Aug. 20, 2009
By MOISEKAPENDA BOWER
University of Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds was delivering an opening statement Thursday morning at Verizon Wireless West Club in Reliant Stadium when he referenced the 70,000 Texas alumni living in the area, a statistic that reinforced the Longhorns' deep-rooted interest in playing games in Houston.
When Rice athletic director Chris Del Conte, who was seated to Dodds' left at the dais, heard that figure, he playfully contorted his face and rolled his eyes. With just 44,000 living alumni, 12,000 in Houston, Rice will approach its joint venture of opening the 2010 season at Reliant Stadium against Texas with a different objective.
For Del Conte, who relocated a game originally scheduled at Rice Stadium, the goal is the continued saturation of the Rice brand in the local market. With Lone Star Sports & Entertainment/SMG-Reliant Park officials overseeing the marketing of the 92nd meeting between the former Southwest Conference rivals, Del Conte is seeking the same buzz Rice generated when it participated in the Texas Bowl last December.
"It's an opportunity to once again partner Jamey (Rootes, president of Lone Star Sports & Entertainment), SMG-Reliant, Rice University and the City of Houston," Del Conte said. "One of the things you look at when you get this opportunity is how do you become one city. It's an exciting time, and I'm absolutely fired up about the opportunity on Sept. 4 (2010)."
For Dodds, Reliant Stadium provides devoted Texas fans unable to procure tickets at Royal-Memorial Stadium in Austin and opportunity to see their beloved Longhorns in person. And, as Dodds jokingly noted, Reliant Stadium has been partial to Texas.
"We are undefeated at Reliant," Dodds said to a chorus of laughs. "We've had a great, storied relationship with Rice ... (and) we love the competition between the two institutions.
"Twenty five percent of our players come from this area, so they like to come home and show off in front of their families. Seventy thousand of our alumni live in this area, the second-largest area we have for alums of the University of Texas. So this is exciting for us to come down here. It's something that we want to do often."
When the Owls and Longhorns square off on Saturday, Sept. 4, 2010, it will mark the third time the teams have played at Reliant Stadium since the dissolution of the Southwest Conference. Interestingly, the teams averaged just 42,916 fans in the 70,000-seat facility, including only 40,069 fans for the 2006 meeting that came on the heels of the Longhorns' BCS title. Reliant Park officials believe that with Texas-Rice opening the season they will get an attendance boost, especially with the Owls poised to field their best team in years and Texas potentially coming off another national crown. However, they will work tirelessly to promote the game in advance.
"We've got to get out and sell tickets to people who are interested in the game far in advance," Rootes said, "The fact that we're the opening game of the season is a big deal. The fact that Rice is where it is in the development of the program (and) the University of Texas is year after year a perennial power, we've got a fantastic matchup to provide to the community. So we're going to put our sales and marketing muscle behind it like we did with the Texas Bowl, and you saw remarkable results.
"We're going to use that same blueprint, and we're going to hope for similar or better results."
According to Rootes, more than 30,000 tickets were sold to the 2008 Texas Bowl in advance of Rice and Western Michigan being selected as the participants. An announced attendance of 58,880 watched the Owls throttle the Broncos 38-14. The victory capped the Owls' first 10-win season since 1949 and improved their record at Reliant Stadium to 3-3. Texas has claimed both meetings (9/20/03 and 9/16/06) between the schools at Reliant Stadium, winning by an average score of 50-7