To say that the University of Houston football program has a nagging attendance problem would be an understatement. For having an enrollment in excess of 33,000 students (the third-largest university in the state behind Texas and Texas A&M) and being located in the fourth-largest city in the United States, attendance at UH sporting events such as football simply sucks. Of the 117 schools currently playing division I-A football, Houston ranks towards the bottom in terms of attendance, with higher crowd numbers than a handful of schools, like Akron or Louisiana-Monore, but with gameday crowds well below those of other urban public schools like Louisville or Memphis and nowhere near those of flagship state schools like Texas or Louisiana State. Many seasons, schools like Michigan or Tennessee will attract more fans to see a single game than the University of houston will attract in an entire season of five or six home games.
Several reasons have been postulated for Houston's poor performance at the ticket office, such as the fact that Houston is a lousy, fair-weather sports town in general or the fact that the University of Houston has too many non-traditional, apathetic students in particular, and attendance-related laments are common on message boards such as Coogfans.com. The poor attendance is of serious concern, because fewer fans mean less revenue for an athletics department that is already facing serious budget shortfalls.
What's the best way to increase attendance at UH football games? Several lengthy manifests have been written over the years on the various UH message boards about this subject, with solutions ranging from increasing the number of students living on campus to moving home games to Reliant Stadium to embarking on an extensive (and expensive) city-wide advertising blitz. This being a fair-weather sports town like Houston, however, the fact is that the best way to get fans to see your team play is to win. And lately, the Cougars just haven't been winning.
The University of Houston football program has enjoyed only 9 non-losing seasons out of the last 20. During that time they have gone to only five bowl games (including last year's Fort Worth Bowl) and have not won any of them. The Coogs have not ended the season ranked in the Top 25 since 1990. They haven't beaten a ranked opponent at home since 1996 and haven't beaten a ranked opponent on the road since 1984. Quite simply, there hasn't been much about UH football for local fans to get excited about over the last two decades. Interest did pick up and attendance did briefly increase during the short-lived run-and-shoot days of the late 80s, but during the 1990s the program stagnated once again, the losses mounted and the crowds disappeared. Clearly, if this program is to survive, something has to change.
This graph, which shows season wins and average attendance for UH football since 1965, indicates a clear correlation between winning and crowds. When the Coogs win, as they did in the late 60s and through the 70s, people come see them play. When they don't, as during the 1990s, people stay home.