Deep-Seated Problem

Times Staff Writer

UCLA's 4-8 record in men's basketball has fans staying away from Pauley Pavilion and would be hitting the school's athletic program where it really hurts -- the wallet -- if not for a cruel irony:

The Bruins know they can make up their monetary losses in basketball thanks to the football success of Pacific 10 Conference rivals USC (ouch!) and Washington State.

Because both football teams made it to bowl championship series games, each conference school will receive about $300,000 more than it probably assumed in its budget.

UCLA is selling between 600 and 800 fewer single-game tickets to its home basketball games, costing the Bruins between $10,000 and $28,000 in lost revenue each game, since prices are based on attractiveness of the opponent.

The Bruins still have reasonably healthy season-ticket sales of 10,350, down only about 500 from last year. But single-game sales -- walk-ups -- have lagged considerably.

So it's a good thing the UCLA football team lost to Washington State. Had the Bruins won, only one Pac-10 team would have made the BCS and each conference team would be getting $1.2 million instead of $1.5 million.

"That does make this year a little easier to balance," said David Secor, UCLA associate athletic director in charge of business and finance. "It was very ironic because in order for that to happen we had to lose our last [football] game."

The Bruin basketball team has lost six of eight games at Pauley. Attendance is at a 10-year low. And UCLA isn't the only college basketball team in the area that's struggling. Attendance is down nearly everywhere, probably because only two teams -- UC Irvine (9-4) and Pepperdine (10-6) -- have records above .500.

The 10 men's teams from UC Santa Barbara in the north to Irvine in the south are a combined 56-81.

Even giveaways haven't worked. Pepperdine didn't charge admission for a recent Sunday game against Lipscomb, and still drew only 437 on a beautiful afternoon in Malibu. Cal State Northridge will try a giveaway -- bobblehead dolls of Coach Bobby Braswell -- to the first 850 fans who show for Wednesday's game against Long Beach State.

Schools without football teams rely more heavily on basketball revenue projections.

"It all figures into the bottom line of the entire budget of the athletic department," Long Beach State spokesman Steve Janisch said. "We're not talking about millions of dollars, but there's a big difference if we bring in $170,000 versus $140,000 in season-ticket revenue. Thirty thousand could go a long way here for schools our size."

UCLA's attendance has been adversely affected by home losses to St. John's and Michigan and, more damaging, earlier losses to San Diego and Northern Arizona. There has also been well-chronicled turmoil, with Coach Steve Lavin on the hot seat and some players reportedly unhappy.

But the Bruins aren't alone in their troubles. Seven of the Southland's 10 Division I men's basketball teams had lower average nonconference attendance than they did last season. In most cases, it looks as if fans have simply been turned off by poor play.

USC is 6-6, including a 38-point loss to Penn and a 16-point loss at Santa Barbara.

Long Beach, under first-year Coach Larry Reynolds, had the worst start in its 53-year history and was 1-11 until it defeated Idaho on Thursday. Its other victory was over Cal State Monterey Bay, an NAIA team.

Pepperdine, which was expected to challenge Gonzaga for the West Coast Conference title, has been staggered by health problems. The Waves lost by 16 at home against Utah, and by 20 at Gonzaga last week.

Loyola Marymount is 6-12 and has lost nine of 10, including a game to Point Loma, an NAIA team.

Northridge has lost six in a row after a 6-2 start.

Cal State Fullerton is 3-1 in the Big West, which would be more noteworthy if it wasn't 5-9 overall, with losses to Texas A&M-Corpus; Christi, Idaho State (twice) and, in an exhibition, Occidental College, a Division III team.

Santa Barbara is 6-9; UC Riverside is 2-8. And even Irvine has suffered embarrassing slip-ups, a 27-point loss to Stanford among them.

As for UCLA, six nonconference home games drew an average of 7,342 fans, almost 1,700 off last year's nonconference average of 9,028. The Bruins drew a near-sellout 12,736 last week for the USC game (Pauley holds 12,800), but fell back again with a hushed crowd of 7,710 for Thursday's Pac-10 game against Arizona State.

