So for my inaugural fan post, I'm going with some stuff that's been bouncing around in my head for some time, and I thought that the doldrums of late February, between national signing day and spring practice might be a good time to trot it out.
This began last fall when I got an email from Cal Athletics asking me to participate in a survey on what the amenities and experience in the rebuilt Memorial Stadium should look and feel like. Some of you CGBers may recall that I asked if any of you had been asked to participate as well and, from memory, I don't think any of you had. The survey offered the opportunity to go into some detail in answering questions of what you would like to see in our future remodeled football home. Sad life that I lead, the opportunity to provide this input got me really excited, as one of my personal bugaboos is that I have long felt that we needed to do a much better job on the whole football game day experience, at every level.
I've never heard anything back from the survey, although I practically begged to be personally contacted, which they implied they might do. Which brings us to today...I'm going to throw out some observations and suggestions about the game day experience and how I think we can dramatically improve on it. Obviously these are my personal preferences and ideas. Add your own and of course, as it goes without saying, critique mine. My hope is that we come up with some stuff that is actually useful to Sandy and Co, and we present it to them. What the hell...we don't have anything else meaningful to do with our lives until September 3 anyway.
Redefining the Cal Football Game Day
As I've gotten more and more insane in my fandom over the years, I've come to realize that I'm not alone. Many of you join me on those early Saturday mornings here on CGB waiting for College Gameday on ESPN to start as we get psyched for the day. For others of you, living around the world, it is not morning at all... it may not even be Saturday. My point is that we should redefine the concept of the Game day experience from simply that of what happens at the stadium during the game. It starts before dawn as I'm puttering around the kitchen making coffee and it ends as I fall asleep that night...here's what I want.
TV- There should be programming dedicated to Cal football, or at least PAC 12, starting early Saturday morning. A mini College Game Day just for us... this could take the form of the marquee programming for the new PAC 12 network. Partner with Comcast/NBC, Fox, ESPN/ABC, the Oprah Channel, I don't care, but get this done. It should be live streamed so Leon Powe can see it, and then rebroadcast to death. Steal the best ideas from the other conference networks (this theme of shameless theft will be repeated throughout this post) and come up with one or two twists that are uniquely CAL...I don't know, the Tightwad [fixed] Hill Report, a reality TV show where we put the cheerleaders into a house in Emeryville and follow their antics, cooking tips from Tosh...you get the idea...have some fun and reflect what is uniquely Cal and Cal football.
The Web- Others will have better ideas here, but there may be room for a Cal Game day site, or a Cal Game day App... find the best tailgate to mooch free beer, parking tips, a Cal "meet-up" thingy to help you find your friends, and so on. Of course there would need to be a strong link to the video mentioned above. And before I forget, this means that there needs to be a serious investment in bandwidth available to mobile devices in the stadium itself. If you've ever tried to get on the web during a game you know what I mean. More on this below.
Radio- I knew I found my soul brothers and sisters at CGB when I saw that one of you uses the moniker "Fire Starkey"...God bless you. This is tricky stuff, balancing past tradition and certain comfort zones with the need to stay relevant and current, let alone competent. This is no more evident than with the radio coverage of our beloved Bears. In my opinion it has been become ossified...the great, iconic Joe Starkey has given us all great service over the years, but he ran out of steam some time ago...I stopped bringing a radio to the game years ago as his coverage was simply too infuriating for me to bear...the rambling irrelevant monologues, his seeming pleasure in throwing some of these kids under the bus, missed calls, poor play by play and a general tone of pessimism, I couldn't take it anymore. In a completely unscientific survey of my seat mates, they can't either...only one still comes with ear buds in. It used to be a lot more.
So let's build Joe a massive bronze statue, erect it in the plaza and we'll all rub the toe ‘til it shines, but it's time for him to move on.
Some Ideas...we should not be on KGO or KNEW...they do not have the holistic commitment to sports coverage fans want and deserve...so, negotiate the best deal you can with KNBR, take less money if you need to, but the benefits will far outweigh any cash flow hit. Presently, we get only the most passing of mention on the important and closely followed talk slots on KNBR...Murph and Mac, Radnich, the Razor and Mr. T all seem to have only the most rudimentary interest and knowledge of Cal football, but that's because it's not on their channel. KNBR truly is "The Sports Leader" with the Giants, Niners, Warriors, and Sharks under their tent. They have two frequencies allowing them to cover multiple sports which many of us follow in addition to Cal...on Saturday college football mornings they default to ESPN and then cover other games...it should be us. By including Cal in their stable, we'll not only get better game day coverage but the attention we deserve during the week. Take this simple test right now...go to the KNBR website and then KGO or KNEW...which do you want to be your flagship?
Like TV, the radio coverage should begin early on the morning of game days and extend well into the night...the Early line, The March to Victory, Tailgate Tales, the Top Dog Pregame Show (this will make sense later), play by play by the most passionate, unabashedly "homer" professional broadcaster we can find (hell, we deserve the "Miller , Kruk and Kuip, even the Furdster Flemming", level of broadcasting), post game for the drive home (maybe we give this to Starkey as a bone) and then call in shows late into the night. If you want some ideas on how this all should sound, subscribe to satellite radio and listen to some of the local coverage for teams in the SEC, Big 10 etc....again, steal some of the best ideas.
