UCLA knows what it’s like to have one side of the Rose Bowl drenched in dark red. It isn’t pretty.
Texas A&M fans outnumbered their Bruins counterparts on the sunny side of the stadium in September 2017, making it feel more like Kyle Field in College Station, particularly when visiting fans locked arms and swayed to the Aggie War Hymn.
UCLA also knows what it’s like to have the Rose Bowl more than half-empty. It isn’t pretty.
The announced crowd of 36,951 that attended the Bruins’ 23-14 loss to San Diego State last weekend was the smallest for a home opener since the team moved to the Rose Bowl for the 1982 season and the fourth-smallest for a UCLA game in the history of the venue.
If a massive ticket giveaway works, UCLA will know what it’s like to change the embarrassing trends inside its home stadium.
The school’s athletic department sent an email this week to season ticket-holders who attended the home opener offering four free tickets for the Bruins’ game against No. 5 Oklahoma on Saturday. The season ticket-holders were permitted to forward the tickets, valued at $280, to anyone who might be interested in attending.
“This is a small token of appreciation from our department,” the email said, “for your continued support as we continue to work every day to build a successful football program.”
An athletic department representative said the tickets will be located in seats that are available at the time they are placed in ticket-holders accounts Friday.
Predictably, the freebies led to snarky comments on Twitter given UCLA’s 0-2 start and the widespread availability of cheap tickets.
Commented one person below a copy of the athletic department’s letter: “Who the hell is valuing these tickets at $280 lmao.”
Commented another: “Oklahoma fans.”
It’s true that demand for tickets is strong among the Sooners faithful. Vivid Seats, an online ticket broker, has estimated the crowd to be roughly a 50-50 split of Oklahoma and UCLA fans.
UCLA does not provide attendance estimates because of fluctuations in single-game ticket sales, the athletic department representative said, but the Bruins’ slow start appears to have lowered demand. According to Vivid Seats, the listed price for tickets Saturday is down 6% since Aug. 28, the day before UCLA opened the season against Cincinnati.
The athletic department representative said the idea for the free tickets was first discussed among Bruins athletic officials and Rose Bowl stadium general manager Darryl Dunn prior to kickoff last weekend, when UCLA played its home opener in sweltering afternoon conditions and many fans congregated in shady areas of the stadium.
“The offer was designed to reward our most loyal fans — those who purchase season tickets and who attended the home opener,” the representative said in a statement. “It was a chance to give something back to those who are committed to supporting UCLA regardless of the circumstances.”
There’s been some insider trading of information among the UCLA and Oklahoma coaching staffs this week, but it’s completely permissible.
Oklahoma cornerbacks coach Roy Manning was UCLA’s outside linebackers coach and special teams coordinator last season, allowing him to provide insight on the Bruins’ personnel even if they’ve changed schemes under his replacement.
UCLA tight ends coach and special teams coordinator Derek Sage worked alongside Sooners defensive coordinator Alex Grinch for one season at Washington State, giving Sage a firm grounding in Grinch’s core philosophies.
Bruins coach Chip Kelly said Oklahoma’s defense strongly resembles the version Grinch ran at Washington State, making Sage’s advice all the more valuable. The Sooners’ defensive line creates chaos with constant movement and the defenders prioritize forcing turnovers, which has been a UCLA weakness in the season’s early going.
“The main priority this week,” said Bruins quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, who has committed five of his team’s six turnovers, “is not giving the ball over to them.”