One of the most notable things about Houston's season-opening win over Texas State last Saturday had absolutely nothing to do with what happened on the field. It had to do with what happened in the stands. 32,119 people were in attendance Saturday night. That is the largest crowd Houston has ever had at Robertson Stadium since UH football returned to campus in the late 1990s.
We've come a long way.
This is what the west gradstand looked like for a game against Alabama-Birmingham in 2003. The attendance was rather generously announced at 15,120:
This is for a game against SMU a couple of years later. Attendance was announced at 14,650.
I could easily go through my photo collection and find example after example of UH football games featuring an almost-empty west-side grandstand. For so many years, that was just the way it was.
Fast-forward to Saturday night:
See that big block of red over there on the left side? Those are students. There was a time when you could not determine where the student section of Robertson Stadium was located. Students didn't attend the games. They didn't care.
Winning has a lot to do with it, of course. But I firmly believe the number of new on-campus housing developments that have been completed over the past several years has something to do with it as well. Generally speaking, students who live on-campus support their school's sports teams more than those that don't, because they're already on campus and already feel like they're part of the campus community. For many of them, that affinity for their alma mater and their sports teams will continue even after they graduate, meaning that they will continue to support the Coogs as alumni.
This is the key to building up a base of support for your sports programs. It's something the University of Houston has not historically done. But the times are changing.
Dustin believes that the University of Houston has turned the corner in terms of student support for its athletics programs. I'm not ready to go that far yet - it's probably a good idea to wait a few years to see if this trend is permanent - but, right now, something positive is clearly happening.
As a long-suffering Cougar fan, I'm very happy to finally see it.