Getting into a University of Houston football game is usually as easy as walking up to the box office a few minutes before the game and asking for a ticket. If you're lucky, you might run into someone handing out ducats for free before even getting to that booth.
Robertson Stadium is typically as welcoming as a time share salesman. Anything to get you in the door.
Even just a few weeks ago when UH played city rival Rice in a Thursday night game, signs all over campus urged students to come out, noting they could attend the game for free.
"This is the hottest ticket at UH since Texas Tech came to town (in 2009) and it wouldn't shock me to see this game go above $200 each," Pat Ryan says.
But that was then.
Now . . . well now, Case Keenum and The Coogs suddenly find themselves the hottest ticket in the city. With ESPN's College GameDay in town and a clear path to a BCS bowl set up for No. 11 Houston thanks to TCU's upset of Boise State, interest in the Saturday afternoon regular season home finale against SMU has skyrocketed.
"Tickets on the secondary market jumped within hours of the GameDay announcement from $35 each to $90 each," Pat Ryan, the co-owner of The Ticket Experience, a Houston-based ticket broker, tells CultureMap.
Now, the lowest-priced tickets for the game shown on The Ticket Experience's site are going for $122. And UH-SMU tickets are running even higher on national ticket brokers. StubHub had several 100-level (the field side seats in the rather intimate Robertson) tickets priced at more than $300 dollars Wednesday night. By Thursday afternoon, all those seats were gone.
"This is the hottest ticket at UH since Texas Tech came to town (in 2009) and it wouldn't shock me to see this game go above $200 each," Ryan says.
Suddenly, everyone wants to jump on the bandwagon of a 10-0 team that will be going to the Sugar, Orange or Fiesta Bowl if it wins its final three games — starting with Saturday's matchup against SMU (6-4). Sports Illustrated predicts that Case and The Coogs will beat the Mustangs "by four touchdowns" in this week's issue.
For a team that's scored 73 points in two of its last three games, that doesn't seem very farfetched.
Still, Ryan says it's the GameDay hoopla as much as anything that's driven demand. Even though Lee Corso, Erin Andrews and the rest of the gang won't even be at Robertson Stadium itself (GameDay has set up on the lawn at Cullen Circle next to the University Center rather than by the stadium), the added national attention has spiked local interest.
"This game caught everyone off guard and then GameDay got announced after there were so few tickets on the market," Ryan explains.
Part of what's keeping the supply of available tickets so low — and driving prices for the best ones that are available into the $300 range — is the fact that many longer-standing Cougar fans (i.e. people who knew about the team before Monday) appear to be holding onto their tickets. That's something that has to warm UH coach Kevin Sumlin's heart.
Sumlin's often pleaded for big crowds this season and he made a pointed pitch about the passion that needs to be on display this Senior Day Saturday immediately after Houston blew out Tulane in its last game.
Still, the guys who make their money monitoring the ticket markets expect this to largely be a one-time UH ticket comet. Even though Keenum and the Cougars will host 9-1 Southern Mississippi, the only other ranked Conference USA team, in the Conference USA Championship Game on Dec. 3 if they beat SMU Saturday and Tulsa on the road the day after Thanksgiving, Ryan doesn't expect the ticket demand for that game to be nearly as frenzied.
There should be more tickets available closer to that game — and people do not figure to be as caught off guard.
"Keep in mind that while this (Saturday) is a 'hot ticket' by UH standards ... most lower level yard-line seats for UT and (Texas) A&M home games sell for well more," Ryan says. "It’s all relative."
A good seat to Cougars football game typically carries a face value of only $45 though, making a jump into the $200-plus range a relative rocket. That's part of becoming a big-time program too.