the positives far outweigh the negatives