Chris Del Conte was hired away from TCU to Texas to do a number of things, but perhaps the assignment he’s embraced with the most zeal is changing the game day atmosphere at Royal-Memorial Stadium.
There’s an obvious reason for this. Football is the engine of the athletics department, and football games are the biggest opportunities you’re going to get to retain old fans and cultivate new ones. At the same time, fewer fans are buying tickets these days, and plenty of those who do don’t use them.
Del Conte can’t fix the product on the field, but he’s in charge of everything else.
First, the in-stadium experience. He’s dropped concession prices and recorded new messages to play over the loudspeakers inside the concourses to welcome fans. But it does far beyond that. Texas’s ability to print money has been a blessing to athletics department officials, but too often it was a weapon used against fans, as the school used TV timeouts to treat the crowd like a captive audience for live commercial breaks — filling the school’s piggy bank while deafening any semblance of atmosphere inside the stadium. (And Texas isn’t a school that needs to step on its own feet in this department.)
Del Conte was so serious about fixing this, according to the Austin American-Statesman, he hired a construction crew to move the crew in charge of in-game experience from the glassed-off press box to an open air suite. “How on earth do you know how the crowd is feeling if you can’t hear it?” Del Conte’s deputy Drew Martin, who followed him from TCU, told the Statesman. “How do you know if the students are cheering? How do you know the crowd is chanting ‘Texas Fight’ if you can’t hear it?”
But most of Del Conte and Martin’s work has been focused on the atmosphere outside the stadium. Texas will clear all vehicles on San Jacinto Boulevard, the street running outside the west grandstands at DKR, and turn it into Bevo Boulevard, a replica of the Frog Alley space Del Conte created at TCU.
Bevo Boulevard will be a carnival celebrating all things UT and Austin. It’s where Bevo will make his grand entrance for each game, and the team will change its pre-game walk route to increase its interaction with fans. On top of that, Texas athletes from other sports will be on hand to sign autographs.
But it’s far more than that. Del Conte hired the same firm that books acts for Austin City Limits to find musical groups to conduct live concerts, a number of Austin food trucks will be brought in and, most importantly, there will be alcohol for sale. Three separate bars will serve fans all the fun juice they can buy.
Obviously, a winning product is the elixir that cures all problems, but the Texas home crowd was never confused for LSU, even in the good days. Del Conte has pulled out all the stops here.
Saturday’s launch probably won’t revolutionize the Texas game day experience by itself. A forecast calling for a 60 percent chance of rain and last week’s loss to Maryland will dampen the appetite for Texas football tailgating — literally and figuratively. But, in time, this idea will work, and work to the point where everyone wonders why it took so long to launch Bevo Boulevard in the first place.