Build a schedule filled with brand names and they will come.
That was Chip Kelly’s message Monday when the UCLA coach addressed the team’s sagging attendance at the Rose Bowl. Already this season, the Bruins have drawn the two smallest crowds since they began calling the venerable stadium home in 1982, including 29,344 on Saturday against South Alabama.
“Attendance, I think when you look at it, especially here on the West Coast, is probably relative to your opponent and really knowledge of the opponent,” Kelly said, alluding to a lack of awareness about South Alabama.
“People know the name of LSU [a UCLA opponent last season that drew 68,123]. I think what’s kinda lost on me is that you don’t understand that South Alabama, just cause it’s a regional school from the Sun Belt [Conference], but that’s as good a football team as we’ve played in the last two years … but they don’t have name recognition and I get that.”
UCLA’s no-name schedule that also included Bowling Green and Alabama State — a Football Championship Subdivision opponent the Bruins added after Michigan backed out of two games — has left it with an average home attendance of 30,072 that ranks 10th in the Pac-12, above only Oregon State (26,475) and Washington State (24,422). (For context, Oregon State’s capacity has been reduced to 26,407 during renovations at Reser Stadium.) The Bruins’ number is less than half the 63,670 that USC has averaged for its first two home games.
Kelly pointed out that students have not been back in class before this week, a challenge faced by other schools on the quarter system such as Stanford. The Cardinal drew just 26,826 for a game against Colgate before hosting a crowd of 43,813 against USC the following week.
Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman ripped fans from his alma mater Saturday on Twitter, calling the attendance “an embarrassment” while also acknowledging his top-ranked Bruins couldn’t fill the Rose Bowl for a game against Washington State in 1988.
Aikman called for the construction of a 30,000-seat stadium on campus while adding one caveat.
“If we can’t play better than we did today,” Aikman wrote, “it would be half-empty too.”
Kelly said he anticipated crowds getting bigger as UCLA moved into its Pac-12 schedule, but the Bruins’ conference home opener against No. 18 Washington on Sept. 30 figures to draw a smaller crowd than normal because it falls on a Friday, adding snarled traffic to the list of reasons not to attend. The Bruins’ last Friday home game, against Utah in October 2018, drew 41,848.
Andrus out for year
Barring a medical waiver that would provide a seventh season of eligibility, Martin Andrus Jr.’s college career is over.
The defensive lineman who pushed through two serious knee injuries to return late last season is out for 2022 after suffering another unspecified injury in the third quarter Saturday.
“It’s crushing cause you watched him rehab,” Kelly said, his eyes glistening. “He’s a sixth-year kid that came back, took advantage of the COVID year, has worked so hard and was playing really, really well for us. … He’s a special young man, he’ll overcome this like he’s overcome the other ones, but it’s the fact that he doesn’t get to finish the way he wanted to finish is hard and it’s tough.”
The absences of Andrus and fellow defensive lineman Gary Smith III, who was also injured Saturday, left the Bruins with only four interior defensive linemen who were not in scout-team jerseys at practice Monday. One of them, Dovid Magna, was a former walk-on and another, Sitiveni Havili-Kaufusi, is a converted linebacker-fullback.
There were more encouraging injury updates regarding running backs Zach Charbonnet and T.J. Harden. Charbonnet, who appeared slightly hobbled after the game Saturday, and Harden, who did not dress for the game, both participated in the portion of practice open to reporters.
Kelly said reserve offensive tackle Siale Taupaki, who did not appear to be at the game Saturday, was “unavailable.”