How Invested Do Cal Alumni Feel In Their Football And Athletics Programs?

Because Cal alumni will soon have to start ponying up for the Endowment Seating Program, it's a good time to gauge the temperature of our alumni. In short, it's time to find out how willing Golden Bears in the stands are feeling about the way their football team is performing and whether they'd ever be willing to donate to the athletic department..

I feel it's an important time to discuss these issues with a long and uncertain offseason ahead of us. Given that Cal football had its most disappointing season in over a decade, that the AD is under constant siege from the faculty, and the athletic cuts angered a great deal of alumni who love baseball and rugby (and to a lesser extent, lacrosse and gymnastics),  I can only imagine that they won't be in such a forgiving mood. That's a worrying state of mind, considering Cal Athletics cannot move forward unless the donors are willing to help pay for it.

But there are also other concerns that go beyond wins and losses that could threaten the overall stability of the Athletic Department.   Fans from all over have expressed concern that the fan experience is diminishing overall.

I'm wondering Cal alumni: What's your relationship with the athletic department like? Does it affect your passion for the football team? If you're a donor, what's your relationship like with the AD?

ragnarok: I doubt the ability of most Cal football fans, especially those that post on the Internet, to honestly separate their feelings on this matter from their feelings regarding the overall w/l record.

norcalnick: Is this a big issues for non-donors?  I mean, donors matter, but I follow Cal much more closely than the average person and Tedford's rather paranoid handling of media matters hasn't impacted me in any way.  I guess I want Cal to treat their donors well so that they keep donating, but I don't want them to bend over backwards too just because they give money.

I guess what I'm saying is that this may be a problem, but for a very small percentage of Cal fans.

HydroTech: This.

Avinash: Well, this isn't for us. We'd follow Cal football if we were on our deathbeds.

This is for all the people out there (the casual fans, the rich fans), that make and keep Cal football running. The people who will finance ESP and Cal Athletics down the road with their ticket sales and donations, whether they be small or big. Will they be discouraged by performances like this season's and the hardly positive relationship between the AD and the alumni?

norcalnick: To the season performance, absolutely.  If Cal football continues to play like this, it will drive away plenty of fans.

To the AD/alumni relationship, I think this is a potentially important issue, but a smaller one.  From the sound of that above quote, it's an issue exclusively for donors who expect that their donation should buy them some level of insight and access into the program.  I mean, what percentage of season ticket holders are a) donors and b) expect program info/insight/access with that donation?  I don't know, but I wouldn't expect that the number would be very large.  The casual fans couldn't care less about that kind of stuff.  It's just wins and losses that they care about.

TwistNHook: These appear to be 2 separate questions. Regarding the driving away fans, thats separate from driving away donors.  This former Golden Bear player appears to be a donor.  His expectations go beyond W/L.  He wants access.  He wants something in return for his money.  The people financing the ESP and paying big money are like this, too.  No casual fan is all "Let me give $100,000 to Cal!"  

Regarding what Tedford has done, it is unclear.  There is the media thing, which is one issue.  He did not provide any specifics as to what Tedford has done besides that that might cause him to be frustrated with the program.  Without these specifics, it is difficult to determine the validity to any of his concerns.

Avinash: I would say that in many places around the country, donors are given a lot of perks that normal fans are not. Apparently, there seems to be a growing trend by people that believes they're feeling distanced from the program, which seems highly ill-advised.

One prominent Bear Backer had this to say.

Compare the Cal vs Furd game experience today:

Cal ESP: same food as always in the tent, not enough room, too loud and bathroom lines. Difficult to park, incompetent crowd control for those trying to park near the stadium, no crowd and traffic control once you leave the immediate stadium area, terrible congestion, no real place to meet friends, wet, ugly weather, lousy wet benches in overcrowded seating (some of this will change), no one really interested in feedback because the place is overrun with people, and a terrible atmosphere from a publicity standpoint with a coach who won't say anything relevant, and blames the fans for not showing-up to see a losing team. A lot of this is forgivable when you have a winning team.

Furd: good parking, good crowd control, nice stadium, ESP equivalent changes the food every game with superior food, enough room, nice seats, name tags, administrators and professors that meet and greet, pleasant atmosphere, no one watches the band, the good seats have a back and our covered from the elements, a coach that makes an effort to to answer the media honestly (sometimes speaking before he thinks), and real outreach to try and improve attendance: for example, THEY GAVE OUT SELF ADDRESSED CARDS TO EVERYONE IN ATTENDANCE TODAY ASKING HOW TO IMPROVE THE GAME EXPERIENCE. Also, the team is now winning.

Which school's program do you think is going in the right direction? There is more to work on at Cal than just the X's and O's. Is the Cal administration listening to its donors these days?


Alienating these donors (who ultimately foot the bill for Cal athletics) is a good way to set our sports teams up for failure in the long-run.

I understand many people will be like, "HEY, if we just win no one will give a crap about this stuff", but you have to admit an administration that makes its fans feel involved in the experience could go a long way with soothing feathers and keep people from making statements like "I'm withdrawing my support from the program." It doesn't feel like our AD is going the extra mile to make our team feel involved.

norcalnick: I'm curious how much of that we can blame on the AD and how much we can blame on the insane location + construction.  Doesn't seem like there's a ton anybody can do about crowd control and space issues.  Everything else sounds pretty bad though.

