It happens each year.
Somewhere between the final out of the College World Series and the last fireworks on the 4th of July, the countdown clock on the wall suddenly hits fast forward. The first football game that once seemed off in the distance is now close enough to make deadlines pressing and summer seem far shorter than it once appeared to be.
Did I say close? When I pushed the submit button to publish this blog, the realization that the opening kickoff of the 2012 season against UCLA is now less than 70 days away took firm hold.
The evidence is easy to spot.
July is less about vacations and recharging of batteries these days, and more about the advance work for the start of the season. On campus, the players are in summer classes and participating in voluntary summer workouts designed to have them report for the start of training camp on August 3 in optimum shape. Coaches will maximize the opportunity for family time, while also working furiously on lining up the bulk of the 2013 recruiting class.
Head coach David Bailiff and members of the athletic department staff will hit the road in the middle of the month to meet with Rice fans in San Antonio, Austin and Dallas. One week later, Bailiff and Luke Willson will participate in Conference USA's annual Media Day in Dallas. The whirlwind of public events then concludes with a gathering at St. Arnold Brewery on August 1 that will feature all of the Rice head coaches.
Work on the grass practice field has been completed and new sod has been laid in time to allow for it to settle in before the Owls unleash their new adidas cleats upon it in August.
At the same time, Rice's marketing team continues to develop a series of new features that are designed to vastly upgrade the pregame atmosphere at home games, from the season opener with UCLA and throughout the 2012 season.
An overall theme for athletics marketing efforts is in the final development stage and will be announced in the near future. This branding of the upcoming season will be supported by all our various media avenues and printed materials.
As previously announced, The Roost is moving from its cramped quarters on the north end zone concourse to the east upper deck at Rice Stadium. This location allows fans who want to enjoy a beer with their football to do so in much more comfortable surroundings and with the ability to watch the game taking advantage of Rice Stadium's legendary sightlines, since all seating is General Admission.
But the changes and expanded options will be obvious to fans long before they enter the stadium on August 30.
Rice and Bud Light are teaming up to revamp the pregame Tailgate Owley offerings at Rice Stadium to create a gathering point for all fans well before kickoff, similar to the pregame activities that have become such a popular feature of the Texas Bowl.
Local bands will perform on a performance stage while the Beirgarten will offer Budweiser products as well as food from Holmes Smokehouse. Rice sponsors will also be on hand with a variety of activities and special offerings for specific games.
At the same time, the Owls will debut a new "College Row" feature in which each of Rice's residential colleges will be assigned a tent of their own to decorate and conduct their own tailgate for both current members as well as college alumni.
Judging to determine the top college tailgate will be conducted during the season with special prizes announced during the SMU game at the end of the season.
Fans can purchase a Party Pass for a specific game, which provides a General Admission ticket to the football game along with unlimited food and drink in the VIP area of Tailgate Owley for just $25. Season ticket holders can purchase Party Passes for just $15 per game.
Party Passes for all Rice home football games will go on sale on July 15 as part of the beginning of single-game sales to all Rice football games.
While additional details and refinements are underway on both Tailgate Owley and The Roost, the Owls have also launched a new sales initiative with an eye on increasing the successful group sales efforts in the past.
One part of this expanded initiative includes the use of an outside professional sales force to reach out to a greater number of prospective clients, growing the total number of groups who attend Rice events and building a new generation of Rice fans.
The other is to continue to expand the inventory and the impact of the Rice 100 program. This effort in which local companies and individuals purchase season tickets that are donated back to the school to be used to host youth groups and other organizations has become a popular feature for the donors, who can take advantage of the tax incentives of the donation, as well as for the beneficiaries who have the opportunity to visit the Rice campus and Rice Stadium for the first time.
Spearheaded by longtime supporters Leonard Tallerine and John Huff, the Rice 100 program will be expanded to include interaction between local youth and Rice student-athletes, t-shirts and concession vouchers so area youngster can experience Rice as opposed to merely attending a game.
This season, the Owls will introduce a revamped and expanded "School Days" initiative that will reward area students for scholastic achievement and perfect attendance when the Owls host Southern Miss on October 27. The Rice marketing department is currently developing a special kit for each school to help promote the program to maximize the impact. Owls fans who would like to see their local school included in the program should submit the information to firstname.lastname@example.org
Rice Athletics will team with Cheer America to help make the season finale with SMU on November 17 a special day for young cheerleaders and school band members. Cheer America will promote and choreograph a special routine for participating squads and bands during a special halftime performance. On that same date, the Owls will once again host the students from Houston KIPP Academy. These outstanding performers in the classroom have been an enthusiastic addition to home games the last several years, and the season finale with SMU will be no exception.
With a 2012 home schedule that includes a special Thursday night kickoff that helps usher in the college football season around the country, as well as the celebration of the Rice Centennial on October 13 and all of the special initiative outlined above, Rice fans will have an exciting lineup of options to enjoy this fall, as well as to invite friends and neighbors to join them at Rice Stadium.
If you are considering the purchase of season tickets this year, please remember that in addition to the discounted seats for the Bayou Bucket at Reliant Stadium which we discussed in a previous blog, our season ticket holders will also receive a DVD of the finished version of the 100 Years of Rice Football documentary.
Rough cuts of the five chapters were shown after home games last fall, and the 90-minute finished piece represents an overview of a memorable century of history for a sport that made its debut only months after the first classes were held at Rice Institute. The one-year project involved many people on campus and a number of former Owls whose shared memories and recollections essential to the project. We hope you find it as yet another additional value to your purchase of season tickets.
Enjoy your summer, have a Happy 4th of July, and we will see you in Tailgate Owley on August 30.