UCLA, USC to welcome back full-capacity football crowds for 2021 season

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On the day California hailed its full-scale reopening amid a pandemic on the wane, UCLA and USC football fans could celebrate the renewal of a treasured fall tradition: their home stadiums teeming with activity.

Athletic officials from both schools announced Tuesday that the Rose Bowl and Coliseum would welcome back fans at 100% capacity starting Aug. 28 with the Bruins’ home opener against Hawaii.

Details about safety protocols at the stadiums are expected to be announced later. As part of the full reopening plans announced last month for California’s five Major League Baseball teams, state officials recommended but did not require that fans provide proof of vaccination or a negative test for COVID-19. Face masks are not required for fully vaccinated fans at those venues.

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USC athletic director Mike Bohn said in a statement that his school would align with the latest state guidance regarding safety protocols for sporting events in addition to meeting county, city and campus directives.

The Rose Bowl (capacity: 80,000) and Coliseum (77,500) sat empty for games last season except for essential stadium workers, school officials and media. A joint bid by UCLA and USC officials to allow family members to watch their sons play was denied by California and Los Angeles County public health officials, who cited the rising community spread of COVID-19.

But with viral case numbers and deaths continuing to decline and a corresponding relaxation of restrictions, fans will once again be woven into the fabric of fall football.

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That means UCLA fans can start planning their tailgates for the home opener. They can also lobby their friends to help offset the throng of football-mad Louisiana State fans expected at the Rose Bowl on Sept. 4 for the game between the Bruins and Tigers.

“We are excited to welcome back students, alumni and fans to the Rose Bowl and our other outside sporting events,” UCLA athletic director Martin Jarmond said in a statement. “Getting the COVID-19 vaccination is strongly encouraged to provide the safest environment for everyone. We will continue to follow local and state health and safety protocols in order to maintain a safe environment for our fans.”

USC’s seven-game home schedule starts Sept. 4 against San Jose State and will feature an early Pac-12 Conference opener Sept. 11 against Stanford. The Trojans and Bruins will play at the Coliseum on Nov. 20 before USC concludes its regular season with a home game against Brigham Young on Nov. 27.

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“We are beyond excited to welcome the Trojan Family back to the Coliseum for the first time since 2019,” Bohn said in a statement. “Our home games were not the same last year, and the gameday experience at the Coliseum is so special primarily because of the fans. Our players and coaches can’t wait to see fans and family in the stands, and that energy is a difference-maker for us on the field.”

Now that UCLA and USC fans have been cleared to return to their home stadiums, the onus falls on their respective teams to produce a worthy product.

If UCLA beats Hawaii, it will represent the first nonconference victory for Bruins coach Chip Kelly after an 0-6 start that’s perhaps the biggest stain on his 10-21 record with the team.

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UCLA returns 20 starters, including senior Dorian Thompson-Robinson, the Pac-12’s most experienced quarterback. The veteran core could steady Kelly’s standing and reinvigorate a deflated fan base; UCLA averaged only 43,849 fans at the Rose Bowl in 2019, the lowest figure since first calling the stadium home in 1982.

Attendance has also been down recently at the Coliseum, where USC fans hope they don’t have to resume another fall ritual in calling for coach Clay Helton’s job. The Trojans averaged 59,358 fans for home games in 2019, a slight increase from 55,449 in 2018 but well below the 72,588 the team averaged in 2017.

Those interested in UCLA tickets for the 2021 season can call (310) 825-2946; USC tickets can be purchased by calling (213) 740-4672. For the first time, both schools will exclusively use mobile ticketing for home games as part of efforts to ensure a safe entrance at their respective stadiums.

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UCLA also announced that soccer games at Wallis Annenberg Stadium and men’s water polo games at Spieker Aquatics Center would also allow full capacity starting in the fall.

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