Including the two Pac-10 games, the Bruins have averaged 8,062 fans, almost 2,300 fewer than the number of season tickets sold. So even fans who already have tickets aren't showing up for games.

UCLA Athletic Director Dan Guerrero said the basketball program has "tremendous fan support ... but our fans want to see the team do well."

Almost all single-game tickets offered by UCLA are for seats in the upper level, Secor said. Those seats cost $17 each against San Diego, Long Beach State, Portland and Northern Arizona, adding up to between $10,200 and $13,600 in lost revenue for each game, compared to games last year. Single-game tickets for upper-level seats against Michigan, St. John's and USC were $35, a comparative revenue loss of between $21,000 and $28,000.

"The thing we find this year ... is a what-have-you-done-for-me mentality," said Ken Weiner, associate athletic director in charge of UCLA's business operations. "If it's not to a person's liking, they'll choose not to go."

As for season tickets, Weiner said this season's sales were expected to be lower because the nonconference games at home were less attractive. Last season, the Bruins hosted Kansas and Georgetown.

Fewer fans also means less revenue from concessions, although final numbers from that area will not be available until after the season, Secor said. Parking revenues from UCLA basketball games go to the school and are not part of the athletic budget.

Besides the USC game, the only other near-sellout at Pauley Pavilion this season was for Ohio high school star LeBron James, in town for a Jan. 4 tournament. That prompted broadcaster Bill Walton, a former UCLA All-American, to make a sarcastic reference during the telecast about how nice it was to see the place full again.

The Pac-10 also has noticed.

"We'd like to sell out all our games but success breeds success in areas of attendance, people have learned," said Pac-10 spokesman Jim Muldoon. "Los Angeles is a town that you have to get their attention."

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Nonconference Basketball Attendance

*--* UCLA 2002-03 PAULEY PAVILION, CAPACITY: 12,800 Nov. 27, 2002 lost to San Diego, 86-81 6,845 Dec. 8, 2002 defeated Long Beach State, 81-58 6,358 Dec. 14, 2002 defeated Portland, 105-67 6,608 Dec. 17, 2002 lost to N. Arizona, 67-63 5,736 Dec. 28, 2002 lost to Michigan, 81-76 10,001 Jan. 11, 2003 lost to St. John's, 80-65 8,503 Nonconference 7,342 average this season BY YEAR: 2001-02...9,028 2000-01...7,891 1999-2000...8,511 1998-99...9,361 1997-98...9,637 USC 2002-03 SPORTS ARENA, CAPACITY: 16,161 Nov. 22, 2002 defeated UC Riverside, 81-67 3,127 Nov. 30, 2002 defeated Morris Brown, 93-54 3,252 Dec. 11, 2002 defeated CS Fullerton, 78-63 2,096 Dec. 21, 2002 defeated La Salle, 89-63 3,111 Jan. 11, 2003 lost to Penn, 99-61 *3,856 Nonconference average this season (*The Forum)...3,088 BY YEAR: 2001-02...4,234 2000-01...3,678 1999-2000...2,389 1998-99...2,703 1997-98...3,397 OTHER NONCONFERENCE HOME-GAME AVERAGES CAL STATE 1,180 FULLERTON...2002 -03 2001-02 936 CAL STATE 1,048 NORTHRIDGE...200 2-03 2001-02 1,226 LONG BEACH 1,917 STATE...2002-03 2001-02 2,218 LOYOLA 1,283 MARYMOUNT...2002 -03 2001-02 1,869 PEPPERDINE...200 1,917 2-03 2001-02 2,140 UC 2,244 IRVINE...2002-03 2001-02 2,960 UC 1,156 RIVERSIDE...2002 -03 2001-02 922 UC SANTA 2,921 BARBARA...2002-0 3 2001-02 2,829

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