Fertitta Center – Houston Cougars
Photos by Eric Moreno, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.86
Fertitta Center 3875 Holman St Houston, TX 77004
Year Opened: 1969 Capacity: 7,100
Houston Cougars – Fertitta Center
The Houston Cougars have one of the most storied programs in men’s basketball history. All-time great players like Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler (both members of the legendary “Phi Slamma Jamma” teams), Elvin Hayes, Otis Birdsong, and “Sweet” Lou Dunbar are all counted among the school’s illustrious alumni.
They began playing hoops in Houston in time for the 1945-46 season as members of the then Lone Star Conference. They wouldn’t start seeing true success until 10 years later when Guy V. Lewis took over as head coach, a post he would hold until 1986. They would make the NCAA Tournament’s Final Four five times (they would make another trip in 2021) and were runners-up to the National Championship in 1983 and 1984.
For much of their successful history, the Cougars called Hofheinz Pavilion their home. Named for longtime U of H alum and booster Judge Roy H. Hofheinz, the arena underwent a $60 million renovation in 2017 that was partly funded by Coogs alum and current owner of the Houston Rockets, Tilman J. Fertitta. The upgrades completely transformed the arena and have made it truly one-of-a-kind. Read on to learn more about what makes the Cougars’ Den special.
Food & Beverage 4
When it comes to concessions, the Fertitta Center has pretty much everything you could want as a sports fan. There are four main stands, two on each side of the arena with one at each end. There are also free-standing kiosks throughout, primarily selling beer ($9 for domestic bottles and cans), but there is also a Chick-fil-A stand that sells signature sandwiches, chips, lemonade, and cookies.
The four stands each offer something unique, though they all offer traditional gameday foods. Two stands sell hot dogs and chili cheese dogs ($5 and $7, respectively), along with pretzel bites ($5), fountain drinks (the souvenir cup comes with a “sip” lid that doesn’t require a straw, which is a nice feature), popcorn, and candy. One stand sells chopped barbecue sandwiches with potato chips as a combo meal ($12) along with “regular” and chili cheese nachos ($6 and $9), as well as pretzel bites, candy, sodas, etc.
The final stand is a Fuddruckers burger stand. The legendary, Texas-based chain brings its signature burgers and chicken sandwiches ($10 for a burger, $12.50 with chips, or $9 for a chicken sandwich, $11.50 with chips). This was a welcome surprise, for me and I’d recommend partaking in one if you’ve never had a Fuddruckers burger before.
The upgrades that have been made in Houston to the Fertitta Center make this place something special. I’ve never been to any of the sacred spaces in college football, but if you would have told me that this was a smaller-sized NBA arena I would have believed you.
Houston has done a great job of creating a distinct home-court advantage for their Coogs. It starts right at the very beginning of the game, too. The game I attended was a Black Out and the school handed out limited edition black t-shirts to the fans. Fans are also encouraged to download the Houston Cougars athletics app as they play a part in the player introductions, which goes as follows – after a pretty impressive LED show that is projected onto the court itself, the Houston Light Show starts. This activates the flashlights on everyone’s cellphones (those who have the app open) in a flashing effect. When the lights go down, it is something to see.
The Cougars also do a lot to honor their past. From the rafters, you can see the banners of their conference championships and tournament appearances, as well as the retired jersey numbers of their greatest players. Near the main entrance, you can also find the Houston Cougars Wall of Excellence, a photo collage of all the greatest moments in school history, as well as a collection of their championship trophies.
Lastly, near the Fuddruckers stand is the Cub Zone – this interactive area was designed for younger fans. It has games and activities to keep children entertained during lulls in the game, and there’s also an area for them to make signs they can hold up during the game.
The Fertitta Center is located on the campus of the University of Houston and is in the middle of its impressive sports complex. It is within eyesight and walking distance of both TDECU Stadium and Schroeder Park, which are both top-notch facilities in their own right. If you time your visit right, you might be able to double-dip and catch another Cougars game during your visit to Space City.
