I am writing this post because frankly I am upset with the one-sided opposition that has formed in response to the news about the Pauley seating configuration when it opens in 2012. Most arguments against the manner have been based on an immediate emotional response to a decision that took over 8 months to make. I have read many of the posts and comments over the first 48 hours, and got so overwhelmed that I deemed in necessary to post as someone with knowledge and influence on the actual decision.
I am also posting as a student on behalf of the students because this blog has had a history of ripping students and/or generalizing what they think. Even compared to last year, the UCLA student fan base has vastly changed and continues to rapidly change over time. I have met and discussed some of these issues with people like Nestor, and we worked out some of our misunderstandings between the older bloggers on this site (mainly UCLA alumni) and current student bloggers. However, especially throughout the course of this past basketball season, this understanding has been withering at a rapid pace. But that is a whole different beast and certainly not one that I will attempt to tackle in this post.
In this post I will attempt to explain the problems with "current" (now past) student section, the "infamous" survey, and how the new-Pauley environment will benefit the student experience.
***Problems with the Current Student Section***
There were many problems with the student section at basketball games as viewed from someone that has been part of it for the last 5 years. The first that comes to mind, and has been mentioned in many previous posts on BN, is attendance. Let’s face it. UCLA students do not attend basketball games, or most sporting events, like they used to. Heck, with a 27% drop in average attendance since 2007-2008 season, the same could be said about the entire UCLA fan base. In my first two years as a student, we reached the Final Four in both years. The student section was packed for every game, even the preseason and pre-Pac10 games. Students were excited to be there, were very involved in the game, and created an unstoppable environment. Since the Kevin Love and Russell Westbrook break-out season, student attendance has dramatically dropped. IT’S UCLA! THE MOST HISTORIED PROGRAM IN THE NATION! It just takes one glance into the rafters to realize that we are unlike other programs, most of which celebrate a conference title with banners.
But why aren’t students attending games? Well, it was once blamed on the student ticket situation, but with the new ticket package this year, that doesn’t explain the problem. Frankly I think of several reasons. UCLA has been the most popular college in the nation for the past few years, and the caliber of students coming in is always high. Honestly speaking, I came to UCLA because of the sports. I have been a fan for most of my life (thanks to my oldest brother who attended law school here), and I knew that no other university would fill my passion for sports. Yes, having an aerospace engineering program was important to me, but I knew that many of my memorable college experiences would be made at athletic events. With that in mind, I have never missed a basketball game before a midterm or final (including the Montana game, where I had 2 back-to-back finals the next day, not to mention that I spent the entire previous day at the Rose Bowl). There are probably only a handful of students, if any, that have been more dedicated than I have been during my UCLA career. But nowadays, most students that come to UCLA aren’t like me. They choose UCLA for its academic excellence, and with that in mind, sports come second to that. But you can’t really argue with them. It is a point that we often stress with our athletes being students first and foremost, and likewise, students here should be academically sound before the even consider attending athletic events. Other reasons for lack of attendance may include the caliber of our team, the caliber of the teams we play, and many other numerous and unique situations.
The next problems with the current student section are the spread-out nature of the floor-level seating and the split sections. If you have recently attended a basketball game, you probably noticed how horrible the students sound on offense. A cheer like "UC-LA" and "Let’s Go Bruins" seems simple enough, but with how spread out the section is, these cheers become quickly out of synch and rushed. A chant starting on one end breaks down by the time it gets to the band. Yell Crew and The Den have tried to tackle this problem for several years, but nothing seems to work. Also, the split seating makes it impossible for any sort of synchronous cheering or energy, and most would consider the upper section to be not part of "The Den." Throughout my career, I have met many people that would rather not attend the games than to sit in the upper areas (which, if you have a late midterm, is the only option for students). I personally have never been up there, but have heard that the energy is non-existent and that standing is a frowned upon action. Why would someone want to be part of this atmosphere, especially for students that have experienced the raucous and awesome nature of the bottom section? Well it doesn’t take an engineer to crunch the numbers and realize that, on a fully attended game, about 75% of students are in the upper rafters. And if conditions are as bad as I’ve heard, that is 75% of the students in attendance that are unhappy.
The final problem in the student section, and most are unaware of this, occurs during big games. I bring this up because it was a major setback for the Arizona game. For these games, even less students are allowed to be in the floor section. Extra seats are set aside for recruits, student athletes, and other parties (like the 1971 Championship team for the UofA game). The numbers vary from game to game, but the Zona game was so bad that only 300 students (all of which camped out in the rain the night before) were able to get in the floor section. This is a great drop-off from the 450 that would normally be in the bottom, leaving 150 plus students felling "snubbed" by the system, not to mention all of the other unhappy students stuck in the upper section. I couldn’t even begin imagine how crappy it would be to spend my last game in the rafters. Clearly a lot of tension has been created by these events.
