The post was updated on May 9 at 5:40 p.m.
The night was Feb. 11, 2015.
Like the rest of the fans in Pauley Pavilion’s student section, I too was cheering as loudly as ever when Oregon State’s junior point guard Gary Payton II approached the free throw line after missing his first attempt.
To the disdain of all Yogurtland employees, Payton II missed his next free throw shot, causing everyone in the crowd to get a coupon for a free yogurt.
What I noticed the most when Payton II stepped up to the line was that Pauley Pavilion – the home of the school with 11 basketball national championships – was less than half full and that its students cared more about getting a free frozen dessert than their team beating a conference opponent.
Fast forward a year to the 2015-2016 season, and you see that the UCLA basketball team is still plagued by the problem of having crowds that are either disconnected from the game – or worse, not even there.
Pauley Pavilion averaged 8,073 fans at its home game during the 2015-2016 season, filling up roughly 59 percent of the available seats. This number plummets even lower without the impressive showings against Kentucky and Arizona.
Of the 17 home games, nine of them saw crowds with less than 6,900 fans, or less than 50 percent of Pauley Pavilion’s capacity.
The Bruins’ poor season did account for some of the blame behind student’s lack of motivation to attend games. Still, UCLA has winning percentage of .619 under Steve Alford and has gone to the NCAA tournament in two of his three seasons.
You might now be asking yourself, what happened to the school that once reached a national championship and saw home games average over 10,000 fans during the Ben Howland era?
The answer to this question isn’t simple, but the majority of the burden falls on UCLA Athletics and how they have chosen to focus on money rather than providing the best possible fan experience for students.
I decided to compare UCLA to the University of Florida, another school that had a dominant basketball program during the mid-to-late 2000s but has struggled recently. Florida defeated UCLA in the 2006 National Championship and has been UCLA’s Achilles heel in postseason basketball.
For University of Florida students, the price of admission to a home basketball game is included as a student fee; they have 900 seats reserved alongside the court for students. At UCLA, students must purchase a Den pass for $169 and are allotted only 408 seats alongside the court.
Casual fans of Bruin basketball are better off watching the game on television rather than paying close to $200 to be shoved into the uppermost seats behind the visitor’s hoop.
UCLA could help improve the student experience by expanding the amount of seats available in the court side sections of 113 to 117. UCLA Athletics has also said it has expanded the student section capacity in the past and the majority of the lower bowl seats are reserved for students. This will undoubtedly lose the program money in the meantime, but it could help increase the amount of donors that the Athletic department has in the future.
In a survey conducted by the Daily Bruin at the end of March, 70 of the 100 students polled were unable to name Alford as the head coach of the UCLA men’s basketball team. And although 100 students might not necessarily represent the entire 42,000-member student body, its not hard to see that UCLA has diverged from the path taken by Florida, Kentucky and other big-name basketball schools. They’ve allowed for their students to become oblivious to a program that is among the best of all time.
If UCLA truly hopes to improve its student spirit at games, it should focus on putting them closer to the action and providing them with something they can’t see by pushing four buttons on a remote.