For all the excitement surrounding the return of Cal football, there has been a persistent undercurrent of grumbling with regards to the home opener. The most frequent objections have had to do primarily with high ticket prices and secondarily with Candlestick's somewhat inconvenient location. With the recent announcements that Cal ticket sales for this game are lagging well behind FSU's, a lot of fans have been pointing fingers at Cal Athletics.
There seems to be the perception that the Cal Athletic Ticket Office (ATO) made a mistake with the selection of Candlestick as a venue and then completely bungled the pricing structure. Some season ticket holders have mentioned annoyance that this game wasn't included in their package or wasn't offered at a discount.
To clarify how this game and the ticket prices came to be, Associate Athletic Director and Head of Business & Revenue Development Matt Terwilliger was gracious enough to give CGB some additional background information.
After the jump, let's take a bullet point look at the venue and ticket price issues:
Issue #1: Only five games could be played at AT&T Park.
Analysis: Obviously, that means the sixth game would need to be played at another venue as a "neutral site" game.
Cal Athletics was faced with the decision between trying to play this game locally or on the road.
Matt Terwilliger explains, "Our emphasis was on the team and the fans first. It's better for the team and for the fans to have a game close to home. A home-field advantage is better for the players, and it would be much more accessible for our fans than having to travel out of state. Our only other choice was to play this is a road game, probably in a hostile environment, definitely out of state. This was the best deal out there."
Of the available venues, the only sites available locally were the Coliseum and Candlestick Park. Although the Coliseum was highly appealing, it had to be ruled out because the A's were already scheduled to play the Mariner's on September 3rd.
So ultimately, with a choice between Candlestick or out of state, Cal Athletics selected a promotions company who worked out a deal with Candlestick Park.
Issue #2: Ticket Pricing
Analysis: As the promoter for this neutral site game, Washington Redskins, Inc. was responsible for setting the ticket prices. Looking at the price list for both schools, you can see that the price structure is identical for Cal and FSU.
Sideline Upper Box - $95
Sideline Lower Box and Lower Reserve - $95
Corner/Endzone Upper Box, Lower Reserve and Box - $75
Sideline Upper Level - $55
Corner/Endzone Upper Level - $40
Phonecalls to the Cal ATO and to the FSU ATO confirmed that they had no voice in determining regular ticket prices.
For comparison purposes, single game tickets for 49er games held at Candlestick are significantly higher, $59-$350. Looking at other neutral site games, Red River Rivalry tickets in Dallas are also more expensive at $282-$336 as are Georgia Dome tickets for The World's Largest Cocktail party at $130-$220 (Florida v. Georgia). Although I could not find more comparable pre-season neutral site game for a more accurate pricing reference, it appears that: 1) Cal-FSU got a break relative to normal Candlestick prices, and 2) Neutral Site Promoters will charge whatever the market will bear based on demand. If this was Cal vs. a Top-25 powerhouse, I would expect prices would have soared accordingly.
Issue #3: Although the regular ticket prices are the same, the Cal student tickets are only $20 as opposed to $35 for FSU. If Cal was able to change these prices, why couldn't they change the others?
Analysis: Per Matt Terwilliger, Cal negotiated flexibility on student ticket prices when they signed the contract with WRI because it was important for them that the students still be able to reasonably attend this game. This was the only area with regards to pricing where they had any flexibility. FSU either did not negotiate the same deal, or chose not to exercise this option.
Regardless of what you might think about the rest of the contract, you have to give kudos to Cal for sticking up for the students. Considering that Cal had little to no leverage (Candlestick or the bush?), it was rather fortunate that WRI didn't play hardball and stick the students with a $40 ticket as originally planned.
Issue #4: The season ticket holders still had to buy Cal vs. FSU as a separate ticket and were not offered a discount.
Analysis: The distinction here is that this game is a neutral site game that happens to be played locally, not another home game. It's similar to how Cal Men's Basketball would play at the Coliseum for the Pete Newell Challenge. There is a home-court advantage for being local, but it's not included with season tickets because it's technically a neutral-site tournament.
With regards to discounts, Matt Terwilliger said that Cal could not offer discounts per their contractual obligation. Because of this, they opted not to bundle the ticket with the regular season package. Bundling would have required season ticket holders to pay full price for the Cal-FSU game. Instead, Cal Athletics hoped that season ticket holders would be less offended by the price than by making it mandatory to buy the extra ticket. In some ways, it was a leap of faith that the Cal fanbase would still come out to support the team and provide a home-field advantage.
Issue #5: Cal needs to sell $637,500 in tickets to get $1,000,050 guaranteed. Will the Athletic Department be forced to buy out the remaining tickets in order to get the full guarantee?
Analysis: Because Cal is only penalized by the amount they fall short from $637,500, there is no advantage to buying them back; falling short does not mean they surrender the entire payout. For example, if Cal falls $100k short of their goal, they make $100k less from their guaranteed payout. Paying $100k in tickets to get $100k more in a payout is redundant.
Per Jonathan Okanes, as of 8/24/11, the Cal ATO had sold approximately 7,500 tickets as opposed to FSU's 12,000.
Issue #6: If the Giants make the playoffs, Cal football will need to find another venue for some of their games.
Analysis: Matt Terwilliger said that, "Backup plans have been in discussion for some time. There are many parties being consulted who have gone through this before. Both the Coliseum and Candlestick are being considered as the only two logical choices. Our goal is to make this process as easy for the fans as possible. When Plan B is confirmed, we will make that information readily available."
When pressed whether the Cal ATO was now rooting for the Diamondbacks, Terwilliger replied that they were going to follow Coach Tedford's lead. "We're all still Giants fans for now."
Cal Athletics freely admits that their solution for this year is not ideal. However, considering the alternatives, it appears that they did the best they could in a difficult situation. If a year of inconvenience is the price for the SAHPC and an upgraded Memorial Stadium, I think that's an easy trade. Those consecutive top 25 recruiting classes didn't sign up because they wanted to see hippies in trees.
For all the complaints about the high prices at Candlestick, I would much prefer to have the option of reasonably attending the home opener rather than the wholly unpalatable and unreasonable prospect of flying out of state to play Fresno State. Let's face it - none of us want to experience another losing season. This home opener is very important to our team and they need our support. Do we really want to let Fresno State dominate the neutral field? There's still time to make Candlestick Bear Territory. Go Bears!