- Lloyd Brown
NRG Stadium – Houston Texans
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.67
NRG Stadium One Reliant Park Houston, TX 77054
Year Opened: 2002
Texans Game Plan to Steer Clear of COVID-19
Before we get started, we want to note that this review is reflective of the circumstances of the 2020 season only, as the pandemic has forced stadiums throughout the NFL to implement a number of COVID-19 safety protocols to protect both the fans and the players. While many fans with high risk medical issues may want to avoid the stadiums this year, our experience at NRG Stadium felt very safe as long as you follow the usual COVID protocols of wearing a mask, frequently washing your hands, using hand sanitizer, and practice social distancing. This review will cover the protocols in place at NRG Stadium. We all have been socially isolated during this year and going to a live sports event is a great way to relieve the stress that we all have experienced. Hopefully by the 2021 season, The NFL experience will return to a sense of normalcy.
Football returned to the Houston area in 2002 after the departure of the Houston Oilers to Tennessee in 1997. The Texans made their debut in the brand-new Reliant Stadium (now NRG Stadium) with a capacity for 72,220. During the 2020 season, the pandemic protocols limit the seating capacity to 20% of capacity, or 13,300 fans. The stadium is located in the southeastern section of Houston, and features a retractable roof that protects fans from the heat and humidity of early fall games and the heavy rains that occur frequently due to the city’s proximity to the Gulf of Mexico.
NRG Stadium offers some Texas-sized features, including two huge end zone scoreboard displays, a 360-degree LED light display on the front of the upper deck and 196 suites on four different seating levels. If you need to head down to the concession stand or the restroom you will not miss any of the action, as the stadium is outfitted with more than 1,500 flat screen TV’s throughout the facility. The Bud Light Plaza offers pregame entertainment, although this has been limited in 2020 due to social distancing protocols. NRG Stadium is unique in that it has two major tenants, the Texans and the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, the city’s largest single special event held each year in the off season. This is one of the main reasons that bull imagery is used on all Texans merchandise and signs in the stadium. (Aisle signage references Stall #’s.)
Food & Beverage 4
You will have no doubts that you are in Texas when you see the concession offerings at NRG Stadium. The stands include H-Town Classics, Killens BBQ and Lone Star Favorites, Sure Fire Tacos and Tortillas, Gringo’s and the Gridiron Grab and Go. You will want to keep your mobile device charged and the Texans mobile app downloaded, as all concession orders are being handled digitally this 2020 season. You simply go to menu offerings, place your order and the device will let you know where the closest stand offering that item is located and when it is ready to be picked up.
There are more than 500 sanitizing stations throughout the stadium to clean your hands before you eat. This prevents having long lines at the stands and allows for social distancing. All transactions in the stadium, from the team store to concessions are handled on a cashless basis, so make sure you have your debit/credit card handy. There will be no roving vendors coming through the stands this 2020 season.
The Texans offer some great traditions that are still in place despite the pandemic. They have their own touchdown anthem, “Football Time in Texas,” as well as the crowd pleasing “Deep in the Heart of Texas,” which is sung multiple times during the game, with its signature clapping during the refrain. (I think it is a required part of the curriculum in Texas schools!) Another cheer begins with the PA announcer saying “It’s another Texans” …. and the crowd responds, “first down!” The team has one of the better mascots in the league, TORO the Bull, who roams the stands throughout the game.
Some of the color and pageantry is missing from games due to COVID precautions. Only players, coaches and referees are allowed on the playing field. This means there is no giant Texans flag unfurled on the field during pregame ceremonies and the cheerleaders are not allowed on the sidelines. TORO and the cheerleaders perform from the “Bullpen Box” in the stands this season.
At halftime, there is no on field entertainment, so highlights from the other NFL games underway are shown on the big screens. The stadium attempts to keep these traditions alive through videos shown on the huge video screens, but it is not quite the same as the in-person experience.