In terms of attractions, there is a plethora of things to do in Houston. If you are into museums, the Houston Museum of Natural Science, Museum of Fine Arts Houston, and Children’s Museum of Houston are all world-class facilities and are all short drives to the arena. I’d also recommend paying a visit to the Houston Zoo if you have time in your schedule, as that is one of the finest in the country.
For restaurants in the area, as the Fertitta Center is – again – on the U of H campus, you’re not going to get many options outside of fast food franchises. The closest options you have if you want to eat before or after games are Maga’s Restaurant, which serves burgers, sandwiches, and Mexican specialties; also nearby is Mandola’s Deli, a traditional Italian-style deli serving up all the classics. However, this being Houston, one of the most diverse cities in the country, you can find something for whatever your tastebuds are craving 24 hours a day, no matter what your budget.
Lodging options are in a similar boat as the dining options; however, there are a few choices that are within a short drive of the arena. One is 24 hours a day at Hilton University of Houston, basically on campus at the University of Houston; this is your closest but not the only option. Also nearby is the Scott Inn & Suites – Downtown Houston. Not as upscale as the Hilton, of course, but it may be more budget-friendly. Again, as with the dining options, Houston has tons of options for you.
The Cougars have seen a resurgence in talent in recent seasons and that has translated into winning on the court. The winning has translated into a surge in fans pouring into the newly renovated Fertitta Center. This season, the Cougars are averaging over 7,000 fans, and that crowd energy is palpable throughout the arena.
This was probably the best college basketball crowd I have ever seen in person. From the opening tip to the final buzzer they were loud, they were engaged, and they were a factor in the game. The student section was packed, and they were noisy and on their feet for the entire game. It wasn’t just the student section either; this is a passionate fan base enjoying a return to the glory days. This adds up to a great home-court advantage for the Coogs and a great atmosphere for fans.
I have admittedly bemoaned the traffic situation in H-town in a lot of my reviews, but I won’t do that here though. Fertitta Center and the University of Houston’s sports complex are located off Interstate 45. It is a 10-minute drive from Houston’s downtown area, making it a three-hour drive from both San Antonio and Austin.
If you choose not to drive, the arena is 30 minutes from George Bush Intercontinental Airport and an 18-minute trip from William P. Hobby Airport. Also, the Houston METRORail has a line that makes a stop right on campus, which offers visitors a short walk to the arena if they choose not to drive.
Once on-site there is a parking garage directly across Holman Street for visitors that is your best bet for easy access. However, it will cost you $30. Other lots on campus have varying costs depending on how far you are willing to walk, though, and some are even free.
Return on Investment 4
Single-game tickets for Cougars games at the Fertita Center start at $25 per person. Costs have steadily risen since the renovations and as the team’s fortunes have turned in recent seasons. This is to be expected.
It can also be expected to continue this trend with the school’s move to the Big 12 in the coming years. However, with the facilities, the atmosphere, and the level of competition that the Cougars are bringing in, this isn’t too far-fetched a price to pay.
Concessions costs are pretty commensurate with other big-time college programs. It’s not cheap, but again, it is on par with other schools. Parking costs are a little on the high side, but there are other options if choose not to go that route.
They pull out all the traditional bells and whistles for games at the Fertitta Center. The Spirit of Houston Marching Band is on hand playing throughout the game. Also rooting for the Coogs are the award-winning Cougar Dolls Dance Team, the University of Houston Cheerleaders, and the school’s costumed mascots Shasta and Sasha. What puts this score really over the top are the extras like the Cubs Den and the Light Show. These are atypical of your standard college experience and go to show what a first-class facility that the Fertitta Center is.
There is no way other way of saying it but that I was flat-out impressed by what I saw at the Fertitta Center. I think it was personally the best college basketball experience that I have taken part in. The renovations have given the Cougars facilities which are on par with anyone in the country. It’s great to see the fans back and passionate about the program, as well. If you’re a college hoops fan, this is a stop you should add to your bucket list, as it has to be seen to be believed.