Finally, all of the above needs to be integrated and cross promoted. Not sure who takes the leadership role in this...IMG, formerly ISP? But you get the idea... a complete, comprehensive remake and update of our Game day media coverage.
The Pregame Festivities
This is one of our greatest challenges and opportunities for improvement. As much as I hate all things red and Furd, I love going to the Big Game at the Farm. We get there early in the morning and set up camp. We have an RV, so we get into this more than some, but we are far from alone. All manner of tailgates are set up, from simple picnics in the trunks of cars, to full on camps with multiple buses. By Mid day, the party is in full swing. The smell of great food, kids playing impromptu games of pick up, Cal fight songs blasting from all manner of devices and speakers...the 21st century equivalent of the traveling festival that preceded the great medieval tournaments. I've had similar experiences on the golf course next to the Rose Bowl for UCLA. And even with U$C games at the Coliseum, though in so many ways grim, the pregame festivities can rock. It's fun hanging with your tribe while getting to know the others.
As we all know, the geography, Campus layout and residential neighborhood realities relegate the pregame and tailgate experience to a series of isolated and disjointed activities. The area around the Faculty club, underground parking garages, various other corners of campus, the so-called Fun Zone and Frat Houses all serve as venues, but there is little sense of community.
I don't think it's for lack of interest ...again, see what happens on the Farm and away games. But this is a tough one. I don't have any brilliant suggestions on how to improve on this...maybe opening up the campus more to somehow accommodate more joint activities ... closing off streets once in a while as a test....using other playing fields, like Edwards, for tailgating...dedicate the "fun zone" for kid based activities, but create other more adult oriented venues, ie the Lair of the Bear Beer Garden, or something like that....rent-a-bbq...I know I'm reaching, but we just must be able to do better. Again, maybe we can check out some other campuses around the country with similar challenges, see what they've come up with, and steal the idea.
I will admit part of my inspiration for this was fueled by the great little book, "Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer" which is a wonderful telling of a fan's season on the road following Alabama...check it out... .... Maybe it will give you some inspiration.
Approaching the Stadium
This will be a short section of this diatribe...but some thoughts...there is something really cool about the energy as we approach the stadium. The crowd grows and gets more excited as we get closer...We check out the garb of the opposing tribes...I'll never forget the incredible outfits the folks from Tennessee had the nerve to parade in front of us...we start our chants...roll on you bears... and then we hit the wall..the security check point. I know we need to do this to protect ourselves from ourselves, but we need to speed this up, particularly if we plan, as I hope we do, to regularly sell out the new Memorial. More and faster lines are obvious. But let's also think about leveraging this opportunity of confined energy...why not have yell leaders or Mic men whipping up the crowd...a Go Bears competition between adjacent lines...Oski working the crowd....I don't know what will really work, but again you get the idea...be thoughtful about this, and try some fun stuff out...it's how traditions get born.
The Stadium Experience
Tradition meets today's expectations.
We share a remarkable history and it needs to be on display in the revamped Memorial Stadium. Figure out how to best display memorabilia, photographs of past glory, etc. The walkways, stairwells and wall space should be curated like a museum...keep some things up forever, and rotate in new items/displays to surprise, delight, and challenge fans....this is our temple, and we need to honor our demigods, the California Golden Bears...Am I going too far here?????
But this needs to be much more than a temple to our past...it needs to meet and exceed the expectations of sophisticated/jaded Cal fans. We travel, take great cuisine for granted, know the magic that is ATT Park and place high value on our time. Some of us have just spent a gazillion dollars on ESP licenses, while others show our devotion by showing up forever, no matter the team or chances of victory... in all cases we really care. So we need to repay that devotion by leveraging the investments that are being made to upgrade the facilities. And here I'm going to make a very important point...it does not take more money to do this...it simply takes a deliberate and thoughtful effort. At every turn, the question needs to be asked, how this could be cooler, more interesting, more fun and reflective of our great traditions and values.
For a simple example of what not to do, just drive down to the Furd and see the joke of a stadium that was built there just a few years ago...soulless, meaningless, devoid of all energy and purpose. Reminds me of the rest of the place...but I digress.
I think the effort could start with an examination of the values that may resonate with current and future Cal fans...things like respect for tradition, pride in the University as a whole, our counterculture roots, the phenomenon of "it started in Berkeley" (ie disability rights, no smoking restaurants, the biotech industry, California cuisine, quantum physics, Julia Morgan architecture, etc), environmental sustainability, music and the arts...and so on. Create a set of filters to put each aspect of the design and amenities through, and constantly ask yourself, how could it be better, cooler, smarter...how can we make it so that fans wouldn't even think of missing a game, and there is a waiting list for season tickets because, in part, the experience in Memorial is just so awesome.
