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Legal Commentary: Houston's Clear Thinkers
Thoughts about basketball at Reliant
By Tom Kirkendall
My friend John Stevenson graciously hosted a couple of friends and me at last night's NCAA South Regional semi-final basketball games at Reliant Stadium. Although the company and conversation was a solid A+, my grade for Reliant Stadium's performance in hosting its first big-time basketball tournament is a rather pedestrian C- (the Chronicle's David Barron has a more favorable review here). Here are my thoughts:
1. First, the good. The configuration of the stadium into a 43,000 seat basketball arena is not bad, at least for a football stadium hosting basketball games. We sat in the first row of the club section and the sight lines were fine, although we all used our opera binoculars from time to time. I do think that it would be possible to arrange more seats closer to the floor, particularly on the ends, without giving up much from the nose-bleed seats.
2. But now for the bad. As has been the tradition at Reliant Park since the opening of the Astrodome over 50 years ago, parking was Byzantine. Although Reliant Park is blessed with plenty of on-site parking, the facility's parking areas were originally designed with narrow entry points that funnel autos to relatively few parking ticket agents that take a parking fee from the driver of each auto entering the facility. This has always been a horrible idea and it's incomprehensible that Reliant Park officials have not changed it after decades of fan frustration. With tens of thousands of autos descending upon the facility within an hour or so of a big game, traffic around the facility slows to a crawl as autos line up for miles at the most popular entry points waiting for drivers to stop, pay the parking charge and then move on to park. To make matters worse, the narrow entry points are converted to too-narrow exit points after the game, so traffic also stacks up in the parking lots after the game.
What should be done is simple. All of the entry points should be widened to facilitate traffic flow and and, at least for big events, there should be no parking charge taken at the facility (the parking charge should be included in the price of the ticket -- with tickets already priced at $156 for the South Regional, charging an additional $20 to park at Reliant is outrageous). With widened entry points and no stoppage for payment of a parking fee, parking lot attendants could then concentrate on moving drivers quickly into the parking areas. Traffic backups would be greatly reduced.
Being old-timers in attending events at Reliant Park, our group avoided the traffic bottleneck by entering Reliant Park off of little-used Stadium Drive on the north end. However, when we entered an hour before game time, automobiles were already backed up for miles on Kirby and the other west-side entry points. That bottleneck caused many fans to miss a good part of the first half of the opening game between Texas and Stanford.
3. How on earth could Reliant Stadium not have sufficient concession workers and supplies available for an event as prestigious as an NCAA Regional? In the club section, there were so few concession areas available that the lines required a half hour wait throughout and after the Texas-Stanford game. By the time that the lines had dwindled midway through the second game between Memphis and Michigan State, many of the concession areas had run out of water. Finally, although it's not a big deal with me, isn't it a bit odd that a fan can't buy a beer while attending a basketball event that lasts over five hours?
4. The Reliant Park overhead video screens were nice, but provided sophomoric information about the players and showed too few replays of exciting and controversial plays. The folks at Reliant Park need to check out how the Toyota Center operates its overhead video screens, which provide much better information and more replays.
5. Pricing of the tickets is definitely an issue. It's my understanding that Reliant Park and the NCAA priced the tickets for the three South Regional games at a total of $156 on the thought that the basketball configuration would be limited to about 25,000 seats. When hometown favorite Texas was given the second seed in the South Regional and then won a spot in the South Regional semi-finals, Reliant Park and the NCAA modified the configuration to its present 43,000 seat configuration to accommodate the increased demand for tickets from Texas fans (they also sold tickets at $78 for only the two Friday night semi-final games). Although almost 33,000 attended last night's games, my sense is that even more would have done so if the nose-bleed tickets had been priced at a lower level.
By the way, I've got Memphis in my bracket winning the South Regional final tomorrow against Texas. Although the Horns are solid, nothing that I saw in the two Friday night games has changed my opinion that Memphis will prevail.
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