USC, UCLA: Battling for Los Angeles

The fourth installment of our series examining the unique circumstances faced by FBS programs that reside in metropolitan markets alongside an NFL franchise is a story from Ivan Maisel on USC and UCLA.

The gist:

In other words, the only thing standing between the Trojans and Bruins and the 18 million potential ticket buyers in southern California is the beach. And the Dodgers, Angels, Lakers, Clippers, Kings, Ducks and Galaxy. And Disneyland, Universal Studios and Six Flags. I hear the movies are pretty big in Los Angeles, too.

When trying to sell college football tickets in a major media market, not having an NFL team is no panacea.

Things are different at USC today, following the reign of Pete Carroll.

Carroll has gone to the NFL. The BCS asked for its 2004 crystal football back. The public access to the Trojans is curtailed, a result of procedures installed after the NCAA penalized USC last year. [Jose Eskenazi, USC associate athletic director and director of corporate services] is paid to market USC athletics. He's a company man but he isn't shy about saying that those procedures make his job harder.

What makes UCLA's situation more challenging that USC's? For one, USC's stadium is for the most part on campus.

UCLA's issues will sound familiar to several urban teams in NFL markets. The Rose Bowl, the Bruins' home since they left the Coliseum 30 years ago, is the most iconic stadium in the sport. But it is also 26 miles from UCLA's Westwood campus. Anyone with experience in L.A. traffic understands that distance is equal to, yes, a marathon.

But sometimes savvy marketing strategies work:

UCLA sliced the price of a student season ticket from $149 in 2009 to $99 last year. The strategy worked. The university sold 7,761 such packages, the second-highest total in the last 50 years. Throw in single-game tickets and, despite the price cut, UCLA generated $1.03 million in student sales, a 45 percent increase over the previous year.

Former UCLA CB Alterraun Verner reflects on the Bruins-Trojans rivalry from a UCLA perspective here.

"The rivalry is a big thing," Verner says. "You're either a UCLA fan or a USC fan, growing up. I was always a UCLA fan so it was something I always paid attention to. It was a great experience trying to take USC down, because they were always at the top. It was our goal to bring them down a notch. Lately USC has been dominant but UCLA is getting more athletic. I wouldn't say USC is getting weaker but I think we're elevating our game and we're going to start making it competitive."

And former USC LB Keith Rivers provides the USC perspective here.

Just as the highlight for Verner was upsetting USC in 2006, which knocked the Trojans out of the national title game, so was it the lowlight for Rivers.

"They took us away from the national championship game," he says now, with not a hint of over-it in his voice.

They sure did. The Trojans were just one touchdown away from meeting Ohio State in the title game that season. Rivers was a junior then, and, in his four seasons at USC, he beat the Bruins three out of four tries. He also lost just five total games as a Trojan, won a national title and earned first-team All-American honors his senior season. Yet that loss to the Bruins still stands out to him, and that's USC-UCLA for you.

"It's everything," Rivers, 25, said last week of the long-standing rivalry between the two Los Angeles schools located just 15 miles apart. "You throw the records out the door and you just play, no matter the situation."