In a thrilling USC-UCLA football game, a much-needed sold-out crowd rocks Pasadena’s Rose Bowl stadium – Orange County Register
Plagued by financial challenges and after a rollercoaster season of lackluster attendance at UCLA football games, Rose Bowl Stadium on Saturday night was a sight for sore eyes.
He was jumping – his vibrant old self, basking in the shadow of the San Gabriels.
As Pasadena Mayor Victor Gordo said on Saturday, the place was “lively and vibrant and home to two of the biggest college football programs in the country.”
“A great day for Pasadena,” he added.
Hometown Bruins lost 48-45 in a thrilling game to the Trojans, who maintained their college playoff ambitions. But the more than 70,000 fans who packed into the century-old arena for the classic intercity battle on Saturday night sparked a moment of relevance for a gem of a stadium that is struggling at a time when the he shadow of multi-SoFi, the billion-dollar high-tech giant, continues to grow in Inglewood.
Yes. The teams needed a win. But so is the Rose Bowl itself. For Gordo, he got it after three tough years for the stadium and city ownership.
For starters, it’s the first time the Bruins have faced the Trojans at the Rose Bowl since 2020. This season’s game had an expected crowd of over 70,000, a stark contrast to the crowdless game played at the stadium during the pandemic- shortened season.
No one saw that a global pandemic would cripple a booming California economy. Among the economic carnage was a hard-hit Rose Bowl, just a few years after completing an expensive renovation. What had been a stand-alone city-owned business would soon become the subject of heated debates at Pasadena City Council meetings over its shrinking debt and balance sheet.
Hi Rose Bowl ppl 👋🏽🌹 pic.twitter.com/H7IYSz8aX1
— James H. Williams covers UCLA football (@JHWreporter) November 20, 2022
As of April 2021, the operating budget for fiscal year 2021-22 reflected a net operating loss of $3.9 million, leaving an available cash balance of nearly $4.3 million. The pandemic has only exacerbated the problem – created debts which, according to a report by a consulting firm, have become “the biggest drag” on the stadium’s financial projections. Ultimately, the city would have to dip into its general fund to keep things afloat.
The city made about $11.5 million in debt service payments in fiscal 2021, with additional payments expected. And as debt service payments grew, so would the stadium’s revenue gaps, which early estimates ranged from $5.4 million to $7.7 million per year for the next several years, according to the archives.
All the while, not everyone was convinced that the cost was worth the investment in a city-owned stadium, especially given the increasing security costs and ongoing capital improvement needs of a aging stage.
The Pasadena City Council debated whether the Rose Bowl should be sold or leased to a private operator, as the century-old stadium faced more than $200 million in debt.
Local officials know that big events like Saturday’s rivalry game in the Rose Bowl can draw a crowd as a result. But UCLA doesn’t always end up at the top of the polls, so officials hope concerts and more football exhibitions will fill the holes in the stadium’s attendance and balance sheet.
Stadium stewards, college leaders and Pasadena City Council members believe UCLA’s impending move to the Big Ten could also shock some life in a debt-ridden Rose Bowl stadium, once thousands of passionate fans from states like Ohio, Nebraska and Michigan will find their way to the sunny shores of Southern California for game Saturdays.
This year has not always been good.
The giant Rose Bowl crowd on Saturday contrasted with the empty stands earlier this season when a record 27,143 fans attended the game against Bowling Green in September.
The number was well below the previous mark of 32,513 set in 1992, but a projection of 29,344 fans in attendance for the South Alabama game a few weeks later set the record for the second-smallest single-game crowd. from UCLA in Rose Bowl history.
The problem isn’t limited to this season alone, either, as 32,982 fans attended last year’s home opener against Hawai’i.
“It’s embarrassing, but we couldn’t fill the Rose Bowl in 1988 when we were the No. 1 team in the country,” UCLA said. Troy Aikman tweeted in September. “Anyone else at UCLA think it’s time for a 30,000 seat stadium on campus?”
Experts attribute the low turnout to the heat, students not back on campus at the start of the college football season, and non-conference opponents failing to excite the masses.
For Saturday’s game, the north end of the stadium above the student section was covered with a tarp and the teams added a second set of tarps to the south end, which reduced the maximum capacity of ‘approximately 69,747 to 53,390. Without either set of tarps, the maximum capacity would be over 90,000, similar to the attendance the Soccer Champions Tour drew at an exhibition in late July.
But tarp or not, Gordo said on Saturday that part of the reason the game was a win for the stadium is that it foreshadows better days to come.
“We can expect to see more of these great games with the move to the Big Ten Conference,” he said. “We will have teams like Michigan and Ohio State visiting with their fanbases in tow and a deep following that loves good football and Rose Bowl Stadium. I think it will be great for the stadium, the city and the regional economy. … I’m excited. I think we should all be excited.
The University of California board of trustees is expected to finalize a decision on the move to the Big Ten next month.
If the season was compared to a football game, it’s clear UCLA made a comeback in the fourth quarter after struggling early.
Was the rally enough to declare the season a financial win for the century-old arena?
Gordo, during Saturday’s game, said he looked “upbeat”. “The combination of major and minor events at UCLA propels the stadium into a prosperous economic position. We’re turning it around. We’re flipping it.
UCLA athletic director Martin Jarmond echoed Gordo, with a shoutout to the fans.
“The Bruins stepped in everywhere,” he said Saturday. “The atmosphere is electric and I so appreciate everyone who sat down before kick-off. The energy has been great and you can tell our players are feeding off of it.
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