***The Den Survey***
The popular misconception on BN about this survey is that it was the sole basis for the decision to move the students into a unified section. In reality, the survey was created as a means to determine how to increase student attendance at basketball games and increase the game day experience immediately and in the future, not make an assumption based on one question and completely change a seating chart. I, along with several board members of The Den, met with several individuals in Morgan Center during finals week of fall quarter to discuss the growing problem surrounding The Den and attendance at basketball games. The Bruins had just come off an embarrassing defeat to Montana at home, and, especially due to the disgusting attendance at the game, we felt that something had to be done to change this trend, both during this season and for new-Pauley (Pauley had a whopping 5400 in attendance that game… and the students are to blame for showing up with a only couple hundred? What about the other 7400 missing?). During that meeting, we discuss several ways to increase the student experience and desire to be at the game. One of the ways discussed was to create a unified student section. (Let’s be honest for just a second. Was it ever a viable option to put the students at midcourt and go to the rafters? Financially or not, it wasn’t an option and won’t ever be! Would you, alumni, want to give up your 50 yard line seats so that students have a "greater influence" on the game? I highly doubt that! UCLA athletics, and any athletics program in the nation, is run by donors and donors get their seats. Period. So although many of you point out the financial comment by Harlan as a means to shaft the students, it really wasn’t an option.)
A few weeks after this meeting, on December 17th, the survey was created and sent to all ticketed members of the Den (and closed after 3 weeks). This survey included the follow:
-Questions about general information, such as year, gender, location relative to campus, etc.
-Questions about attendance and anticipated attendance over the course of the reason
-Questions about the reasons why one might miss a game
-Questions about the good and bad aspects of a basketball game at Pauley
-Question about the split section
The results of the survey prompted for incentives at basketball games to increase attendance. This included flat screen TV’s for each of the home series, pizzas at campouts, spirit items given outside and at the gate before tip-off, and single game discounted ticket prices. All of these, I feel, helped to get more students to the games, especially those that needed a little extra nudge to crawl out of bed on weekends, but it wasn’t enough.
The inquiry that seems to draw the most fire is the one about the split section. It specifically states, "Do you think Pauley split seating interferes with the effectiveness of the student section?" Now without trying to break this question down into more than it is, think about the no-brainer it is asking. OF COURSE the split section is a huge problem with the student atmosphere, for reasons I described previously, and 80% of those that responded to the survey agreed. Then why would marketing ask a rhetorical question? In my opinion, it wasn’t to push forward this "master plan to screw over all students" as many of you put it. Yet, many on BN claim that the overwhelming "yes" to this question prompted the change, when it was just reaffirming the common problem found in the system. If this question was the sole reason for the change, why didn’t we hear about the seating change in January when the results were analyzed? Why did it take another 3 months to come out with this "new" seating chart? That’s because the Morgan Center did their due diligence! They met with The Den, USAC, and many other focus groups of the course of several months. The decision to change the location of students was by no means only their choice during a short time frame. There were many people involved, INCLUDING students, and although you bash it now, it will make for a better Pauley atmosphere.
***The Benefits of the New Seating Configuration***
The positives to this change are very obvious! There is now one huge section where the students can call home. It is right next to the court on the opposing end, as there is no longer a huge gap between the basket and first row of seats. Students in the back can be coordinated with the students in the front because they just need to look straight forward. All cheers will be in unison. All students will be standing during the game or get your view blocked (a harsh punishment indeed). For small games, it will be better to have 600 students in one place rather than 400 on the bottom and 200 in the top. For large games, there will be 1900 strong with no loss of extra seats to special parties.
Yes, being behind the basket is a crappy view compared to the half court seats previously. That was a sacrifice we were willing to make to increase the student experience. Hardcore student fans seem to be a dying breed, and the obvious step to increase attendance should be to attract the casual fan. It’s heart-breaking, I know, but it’s the truth.
Many of you think that a student section would be useless because being on one end has "zero" effect on the game or only on a "fourth" of the game. We will do fine! Are you telling me that 1900 students aren’t going to cause some noise and disturbance for the other team? Plenty of other big name schools are doing a fine job with behind-the-basket seats!
But let’s face it. Does the location of the student section really change the game atmosphere for the worse? 1900 unified students in one area as opposed to 2 split sections (including more of the students away from the floor in an unhappy place). What are the real problems that face us in the new-Pauley? It isn’t this so-called attempt to "screw over" students! What about the rest of the arena showing up 10 minutes late and leaving 10 minutes early? Or the pathetic attendance of 5400 at the Montana game (really? 42%?)?
Or what about the cobwebs on the seats? I was thoroughly SHOCKED when everyone stood with 5 minutes to go against U$C this year and again for the Zona game. I hadn’t seen a response like that since Kevin Love’s year. And as nice as it was to cheer with the entire arena for my final season, it just reaffirms that the fans have it in them and just choose to stay in their seats and not affect the game whatsoever. This is the real problem. Yes, the fire and passion starts with the 1900 students, but 1900 fans will never get our Bruins the true home court advantage that they deserve. 14000 fans will.
So let’s not get side tracked by the news of the seat changes and get up in arms about this. Times have changed. Today, you’d be glad to find 500 students waiting outside before a game, unlike the 4000 before a game during Coach’s era. Something needed to be done to change to faltering environment, and frankly there are much larger issues at hand than the position of the student section. Yes, adjustments must be made, but the students will thrive in their new home. So instead of worrying about "how good we will or won’t look on TV," do something about it! Go out and purchase season tickets, show up to the games on time, leave after the Alma Mater, cheer loudly, and get your lazy neighbors on their feet. That’s the best way to make a difference, not barraging people with emails on how you think student life should be, or how great you had it in the glory days of UCLA sports. These, sadly, aren’t those days anymore.