[The following is a guest post by UH fan Matthew Cavanaugh.]
The Tom Herman Era of the University of Houston football program has started off with an amazing 12-1 season. Houston, the AAC champion, is headed to the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl, a NY6 bowl, to represent the Group of Five on December 31st. Coach Herman’s success in his first year on Cullen Boulevard has been fuel to the fire of the H-Town Takeover.
Building a Brand Around Houston
The #HtownTakeover hashtag campaign on social media started by Herman and his coaching staff has been a colossal success since it began earlier this year. With a message full of pride and purpose, it tells young high school football players across the Houston metro area, “This is our town, our recruits, our fans, we are taking Houston back and we are going to make Houston proud.” The battle cry has trended nationally on Twitter and helped the official UH account @UHCougarFB get ranked the second best run college football Twitter account by Sports Illustrated. The message has been spread across the country at games, ESPN’s College Gameday, Good Morning America, and Times Square.
Analyzing the Success of the Message
The #HTownTakeover message has been heard, but how well is it working? Could the Monroe Doctrine of Houston work in a city with strong Big 12 roots? How relevant is the city of Houston in college football? Does the Big 12 still control the Houston market now that Texas A&M is in the SEC? Finally, does UH’s success this year give them any shot at joining the Big 12 or another Power Five? These are main questions I will address by taking a look at statistics for the 2016 recruiting class and the TV market.
The rankings data compiled for the state of Texas was taken from ESPN on December 25, 2015 for the recruiting class of 2016. The numbers are a snap shot and may change before signing day on February 3rd, considering there are still thirty-eight undecided recruits.
First, let’s look at the value of college football in the region. The State of Texas has consistently been one of the top producers of football talent in the nation. Texas has 8.5% of total US population and 13.3% of ESPN’s 3, 4, and 5 Star recruits. The state is second only to Florida in the number of top recruits. Houston has a larger population than fifteen states. When looking at the top ten recruits in Texas, UH has two of them and, as a whole, the Big 12 only has two. Both of UH’s are from Houston. Take a look at the image above and see the gold mine the Greater Houston Metropolitan area is in the state of Texas. Roughly a third of the state’s top recruits call the Greater Houston area home. If the Houston Metro was made into a state, it would rank 16th for population and 7th for total 3, 4, and 5 Star recruits. The Greater Houston area has just over twice as many top recruits per capita when compared to the USA. Houston clearly has an abundance of value in the college football market.
The Big 12 Conference has historically dominated everything in the Houston market. This claim has been the main argument against Houston’s candidacy for joining the Big 12. However, 2016 recruiting numbers are starting to call this supremacy into question. ESPN has Houston currently ranked 28th nationally behind Baylor, TCU, and Oklahoma from the Big 12.
Table 2 (below) shows not only that UH has been dominating the recruiting market inside the city limits, but also the apparent mediocre job the Big 12 has done compared to the other Power Five conferences and the AAC. Although the sample size is too small to prove statistical significance, UH managed to obtain the only 5 Star recruit, and is holding its own against the collective teams of the Power Five conferences for 4 and 3 Star recruits as well. It is worth noting that since the start of ESPN’s Star rating system with the 2010 class, no other Group of Five team has ever received a commitment from a 5 Star recruit.
There are nine counties that make up the Greater Houston Metropolitan area. A majority of the future Cougars recruited are from these nine counties. The take away from Table 3. is UH still has a strong presence in the area surrounding Houston. Also, take a look at how the SEC and B12 conferences are doing. They are both a steady presence, but there is no domination by a single conference.
Now look at Texas as a whole in Table 4. The five star recruit who committed to UH is one of only two in the state. Nationally he is ranked Forth of the twelve total 5 Star recruits. The SEC has landed the other one while tying the Big 12 for the top spot in 4 Star recruits. The Big 12 leads the way with over a third of the 3 Stars.
The Big 12 does not appear to be in control of the state at all, and is pretty evenly matched by the SEC. Having four Big 12 schools in-state compared to only one for the SEC has not kept Texas recruits from heading east.
Table 5. takes a look at 4 Star recruiting rates by region and compares them. Recruiting rates are obtained by isolating regions, to prevent overlap. The percentage of total recruits from each region is the rate for that region. The change in rate is found by taking the Houston or Houston Metro rate then subtracting the rate from the remaining portion of Texas to give a positive or negative change. Chi Squared calculations were then used to compare each isolated group in order to determine if the difference in recruiting rates were statistically significant.
The Big 12’s 4 Star recruiting rate takes a steep dive when comparing Houston to the rest of the state. Despite the close proximity of Texas A&M, the SEC fares better in the rest of Texas than the Houston metro. UH has the only statistically significant change, 13.6%, when comparing the two areas. This means that UH’s increased rate could be the reason for the decreased rate for the SEC and Big 12. However, the population size is not large enough to rule out normal ups and downs as the cause for the decrease by the Big 12 or SEC. This does show neither conference has a stronghold in the Houston metro compared to the rest of the state.