NRG Stadium is located on the SE side of Houston, just off the south loop of I-610. It is part of a complex known as NRG Park. The Park includes NRG Stadium, the NRG Arena (which holds 8,000 and is used mostly for smaller concerts and the Houston Rodeo), NRG Center (a convention center) and the Astrodome (the first domed stadium in the world) which is currently being redeveloped as an exhibit/special events center. The stadium is located near the Museum District, which includes everything from fine arts to children’s museums to a medical museum. Buffalo Bayou Park is located along a nearby river where you and your family can enjoy any number of water and nature-related activities.
There are some excellent restaurants located in the stadium area. These include local favorites Pappas BBQ and Captain Benny’s (fresh seafood from the Gulf of Mexico.)
The Houston fanbase is one of the most rabid in the NFL, as football in Texas is a religion, and NRG Stadium is their church each Sunday. In any normal season, NRG Stadium would be filled for each home game. The Texans’ fans are easy to spot, as they wear every manner of clothing in the team’s colors of red, white and blue. The Texans have earned their loyalty, as they are always in the hunt for a playoff spot, with 6 divisional titles under their belt. The team is also blessed with some fan favorites, including Deshaun Watson on offense and J.J. Watt on defense.
The most hardcore fans are known as The Bullpen and are seated behind the north end zone. They are noted for their outrageous attire, including all manner of horned headgear, red, white and blue clothing and painted faces. Even though the pandemic protocols have thinned the herd somewhat this season, they still manage to create a very loud presence to distract the visiting teams.
NRG Stadium offers excellent accessibility, especially with the limited seating measures in place this season. The stadium is conveniently located off South Loop of I-60. It offers more than 26,000 parking spaces, meaning you will find no problem in finding a parking space. In a non-COVID season the lots are filled with the aroma of BBQ and other Texas-sized pregame meals, but tailgating is not allowed due to safety measures in 2020. There is also a METRORail Station (Stadium Park/Astrodome Station) located just outside of the stadium. It is located on the Red Line of the light rail system.
There are also numerous hotels located within walking distance of NRG Stadium, as NRG Park also has convention facilities and it is also near Houston’s huge Medical District.
Even though the crowd size is only 20% of normal, you will want to get to the stadium early. Gates open two hours before kickoff. In addition to the regular security measures the NFL has in place, you will go through a short medical screening which includes a temperature check and you will need to practice social distancing. All ticketing is done digitally on your phone, so it is a touch-free experience. At the end of the game, fans will be asked to exit by section, so that there is no crowding at the gates.
Return on Investment 4
The cost of attending a Texan’s game is highly variable this season. Ticket prices will depend on who the opponent is, as most tickets this season come through the resale market. A game featuring Dallas, New England or a divisional rival will drive up the ticket price dramatically. For less desirable games, the ticket range falls between $60 – $200 depending on the seat location. All seats are sold in pods of 2-4 tickets, with the pods socially distanced in the stadium. You should limit your pod to family or other people you know very well.
Parking has become cheaper at the stadium ($20), as there are plenty of spaces available due to the attendance limits and the tailgating prohibition measures in place. If you decide to take public transit to the game, the METRORail fare is only $1.25 per ride. You can still expect the concession prices to be at a regular NFL price…. expensive. Hint: The best prices in the stadium can be found at the HTX Markets located throughout the stadium.
NRG Stadium was the first stadium in the NFL with a retractable roof. It takes only seven minutes to open/close the roof.
The home of the Texans stays busy throughout the year, as it hosts the Houston Stock and Livestock Show and Rodeo, the Texas Bowl, the annual Rice-Houston college football game, concerts and other special events. It has hosted two Super Bowls, two NCAA Final Fours (with another one scheduled for 2023) and is scheduled to host the 2024 College Playoff National Championship Game.
Be sure to take a walk around the exterior of the stadium prior to the game. The Texans have an impressive set of Bull-themed statuary stationed at different points on the fan plaza
It takes a little time to get use to the “new normal” of being at a live sporting event during the pandemic. However, a visit to NRG Stadium and a Texan’s game is a great way to break away from the cabin fever you have been experiencing throughout 2020. There is nothing that can replace the experience of being there in person and feeling the energy of the game…. and that’s no bull!