Chris Del Conte believes University of Texas home football games should be fun. They should be memorable events. “It’s a feeling of, ‘Wow, that was awesome. Can’t wait for next Saturday,’ ” he said.
Ever since getting the job in December, the new Texas athletic director has been laser-focused on ramping up the game-day experience at Royal-Memorial Stadium. His vision of the newly created Bevo Boulevard will spring to life Saturday before UT hosts Tulsa at 7 p.m.
Del Conte surprised some Texas fans last spring just by mentioning he wanted to remove all cars from San Jacinto Boulevard, the street that runs along the stadium’s western edge. He wanted to create a game-day carnival, similar to Frog Alley at TCU, Del Conte’s previous school.
When it was announced at the Dallas stop of the This is Texas Tour in May, the room broke out in spontaneous applause.
According to Saturday’s schedule, Texas officials have something planned from 2 p.m. until midnight — win, lose or draw. Rain or shine. There’s a 60 percent chance of showers, but it’ll be hard to rain on Del Conte’s parade.
A pregame concert on the LBJ Lawn, interactive games, autograph sessions with other UT athletes, five food trucks and street vendors selling $5 beer? That’s a radical change from years past. Texas has come a long way from Jet Pack Guy.
A game ticket is not required to attend the pregame festivities.
“We’re rolling this out, and I’m super excited,” Del Conte said. “We’re going to have some mishaps, and people are going to take me to the woodshed. But the goal is to try something awesome, and it’s going to take us two or three years to truly perfect it.”
Del Conte hired a trusted lieutenant from TCU, Drew Martin, to oversee his ambitious project. Officially, Martin has a lengthy title: executive senior associate athletics director for external affairs. In short, Martin is responsible for Bevo Boulevard and the in-game fan experience, too.
“Did you have fun?” Martin said of his mission. “I want you to say yes.”
It all begins with a new entrance for Bevo XV, the team’s live mascot. He will arrive at the corner of San Jacinto Boulevard and East 20½ Street approximately 3½ hours before kickoff, starting a parade of sorts at 3:30 p.m. by walking the street to the stadium’s southwest gate.
At 4:30 p.m., the football team will arrive at the stadium’s northwest corner and walk south on Bevo Boulevard though the crowd. It’s an opportunity for high-fives tailor made for fans and television cameras. The past four seasons, UT players arrived via bus, walked briefly down DeLoss Dodds Way and made a left turn into the stadium’s north gate.
Players will walk past the UT alumni center and the new location for 104.9 The Horn’s pregame radio show. “The fans that are coming in from out of town, they’ll get to experience a little slice of Austin,” said Erin Hogan, the radio station’s program director. “I think it will be impressive to road fans; I really do.”
At 5 p.m., Jimmie Vaughan is scheduled to take the stage in what Del Conte calls Longhorn City Limits, an homage to the city’s famous concert series. The Nightowls serve as the opening act at 3 p.m. The school has turned concert planning over to C3 Presents, the same local outfit that produces the Austin City Limits Music Festival.
“We’re trying to make sure that we’re hitting all the musical taste that we can,” Martin said. The pregame concert performers for next week’s game against USC will be announced Saturday.
After the game, UT students are encouraged to return to the LBJ Lawn for a silent disco until midnight. For parents who don’t know what that is, ask your kids.
What’s an Austin scene without food trucks? Stacked Sliders, Dock & Roll, mmmpanadas, the Mighty Cone and East Side Kings will have food trucks parked along Bevo Boulevard.
Three bars will be set up, and 10 street vendors will walk around hawking drinks. Domestic beer and wine spritzers are $5 and premium beer brands are $6 up until kickoff.
Del Conte also promised lower concession prices when fans actually get inside the stadium. Fountain drinks, bottled water, candy and popcorn are now $3. Hot dogs and nachos are $4. “We tried to think like a family and what you’d be spending,” Martin said.
Standing at the concession lines, fans may hear some familiar voices. School officials have recorded new welcome and thank-you messages to be played on the concourse speakers. Martin wants to splice in some of broadcaster Craig Way’s best radio play-by-play calls as time goes on.
Del Conte and Martin have no control over what happens on the field. But they have radically changed the in-game presentation, something fans have wanted for years.
Del Conte said when he arrived, the in-game script was two dozen pages or more. Now, it’s down to one. “Front and back,” he said. Martin said he hired Jeremy Armstrong, who oversaw game presentation for the Dallas Cowboys, to run UT’s operations.
To hear Del Conte and Martin tell it, the number of loud commercials on the video board will be cut down dramatically. Armstrong will have the authority to delay commercials, cue the band and keep the energy going if the game situation warrants it.
This was so important, Del Conte called for a construction crew to come into the stadium and move the production unit to a press box suite with an open-air window.
“How on earth do you know how the crowd is feeling if you can’t hear it?” Martin said. “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?”
Bevo XV will have a spotlight moment during the pregame singing of “The Eyes of Texas,” and players will enter to a shorter, reworked hype video.
How will anyone know any of these changes will work? You’ll probably be able to feel it.
“Winning cures a lot of things; we know that,” Del Conte said. “My job is outside of what goes on on the field. My job is to create a completely different environment for the fans for their enjoyment and experience.
“Bevo Boulevard, we’re launching this thing, and I can’t wait.”
Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email email@example.com.