×

UCLA Basketball Follows Showbiz Script

Normally, the firing of a basketball coach — even one in Los Angeles — wouldn’t really be a Hollywood story. But UCLA has chosen to dump Ben Howland for a reason that has cost many a showbiz exec his or her job: Lousy boxoffice.

In the full-disclosure department, I write this as a UCLA alumnus, life-long fan and season-ticket holder. Yet the drumbeat surrounding Howland has been fueled not only by a disappointing record but a failure to put asses in seats, after the university raised and spent roughly $140 million to renovate its storied arena, Pauley Pavilion.

Setting aside Howland’s merits as a coach, the reason that’s noteworthy is because by that criteria, the deck was stacked against him from the get-go. Thanks to a new TV deal, a number of Pac-12 games started at 6 p.m. PT, making it difficult for the Bruin faithful to make tipoff. In one game, for example, the ESPN announcers referenced the poor crowd showing, without making any mention of their role in setting the time or the difficulties getting anywhere in L.A. around rush hour.

At the same time, practically every game is televised (although some were blacked out for DirecTV subscribers, since the satcaster didn’t pick up the Pac-12 Network), reducing the incentive to attend in person. Moreover, ticket prices were jacked up for the new arena, while unemployment in California continues to run ahead of the national average. Add those factors to the “Why not just watch at home” calculus.

Finally, Los Angeles offers far more distractions and alternatives for the entertainment buck than a number of the smaller markets that are home to traditional basketball powers. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible to excite local fans if the team’s winning, but it does add to the sense UCLA or USC — unlike, say, Illinois or Kentucky — aren’t the only game in town, particularly with the Clippers suddenly looking like a playoff contender.

Like movie executives, nobody needs to shed any tears for Howland or host any bake sales on his behalf. He’ll leave with a fat buyout package, and these jobs — while high-profile and subject to intense scrutiny — tend to be a revolving door, either into other coaching positions or the broadcast booth.

Still, I can’t help but think about the movie “Network,” and the notion of Howard Beale getting killed over lousy ratings.

Like all of major sports now, UCLA danced to TV’s tune, then turned around and complained when the boxoffice results suffered because of those mercenary priorities — “mercenary” also being a fair description of the “one and done” players who fleetingly pass through programs en route to the NBA, seriously diluting the quality of the college game.

The next coach might find a way to gracefully navigate that daunting high-wire act, but all I can say is, “Good luck with that.”

Popular on Variety

More TV

  • BritBox Is 'Not a Rival to

    BritBox 'Not a Rival to Netflix and Amazon' but Something Different, ITV Exec Says

    BritBox, ITV and the BBC’s joint “best of British” streaming service, is not being positioned as a rival to Netflix and Amazon but offers something those two streaming giants don’t, ITV director of television Kevin Lygo said. Speaking at the Edinburgh TV Festival on Friday, Lygo said BritBox would be a “different thing” that allowed [...]

  • Stefano Sollima for Web Story

    'ZeroZeroZero' Creator on Making an Old Story New and How Andrea Riseborough Got Hurt (EXCLUSIVE)

    Stefano Sollima, the Italian director known in Hollywood for “Sicario: Day of the Soldado” and TV show “Gomorrah,” is the main creative force behind cocaine-trafficking series “ZeroZeroZero,” which will world premiere at the Venice Film Festival on Sept. 5. Festival chief Alberto Barbera has praised it as blowing “Narcos” out of the water. Sollima directed [...]

  • Ballers HBO

    'Ballers' to End After Season 5 on HBO

    “Ballers” is coming to an end after five seasons on HBO. Star and executive producer Dwayne Johnson confirmed the news via an emotional Instagram video. “My heart is full of gratitude to all of you for rocking with us every season. You made us HBO’s highest rated comedy for years and most importantly, you helped [...]

  • Sublime Primetime

    How Emmy-Nominated Writers’ Rooms Keep Politics in Mind

    In a world filled with elections, social movements and national tragedies, how open should the doors of a writers’ room actually be? For some of this year’s Emmy-nominated shows, those doors are wide open. Before the 71st annual Primetime Emmy Awards air on Sept. 22, the Writers Guild of America West and Writers Guild Foundation, [...]

  • Disney Villains Series 'Book of Enchantment'

    'Book of Enchantment' Series Based on Iconic Disney Villains Shelved at Disney Plus

    Disney Plus has decided to not move forward with “Book of Enchantment,” a series based on some of Disney’s most iconic villains, Variety has learned from sources. The news comes the day before Disney is set to unveil its streaming service at the biannual D23 convention in Anaheim. The prospective project was based on the [...]

  • ITV STUDIOS PRESENTS VERAFILM 2Pictured: BRENDA

    Brenda Blethyn to Star in New ITV Sitcom 'Kate and Kolo'

    Oscar-nominated Brenda Blethyn is set to star in the new sitcom “Kate and Kolo” for ITV, the U.K. broadcaster announced at the Edinburgh TV Festival. Blethyn takes on the title role of Kate in the comedy alongside theater and film actor Jimmy Akingbola as Kolo. Blethyn is a popular star with ITV audiences after having [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content