Now, it’s only for those with game tickets and fans with tailgating passes
As the Texans progress through what has thus far been the most-watched, most-eventful season in their nine-year NFL history, the team applied the brakes Thursday to one of its most cherished traditions.
Citing the more than 20,000 fans without tickets who jammed into Reliant Park during Sunday’s Cowboys-Texans game, the Texans said tailgating will be limited to game-ticket holders and to fans who buy one of 2,000 tailgating passes to be issued for each contest.
Jamey Rootes, the team’s president, said the large number of fans without tickets created “untenable” problems with parking, traffic and security that will require it to limit access to the county-owned lots, beginning with the next home game Oct. 10 against the New York Giants.
“We have created what has been recognized as the best tailgating atmosphere in the NFL,” Rootes said. “When you have a few extra folks come along, it’s not a big challenge. But we have come to the point where it is not sustainable, and for the good of our game attendees we have to correct that.”
Rootes would not provide numbers but said the Texans received a significant number of complaints from ticket holders who were unable to park at Reliant’s jammed parking lots on Sunday. He also declined to provide statistics on the number of people arrested Sunday but said it was larger than usual and that almost every case involved a fan without a ticket.
A video posted on YouTube showed one fight between fans that ended with a man wearing a Texans jersey sprawled on the parking lot as a bystander shouted, “He’s out, he’s out, he’s out.”
$10 tailgating tickets
The Texans will contact season-ticket holders regarding the new tailgating tickets. Tickets will cost $10 each, with a limit of four per season-ticket account per game, and must be purchased prior to game day.
Monday’s announcement was greeted with mixed emotions by veteran tailgaters like Glen Miller of the Raging Bull Tailgaters. In addition to season tickets, Miller said the group spends about $12,000 to $15,000 each season for 36 parking passes to accommodate tents, grills and space for 60 to 100 members and guests.
“I’m not crazy about it,” Miller said. “I understand they have issues. But most people come out with good intentions, and I’m not sure it’s the best thing in the long run in terms of fan support. They’re going to make a lot of people mad.”
Miller said he’s also not wild about the idea of spending $40 per game so friends without game tickets who help with cooking chores can get onto the parking lot.
“We have several people who help us, and it’s going to put us in a bind,” he said. “It’s extra money, and my investment in the Texans is already through the roof.”
Raul Zepeda with the Texan Brew Crew, which won a tailgater of the year contest in 2009, said that while his group has never had problems on game days, the crowded lots Sunday reflected a situation “that was a little out of control.”
“This will impact people,” he said, “but these season-ticket holders and game-day ticket buyers probably ought to be assured a safe and enjoyable tailgate. You hate to limit it, but these are the people who are paying to go to the game.”
Rootes said the Texans will provide adequate staffing to check tickets as ticket holders enter the lot and that some officers may be assigned to recheck tickets once fans are inside. He said the team will develop “a comprehensive plan to implement this, and we are confident it won’t adversely impact things.”
However, season-ticket holder William Blair of The Woodlands, who tailgates with a group of 15 friends who also have season tickets, was dubious about how the Texans will be able to enforce the new guidelines.
“If I show up with six people and we only have five tickets, who are they going to ask to get out of the car?” he said. “I’m very disappointed. This is a knee-jerk reaction. This was a Cowboys game, and you won’t see this many people there again for another eight years.”
The Texans have emphasized tailgating, which was not allowed on the county-owned Reliant Park lots during the Oilers’ years at the Astrodome, since their inaugural season of 2002. Forbes Traveler last year cited Houston as the best tailgating atmosphere in the NFL.
“It got bigger than is sustainable, and so we need to bring it back to where we began, which was to create a fun, festive and friendly environment for our game attendees,” Rootes said.
By DAVID BARRON