Attracting fans to basketball games at Southern Cal has been an ongoing problem for years. The school hired Andy Enfield, the architect of Dunk City at Florida Gulf Coast last season, to take over as coach. While it waits for Enfield to work his magic the school decided to hire a DJ this season to help improve the atmosphere at the Galen Center.
The first DJ the school hired had to be replaced early in the season because he didn't interact with fans the way USC officials envisioned. Associated athletic director Craig Kelley attended a women's road game at his alma mater Cal State Northridge where DJ Mal Ski was working the game Dec. 10.
The Matadors defeated the Trojans that night and Kelley left the building believing the energy DJ Mal Ski brought to the arena at just the right times helped the home team win. He found his man.
DJ Mal Ski plays music and interacts with fans during timeouts at all men's games and select women's games and Kelley believes he has helped the Trojans win games. He said an assistant coach for Cal told a member of his staff last week that he believed DJ Mal Ski got in the heads of some of his players during Enfield's first Pac-12 Conference victory.
"I think you're looking for any possible advantage you can get, and I think it's an advantage for us to have him there," Kelley said. "I think it has paid dividends so far."
USC has a DJ in the arena for basketball games. Like it - that's some forward thinking. Now they just need some fans too
— Brian Stumpf (@Stumpf_Brian) January 23, 2014
DJ Mal Ski earned a lot of television time that night during the ESPN broadcast of the Cal-USC game both for his song choices (Biz Markie, Just a friend) and for the volume. At times, it conflicted with the boradcast causing analyst Doris Burke to joke with partner Jon Crispin, "We're working a three-man booth tonight Jon."
DJs are common in the professional ranks with NBA and WNBA franchises. In fact, DJ Mal Ski has worked many Los Angeles Sparks games in the WNBA in the past. There are more rules about when he can play music and talk to the crowd at the college level, but Kelley said there haven't been any problems with following those guidelines.
"It allows us to be a lot more flexible with the music besides playing a playlist," Kelley said. "They can play old-school, they can play new-school, they can play top-40. They can play all types of music and interact with the fans and it has made a huge difference. ...We've received more positive emails about the DJ than any of the other things we've done in the last 13 years that I've been here."
Syracuse also began using a DJ at its home games this season and it wasn't to combat an attendance problem. The Orange are generally one of the national leaders in attendance each season
The USC men are 10-10 overall and 1-7 in Pac-12 play, in 11th place in the conference. They're averaging just over 4,000 fans per home game in the 10,258-seat Galen Center. Kelley said with so many entertainment options available in the Los Angeles area, it's difficult to attract large crowds to any sporting event if the team isn't winning on a regular basis.
USC vs. Cal basketball game and I'm pretty sure the DJ may be the highlight. Student section is looking pretty sad. pic.twitter.com/9p2i6Sd9wx
— Kacey Deamer (@KaceyDeamer) January 23, 2014
"We haven't had the crowds we, ideally, would like just because we don't have the basketball following that our football team has," he said. "So we wanted to enhance the entertainment value for the fan when they come in.
"...Both coaches have been completely supportive of it. They recognize that when we don't have a large crowd that the atmosphere created with the music, teams feed off of it. So until we can get 7,500 to 10,000 in the building every night, we need to find ways to keep the teams energized and keep the fans energized throughout the entire game."