A screen shot of the splash page on UCLA's athletics site announcing the signing of Shabazz Muhammad
UCLA director of communications Nick Ammazzalorso chose not to provide the exact number of season tickets the school has sold since Muhammad's announcement, but he described it as a "substantial" amount. That's significant news for a program whose average attendance dropped from 9,843 per game in 2009 to 6,352 in 2012, a 36 percent decrease largely attributable to UCLA missing the NCAA tournament two of the past three seasons.
"It's a fan base that certainly demands and expects a winner," Ammazzalorso said. "It's safe to say that our season ticket numbers and our Wooden Athletic membership both have seen a bounce. I can't really go into more detail than that, but it's fair to say it's a substantial number."
Since UCLA had been anticipating Muhammad's decision coming early in the spring signing period for months, the school already had a mini-marketing campaign prepared in hopes he opted to become a Bruin.
As soon as Muhammad's signed national letter of intent arrived via fax at roughly 8 p.m. on Wednesday night, the school put up a splash page on its website announcing in all caps, "The Future Is Here." Underneath those words were pictures of Muhammad and fellow top recruits Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams and information on how to order basketball season tickets.
In addition to that, UCLA athletics also sent an email announcing Muhammad's signing to former season ticket holders and to various student groups on campus. UCLA coach Ben Howland held a conference call with reporters within an hour of the letter of intent arriving on Wednesday night and scheduled interviews on four LA-area sports radio shows for either Thursday or Friday.
"These kids are looking at UCLA as a great opportunity to come and help us rise back up to the top where we expect to be," Howland said Wednesday night. "We have not been where we wanted to be the last few years. We want to be champions. We've been in my tenure to the Final Four, and we want to get back there again."
Besides his ability to propel UCLA back to national relevancy next season, Muhammad was an especially important get for the Bruins because he provides the pizzazz they've often lacked in recent years.
Since UCLA's run of three straight Final Fours ended in 2008 with the departure of Kevin Love and Russell Westbrook, the combination of Howland's structured offense and a lack of star power has not played well in the cluttered LA sports market. Throw in the temporary one-year move across town to the aging Los Angeles Sports Arena, and even student turnout was often sparse at best.
What Muhammad brings is an antidote to that tedium just in time for the unveiling of new Pauley Pavilion in November. The 6-foot-6 wing is the MVP of the McDonald's All-American game, a future NBA draft pick and the most dynamic high school scorer in the nation, so the pairing of him and a pass-first point forward like Anderson should deliver some electrifying highlights.
The Muhammad effect was immediately evident at UCLA from more than just ticket sales. Not only did UCLA release a clip of Howland grinning ear-to-ear and clapping as Muhammad made his nationally televised announcement, video of a dozen UCLA students wildly celebrating the recruit's decision has spread via YouTube.
UCLA will not formulate the rest of its marketing plan for Muhammad until closer to next season, but the Las Vegas native dished out his first assist with his words to a national TV audience on Wednesday night.
"Everyone in Westwood, LA, California, get ready for a great season next year," Muhammad said. "Hopefully we can sell out Pauley."
So far UCLA is off to a good start.
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- Shabazz Muhammad