Comparing the recruiting rates by region for 3 Star recruits shows a similar results for UH, see Table 6. The Houston Metro has a statistically significant increased rate, 11.5%, for recruiting by UH, and, 8.4%, SEC when compared to the rest of Texas. Interestingly, the Big 10 has also show a statistically significant increase, 8.3%. The Big 12 has a statistically significant and staggering 27.8% decrease in recruiting rate when inside the Houston Metro. This decrease by the Big 12 and increase by the SEC, Big 10, and UH is relevant to not only refuting the Big 12 dominance of the Houston Metro claim, but also swings the pendulum in the opposite direction. This data suggest the Big 12 has a more difficult time recruiting 3 Star recruits in the Houston metro than the rest of Texas.
Table 7. is a combination of all 3, 4, and 5 Stars, or All-Stars, in order to increase the population size and accordingly the power of the stats. The All-Stars show the distribution of the top 226 recruits in Texas. The AAC, UH and the Big 10 have all been shown to have a statically significant increase in recruiting rates in the Houston Metro. The Big 12 had statistically significant, 22.8%, decrease in the Houston Metro and inside Houston city limits, 22.1%. This evidence proves that the Big 12 does not dominate the Houston area market. The SEC has no statistical difference when comparing the regions.
Average Star rating of each recruit for the SEC, Big 12, and UH was calculated for the Houston Metropolitan area, see Table 8. UH has a tie with the SEC for number of recruits, and both are in first place for average star rating. UH and the SEC beat the Big 12 in average star rating. The take away from the data is, the Big 12 has a portion of the Houston Metro market. This portion though is less than a fifth of the market and is hardly considered dominance over the market. UH, on the other hand, is second to no conference in the Greater Houston Metro and is finally getting it’s cut of the superior recruits.
Big 12 fans believe the Houston area belongs to the Big 12 because it actually did, as shown by Table 9. In 2010, before the exodus of Texas A&M, Missouri, Nebraska, and Colorado, the Big 12 owned the recruiting market in the whole state of Texas. This is an example of clear domination. With the Big 12 taking 75% of the state’s 4 and 5 Star recruits while UH was left out.
Take a look at table 10. to see just how much recruiting rates have changed since 2010. The changes are exceptionally evident and show an across the board drop by the Big 12.
Houston TV rating have been taken over by the SEC, shown by Figure 1. Success during the season by UH and the AAC was noticed by fans in Houston. Allowing UH to have three games in the top 20 for the city. With poor performance for the past three years, the Cougars had no momentum going into the season. The momentum gained this year will continue into next season to possibly bring the ratings higher. In the past, when Big 12 teams from Texas or Oklahoma have played UH, the ratings in Houston have done very well. If UH/Temple is in the top 5, it will be interesting to see what the opening game next season is against Oklahoma. Fans crave rivalries. The closer two universities are to each other, the more likely the fans are going to run into each other. This is what gets fans talking and watching the games. There really is no merit to any argument saying UH has nothing more to offer the Big 12 in the Houston TV market.
According to a 2011 article from the NY Times, Houston ranked 8th in college football television markets with 1.64 million fans or 28% of the 5.92 million people living in the Houston TV market. However, as we have seen, a lot can change in 5 years. One of the most notable is the Houston Metro has been one of the fastest growing cities since the 2010 census. The newest population numbers are 6.62 million people. The 700 thousand increase in population is why the Houston Metro currently has the fastest growth rate in the country . With the assumption of constant fan percentages and comparing its growth to others on the list, the Houston Metro would now rank 5th in the nation.
As you can see from the numbers, things have changed in Houston. There are many causes for the change and #HTownTakeover is one of them. College football in the Houston Metro was affected by the defection of Texas A&M to the SEC more than anything. This has left Houston torn between conferences. One strong conference was able to dominate the Houston market, dividing the majority of recruits between 12 teams. With the SEC jumping into the picture, now the market is divided between the 24 teams of both conferences. Dividing the region between the two has spread the fan base and recruits too thin. Leaving the door wide open for UH or even the Big 10 to step in as the alternative.
Hopefully, you did not get lost in all of the numbers. If you did, well, rest assured the future is looking bright for UH: We have a coach who has decided to stay in Houston, a 12-1 football team, a phenomenal recruiting class, and a NY6 bowl all with our university in the center of a city whose size and influence is rapidly growing. Not to mention a city whose allegiance to the Big 12 has been cut. Leaving recruits and fans searching for a university to call their own. #HTownTakeover is asking, “Why not Houston? Why not the place you call home?” To the Big 12 it says, “This is our town now. If you want it back, your best bet is through the University of Houston.”
The 2015 season has proven that a successful UH football season can produce a top 25 recruiting class and multiple top 20 Houston TV ratings. There is only one plausible reason for such a ground breaking reaction to the success of a Group of Five team. Which has to be because both new fans and recruits have joined in on #HTownTakeover. Houstonians are proud of their city and want UH to succeed. Now all UH has to do is continue to succeed. Sooner or later, a Power Five conference is going to see the enormous potential of the Houston market. The statement that #HTownTakeover has made in just one year, is only the beginning. The University of Houston appears destined for greatness