TwistNHook: I dont understand.  Most of those relate to the differences between Cal and Stanford.  A lot of the differences regarding the stadium relate to the fact that we have an 87 year old stadium on a major fault and Stanford doesn't.  Sandy and Tedford have been DESPERATELY trying to ugprade all this and actually are in the process of doing so, despite the absolute insanity of the tree-sitters et al.

And stuff like wet and ugly weather doesn't seem relatable to the AD.  Are we blaming Sandy and Tedford for rain now?  

I don't understand the real outreach to try to improve attendance thing.  Stanford desperately needs to improve attendance and actively gives out free tickets.  Cal generally has great attendance.  And the one game with shitty, shitty timing they basically also gave out free or $10 tickets.  

But he does complain that the ESP peeps dont get better food than us plebes at Cal.  And they gave him a card with a stamp on it.  So, point this guy. 

norcalnick: Also worth considering:  Do we really have the money to spend on wining and dining?  We're cutting sports, and declining returns on the football field isn't exactly leading to increased revenue to spend on stuff like food for donors.

Avinash: Speaking of which Nick, I believe alumni are seriously disgruntled after having sports like baseball and rugby cut from the varsity sports list. Yes, Cal rugby might be on an unfair playing field and Cal baseball is losing money, but it seems like a shortsighted move and might ultimately alienate a large number that have sported the Golden Bears for decades.

Apparently the Cardinal did a similar cost-cutting exploration and decided that cutting sports would cause a similar cut in donations. I wish the administration had thought about that possible blowback. The Chancellor might have decided that cutting five varsity sports would be the best way to cut costs to appease the rabid faculty members, but he might be horrified to find out that these cuts will entail a similar reduction in donations to the athletic department, and keep the losses going.

TwistNHook: 1.  The administration thought about the potential blowback.  They thought very clearly about potential blowback.  In the chancellor's report, they discussed how cutting sports would lead to a decrease in donations.

2.  The Chancellor did not decide that cutting five varsity sports would be the best way to cut costs to appease the rabid faculty members.  That is not an accurate way to frame the decision.  The Chancellor (and Athletic Director and others in decision making positions) decided that cutting four varsity sports and re-organizing the fifth in an unimportant bureaucratic manner was the best way to cut costs (and stay faithful to Title IX) to deal with a massive budget crisis that has never been encountered before.  

In tough times, tough decisions have to be made.  Tough decisions were made.  Every possible scenario to avoid these decisions was considered.  The fact that they were made shows the severity of the situation.

CBKWit: I actually have some decent quasi "inside" knowledge about the sports getting cut.  It solves a $5 million/year shortfall, so the question everyone asks is: can't we just find $5 million in a huge budget to keep these?  The problem is, of course, that then you have the same problem next year, so in order to keep/support these sports you need an endowment of ~ $115 million.  Apparently the athletic department has been pretty honest about telling people this, but while plenty of people have complained (and probably rightfully so), no one is putting up gifts that would help create this $115 million endowment.

TwistNHook: Well, everybody is hurting.  Although I am not privy to the numbers the way CBkWit might have, I am sure donations are down overall.  But I bet a lot of it has to do with people flat out hurting from the economy.  Perhaps Cal isn't doing the best to bring in the fans, I don't know.  But to even keep the same level of donations from years past, independent of W/L, would be difficult

LeonPowe: Even with all of the things they're doing right on the Farm and everything the Cal Athletic Department isn't doing - our attendance is far better - and its not just about the size of the alumni and student body fanbase either - those remain fairly constant.  The key is gaining those extra bodies from the community at large.

Having worked at a company that took in half of its revenues from ticket sales, there's really only two things which motivate people in the mass end of the scale - price or "extras" - like giveaways or special events at the game itself. Everything which was mentioned - parking, food, etc. only effects and motivates the top 5-8% of the ticket buyers who rarely walk away anyways.

Kodiak:   It's a little bit of apples and oranges.  There is plenty of parking at 'furd as well as plenty of attention because NO ONE EFFING GOES TO THE GAMES.  Anyhow, I have a bit of a different perspective because I went to Cal for undergrad and private school for both of my professional schools.  In terms of expectations, I'd be quite happy with Top Dog at a Cal event...but I would expect something nicer at one of my professional school events.  It also depends on the cost per ticket. 

I've been to both Haas Club room events and the special Bear Backer football tailgates:  Cheap hotdogs and popcorn at Haas, dried chicken breast sandwiches at the tailgate.  Although overpriced, in neither case did I feel like I was being ripped off.  In a weird way, I don't mind that Cal isn't breaking the bank to put out a lavish spread.  We're Cal, after all.  I also have relatives who are Bear Backers and get to attend the nicer functions.  They have no complaints.  They can talk to the coaches/AD if they want to, or they can enjoy the pre-game festivities with their friends without having slimy admin fall over themselves kissing *ss.  They feel that the quality of the food/service has improved since Tedford has arrived.  Quite honestly, there is a big difference between a "Cal" function and a "furd" function.  Although we might appreciate the white tablecloth type of stuff, we don't expect it.  And, we're smart enough to realize that phony gestures like obsequious butt-kissing are exactly that.
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