UCSB basketball fans can now root next to former Gaucho and NBA star Brian Shaw.
It’s also possible to rub elbows at the Thunderdome with Hall of Fame women’s coach Mark French.
At least your facsimile gets that chance.
Although the Big West Conference is banning spectators for at least the first part of UCSB’s basketball season, seats at the Thunderdome are being reserved for their photographic cutouts. The cost to have your cutout next to one of Shaw, French, or another Gaucho celebrity is $50 for the season.
“We’re going to have players from different eras — from the Brian Shaws to the Gabe Vincents,” said Bryan Cornet, assistant athletic director for sales and external relations. “It’s our way of adding a Gaucho flavor within the stands and allowing fans the chance to see themselves on TV.”
A key component will be the enhanced video streaming of UCSB men’s and women’s home games by Fall Productions, beginning with the Nov. 27 home opener against Florida Gulf Coast. The Gauchos, who hope to schedule six nonconference home games, will also play half of their 20 Big West games at the Thunderdome.
“Gerry Fall’s crew will dedicate a significant amount of time during the stoppage of play to pan through the stands so their cutouts will be visible, front and center,” Cornet said. “But everyone’s photos need to be uploaded before Thanksgiving to make sure the cutouts are done in time for conference games (beginning Dec. 27).
“That kind of fits perfectly with our sales campaign: A cutout would make a nice holiday gift for family or friends.”
He got the idea for cutouts when professional leagues began to use them.
“The dust was first settling from all the cancelations of sports, and then the Korean Baseball League began filling the seats of their stadiums with stuffed animals and whatever else they could find,” Cornet said. “Then you began seeing all the different aspects of the cutouts at MLB stadiums.
“It’s really become the industry standard for a lot of leagues, and now it’s making its way into the Big West. I’ve heard from other ticket managers around the conference that they’re going to have cutout programs of their own.”
The NBA used video boards at its Disney’s Wide World Of Sports site to give fans a virtual experience. Cornet is exploring how UCSB could use the Thunderdome’s 50 foot-by-15 foot, 4K ultra-high definition video board in a similar way.
“Our video board is enormous, and it would be kind of fun for us to get some of our fans up there during the games,” he said. “All schools these days are digging deep to find ways to get fan interaction.”
UCSB sent out an email blast about its cutout program on Monday and sold 20 seats the first day. (Call 805-893-8272 or go to ucsbgauchos.com for purchase information).
Gold Zone donors to the Thunderdome’s new chairback seating project get priority, although the hold on their seats will expire today at noon.
“A lot of prime real estate will be opening up then,” Cornet said. “We’ve gotten a lot of feedback already, and several people want to put cutouts of their dogs into the stands. It should be a lot of fun for all of us.”
UCSB has already ordered cutouts of 29 Gaucho celebrities with more to come. Among the first batch are 17 from men’s basketball, including nine from the six-year run (1987-88 to 1992-93) when they received bids to two NCAA Tournaments and three NITs: Shaw, Eric McArthur, Carrick DeHart, Lucius Davis, Idris Jones, Mike Meyer, coaches Jerry Pimm and Ben Howland, and mascot Gaucho Joe O’Brien.
Meyer, who ranks fourth all-time in three-point percentage, has actually been helping to get cutouts produced in his position as vice-president of development at Boone Graphics.
“He’s one of our celebrities in section 1 (along with McArthur and volleyball All-American Lindsey Ruddins),” Cornet said. “We’re also looking to add several pop-culture icons who went to UCSB like (singer-songwriter) Jack Johnson and (disc jockey and music executive) Steve Aoki.”
Several other men’s basketball alumni with NBA pedigrees will be featured in cutouts: Don Ford, Orlando Johnson, James Nunnally, Alan Williams, and Vincent. Others include Michael Bryson, who is currently playing in the NBA G League, 2020 graduate Max Heidegger; who is now playing in Israel’s top league, and 2003 Big West Player of the Year Branduinn Fullove.
Women’s basketball is represented by former stars Barb Beainy, Cori Close, Erin Alexander, Kristen Mann, Lindsay Taylor, Lisa Willett and Mia Fisher.
Four coaches also will be depicted in cutouts: French, Pimm, Howland and Kathy Gregory. Another one will be of longtime athletic director Gary Cunningham.
The cutouts will be placed in the chairback seats directly behind the scorer’s table and team benches.
“The video cameras will be facing in that direction,” Cornet said. “One of my ideas, though, is to have student cutouts behind the baskets.”
And for opposing shooters, that could be the unkindest cutout of all.