Tuesday, January 15, 2013
UCLA's Pauley Pavilion: The Electronic Version
A few weeks ago I was back at Pauley Pavilion, cheering on a basketball team. It was a sentimental journey. Decades ago, during the height of the John Wooden era, I sat in the stands for all Bruins home games, while my future husband played trumpet with the UCLA band. This time around, it was not Lew Alcindor and company I cheered for, but a very capable UCLA women’s basketball team playing an afternoon game. My husband was tootling with the UCLA Alumni Band, at an event designed to show off Pauley Pavilion’s newly-unveiled renovation.
Of course there was a lot of nostalgia for me, watching the cheerleaders wave their pompoms, and hearing the band play (endlessly) time-honored fight songs like “Sons of California.” But in many ways, I discovered, things ain’t what they used to be. Today the spectator experience has been transformed. At times it mimics watching a game on television, but there’s also a multimedia component that turns fans into participants in a larger-than-life spectacle.
The old Pauley Pavilion, which was brand-new when I was a UCLA student, was barnlike and utilitarian, something like an oversized bunker. The refurbished Pauley manages to look airy, thanks to a generous addition of exterior glass walls. It keeps alive the proud Bruin tradition with lots of colorful photos and memorabilia. But it is also vastly more commercial than its predecessor: not only are there refreshment stands aplenty, but Pauley now also boasts a “marketplace” for food purchases as well as a spiffy gift shop peddling Bruin T-shirts, teddy bears, and other souvenirs.
Inside the arena, the simple scoreboard of old has been replaced by a four-sided JumboTron that does far more than record the points scored by each team. Its LED display was constantly in action, showing close-ups of the players, half-time interviews with coaches, and instant replays. (Yes, at times I felt as though I were watching the game on TV from my couch at home.) But the scoreboard also functioned as an electronic cheerleader, exhorting the crowd to get loud, get LOUDER, GO INSANE!!! No pretty girl with pompoms or clean-cut guy with a megaphone could hope to compete.
The JumboTron was not the game’s only focal point. There were large LED screens at the four corners of the arena, and also bands of moving images visible in every direction. When the game opened with the singing of the “Star Spangled Banner,” I couldn’t at first find the actual flag. But I couldn’t miss the American flags rippling in the breeze on each of those huge screens. The screens also had fun showing the various team members cavorting off the court, “up close and personal.” At one point, there was even an animated clip incorporating the Bruin hoopsters into a wacky ski race. Still, I discovered that a main purpose of all that LED was to send the fans commercial messages. Ads for a bank, an airline, an insurance company, and something called “Muscle Milk” were continually flashing. And I had no DVR to fast-forward through that advertising blitz.
In one way, though, Pauley tried hard to capture the excitement of a live event. The big scoreboard kept urging the fans to “show us your dance moves.” As youngsters rocked out in their seats to the thumping beat of recorded music, a roving video camera singled out the best and bravest, then projected their images on the big screens at center court. Kids went wild as they recognized themselves. They were ready for their close-ups, as is Pauley Pavilion in this brave new media world. (P.S., we won!)