By applying the above set of filters, we have a remarkable opportunity here to get this right, and a wonderful model nearby to steal from. ATT Park has done a great job of bringing a huge variety of good food to the stadium experience. We can do even better. So, why not have a Top Dog (and cross promote it through sponsorship, as noted above), Zachary's Pizza, Korean BBQ, the best taco truck, La Farine, Peets coffee, and so on. Put in a space for rotating providers. Offer fresh fruit smoothies, Italian ice cream and more. Surprise, delight, exceed expectations....You get the idea.
I'm very concerned that the food vending contract will be given to a large outfit specializing in Stadium operations. This would be the safe, easy bureaucratic decision, and a colossal mistake. They will promise the moon, show plans to provide great service, offer up food choices that seem like the real thing ( Flop Dog, Zappary's frozen Pizza rolls), and most temptingly, promise more money. Don't fall for it. Hire a smart team of local managers, bring the operations in house and let them run with it. You'll cut out the unnecessary overhead and much more will flow to the bottom line through increased volume, extremely satisfied customers and overall brand value. Again, just look across the Bay...I'm sure Larry Baer will share his pro forma's on how to do this right.
Another tough one, but worth kicking around. My company is a sponsor of Cal athletics. One of the perks of this sponsorship has been admission to the secret hidden room in the stadium before the game and at half time...In this wonderful, if small and cramped space, we were fed (the best was during an Oregon game and the caterer served Duck Fajitas) and could buy a beer or glass of wine. No one got out of hand, there were families there...very mellow and a nice break from splintered wooden benches. A nice corporate perk. Could we figure out a way to offer somthing like this up to more folks? You can get beer at other College football games, ie Nevada (OK, no great surprise there) and the world seems to somehow keep on turning
I do feel compelled to also express a note of caution. Until a couple of years ago the LA Coliseum was essentially a Bar fronting as a sports venue. Literally pitchers of margaritas, bottles of wine and huge cups of beer were on sale everywhere. It got out of hand very fast...way too much fuel for the sports ardor fire. The U$C fan is obnoxious enough as it is without a belly full of booze, and we saw some crazy stuff that no one would want repeated here.
Not sure, but guessing the rules may be different in the new private boxes that will be going in, as they already are for the corporate sponsors. So, I bring this up for discussion...can we find a way to offer adult beverages in a responsible way to a broader audience in the stadium?
OK, we've grabbed our Top Dog and may or may not have a Trummer Pils in a biodegradable cup, and we make your way to our seats... here is what I hope to see and hear.
First, we absolutely need state of the art audio and video. I know the sound system was improved a couple of years ago by Meyers Sound...our thanks go out to them. But for some reason, there are times when we can hear the mic men clearly, and others when we cannot...not sure if this is by design,or some technical issue. Bottom line, ensure all fans can hear mic men and announcers clearly, no matter the noise.
As to video, the biggest replay screen(s) we can get, positioned in a way that all fans can see, are a must. Don't scrimp here and blow this opportunity to get this part right.
Secondly, as noted way above (god, is anyone still reading this?) we need a party boat load of bandwidth pumping through the joint. It's been bad, and will only get worse as we become more attached to our various mobile devises. 3G, 4G, Wifi...we need it all and in doses large enough to accommodate the capacity of the stadium. Again, this one may be tricky, expensive, political, etc, but I would put it on the very top of the priority list...quick anecdote...a few years ago when Sling Box first came out we brought our smart phone to the game,and my wife was trying to log on so we could catch instant replays...by sheer coincidence the President of the company was sitting in the aisle next to us,and he was really pumped that we had his service...but even he could not get it to work...think he paid top dollar for his ESP license?????
Finally, and this may be another tricky one, we need to do a thousand times better at keeping the crowd engaged in the game. We know it can be done...while many of us have whined and opined elsewhere on the glum silence of certain Old Blues, we have also all been there when the place was absolutely rocking, with our reticent glum brethren on their feet going nuts. In part this is of course due to what is happening on the field and against whom, but I refuse to believe it's only that. Some ideas....not all mic men are created equal, and I'm not sure how they are selected. But whatever we've done in the past, this should not be left to luck and chance. We need to have the very best... a motivating, incessant maniac who knows how to do this. Again, we should go to school on how other places keep the fans in the game...how do the Oregon fans stay whipped up...the Tennessee's and the other SEC schools famous for their tough home fields? Also, I think we should evaluate the tone and content of the announcer. This is our house...I think we can top a mildly energetic "First Down Bears" as the apex of his enthusiasm.
Tedford repeatedly asks for fans to become part of the effort and make as much noise as possible, but I feel we often let him down. Let's figure out how to make it better, and then do so deliberately.
So, who owns the responsibility for implementing all of the above and dramatically enhancing the Cal football game day experience, both inside the stadium and out? Is there one person, or a small team of folks with this as the top line in their job descriptions? I really don't know, but if I were to guess, the responsibility is likely dispersed. The folks making the call on venue food are likely not the same ones with sway over the quality of the mic men or how we improve the tailgate options. The challenge is that, as I hope I have laid out above, these decisions are more interrelated as one might suspect. So one uber plea would be that whoever is on top of all this takes the opportunity to think more broadly and take a holistic look at the game day experience from start to finish.
I look forward to your input and hope we can make this an exercise that provides some good ideas for the athletic department to work with...GO BEARS!