On Friday August 3rd, a group of five Crocketteers headed east on I-10 towards Houston and a date with BBVA Stadium. In addition to the chance to see Thierry Henry in person, the match was the first chance we had to see the newly acquired Australian and Everton-legend Tim Cahill. And while we weren’t exactly treated to a vintage performance from the world’s stars, the overall experience more than whet the appetite for MLS in San Antonio as Houston showcased their new jewel of a stadium to stir our visiting envy.
What follows is the official unofficial Crocketteers review of BBVA Stadium broken down into completely unscientific subcategories.
Driving into sprawling Houston does not create a ton of confidence that anything will be convenient, central, or even pleasant. The famed lack of zoning in Houston puts an IKEA next to a diner next to a hospital next to a corporate headquarters next to an apartment complex next to a 16-lane freeway. Fun.
Somehow, Houston got the location of BBVA Stadium right. Located downtown, the stadium is situated in an increasingly-walkable, increasingly-populated nook of the urban core. Parking costs as much as a ticket and the local within-walking-distance food scene is limited (Note: Avoid the Texas BBQ House at all costs), but potential is apparent.
Most exciting? The light rail line on Texas Avenue promises to make the whole parking/eating/accessibility issue an non-issue in the near future. The days of parking in a convenient spot, grabbing a bite to eat, and hopping the train to BBVA are not too far away.
The general match day scene outside the stadium is nothing to write home about. It isn’t much different from taking in an Astros game, to be honest. Cheerful fans show up on time and without much fuss. The tailgating is surely amplified on a Saturday, but our Friday experience was quiet. The assumption was that it would be inside the stadium that the heat would get turned up.
Did someone mention the heat? And humidity? Oh, well since you’re asking… Houston is legendary for being the world’s largest mouth of a climate (yes, “mouth”, as in a warm, moist bath of petrochemical emissions and oil money). I’ve really got nothing to say about the weather or how it contributed to the atmosphere. Just know that it is a mouthy atmosphere. Very mouthy indeed.
Where was I?
Upon entering the orange plastic and metallic chain-link-ish structure , it was clear that the party happens in the south end supporters section of BBVA Stadium. Granted, it will not bring to mind the Timbers Army, Section 8, or LA Riot Squad any time soon, but their presence elevated the atmosphere from “Astros soccer” to a venue with legitimate energy and passion flowing through the stadium. Now if someone would tell the drumline that breaks for singing and chanting are ok, we’d be onto something.
My biggest atmospheric gripe comes on behalf of the poor souls on the east side of the stadium. At match time, they were still in the blazing sun and the masses of empty orange sherbet-colored seats were a testament to the fact that even Houstonians hate to be broiled alive at sporting events. Could they not have angled the roof over the west side of the stadium in such a way that the setting sun would be blocked from the east stands? This is a legitimate problem they’ll have to work out as I cannot see the season-ticket holders in the fancy seats down there being really happy shelling out big bucks to be in a creamsicle oven 18 times a year.
Inside the stadium, there is the usual stadium fare at the usual Houston prices. I’m pretty sure I signed over rights to my firstborn male child in order to get a RC Cola. And who sells RC Cola? Anyway, the layout was clean and clear and there were ample facilities. For old-school San Antonians, BBVA Stadium is strangely reminiscent of Freeman Coliseum in the concourse layout. There was one simple level for the huddled masses with tunnels to the seating bowl leading up and down from a shared walkway.
I will say that it was a bit impressive for a place to pack in 22,000 so nonchalantly. There was never the sense of crushing crowds or of impending doom, unless you count any time that Macoumba Kandji had the ball in the finishing end of the pitch. (Hey-Oh!)
Houston got this right. They built a gimmicky joke of a baseball stadium, a football stadium that was obsolete as soon as Uncle Jerry up in Arlington put a shovel into the ground, and a basketball arena that…well, the Toyota Center is nice but the Rockets play there.
BBVA Stadium is economical (except for the hot dogs), practical (except that the 9,000 seats on the east side sit on the surface of the sun) , well-located (except that it is in downtown Houston and not San Antonio), and surprisingly good-looking place to see Major League Soccer.
The Crocketteers would be lucky to see such a facility in the long shadow of the Alamo one day. Until then…