Kabam Field roundtable: How happy are Cal fans with the deal?

Thearon W. Henderson

Recently, Cal sold the naming rights to its field (not stadium) for $18 mil over 15 years to Kabam, a mobile gaming company. What are your thoughts on this cashing in?

Vincent S: It could have been worse. I think it's admirable that we went with a Cal grada "success story", if you will. We definitely could use the cash, and I really like that the stadium will continue to be called California Memorial Stadium. As naming goes, Kabam Field is a lot better, in my opinion, than, say, BP Field. I'm always going to hope for Tesla Field if we have to do this, though.

Ruey Yen: Tesla Field would be a cool name (particularly in honor of the inventor Tesla), but do you realize that Elon Musk is a 'Furd dropout? His wiki page claims that he was only there for 2 days before dropping out of the Applied Physics PhD program.

Nick Kranz: From a psychological standpoint, I find the entire exercise fascinating. Upon the initial announcement, many, many people have been irate about this deal. And I'll admit, my initial reaction was not favorable. There's something about corporate sponsorship that seems inherently distasteful, no matter the precise circumstances.

And yet, is this anything materially different than having an official Bank of Cal football? Or an official car? Essentially, it means that Cal athletics will make reference to the sponsor, and the sponsor will have its logo splashed in various spots in Memorial Stadium... which makes Kabam just like any of a dozen other Cal sponsors seen throughout Memorial Stadium already.

The only difference is now the full 'official' (read: ignored) name of that place where we watch football is "Kabam Field at California Memorial Stadium," which again, you will never see outside of official Cal press releases.

It's a cosmetic change materially identical to any of a hundred sponsorships Cal has been involved with over the years, except it will net 18 million during a period of time when Cal badly needs the cash. So why was my (and many others) initial reaction so negative?

TwistNHook: Just to be clear: I will ALWAYS refer to it as Kabam Field at Memorial Stadium and may refer to it as Kabam Stadium!

I'll also note that this is a really good deal compared to Maryland's deal (which is the biggest amount of money provided for a field):

The University of Maryland sold naming rights for the field at its Byrd Stadium to Chevy Chase Bank for $20 million, but that was over 25 years.

Kabam is doing more than just giving money for PR, too:

The agreement between Kabam and the university extends beyond the field naming rights. The funds also go to a scholarship and internship programs, speaking engagements, and other partnerships on the campus centered around innovation and technology. Kabam will also pay for football tickets for 500 veterans and their families each season, in recognition of the stadium’s origin as a memorial to Californians who gave their lives in World War I. In addition, Cal Athletics will as a result of the deal donate $25,000 to the University Library annually.

Sam Fielder: I was initially skeptical when the news first came out, but given that A) it is a decent amount of money (that we need), B) As Nick said, it isn't like it is going to be used in common conversations about Memorial, and C) the co-founder and CEO is an alum that seemed genuinely excited about it, I know don't really think it is that big of a deal. It's going to happen all over the country more and more I think, so we might as well make some money where we can and to be honest, it could be a lot worse.

Ruey Yen: Ka-ching! The money from Kabam is definitely a much needed addition for the athletic department. I know some purists are lamenting the further commercialization of the football program, but this is a rather small step in the grand scheme of things, in my opinion.This is easily the optimal scenario. Other than some new logo of Kabam (whatever their rebranded logo without the bomb would look like) around the stadium, I expect maybe some giveaways at games with the Kabam logo as well. It's nothing that should be too intrusive (or all that new, like all those Bank of the West ads that are on plenty of Cal giveaways, etc.), and it allows a successful alum to donate more money back to the school and in many other areas outside of just football.


Leon Powe: I think it's a great deal. We don't have to give up naming rights for Memorial Stadium, it's money in our pocket. Basically, Kabam becomes a presenting sponsor but we don't have to plaster their name everywhere, we just get their checks. I'm happy with it. And I think the 18 mil is a great amount too. Blah blah blah tradition etc. We already put Bear Data and Bank of the West everywhere.

I like that Cal has 29 sports, but I also would prefer for athletics to not take any money from the academic side. The sponsorship aspect is pretty much unavoidable and the future. The best run Cal program is probably Cal Men's Golf who is fully funded via sponsorship and endowment.

ragnarok: I don't have any illusions of the "purity" of college football remaining (if, indeed, the sport ever was pure at the highest level, which is doubtful), so the naming rights for a field which wasn't previously named doesn't bother me at all. The only worry I had was the thought that California Memorial Stadium could ever be named anything elseyou can't dedicate something in the memory of anyone (especially military veterans) and then take that away without some justifiable backlash.

Compare this, however, to the basketball arena floor, currently named Pete Newell Court. Does it feel "purer" to name a college athletic facility to honor a former sports hero at that school? Of course it does. But now, one wonders how much money Cal could have gotten by selling out that floor to the highest bidder as well...

Berkelium97: I would have preferred to name it after a big donor instead of a corporation, but I can't complain too much about how events unfolded. We needed money and we scored $18 million over 15 yearsthat's a nice payout. If we have to name the field after a company, I'm happy that it's a company founded by Cal alumni and that it appears at first glance to be a non-malevolent, non-controversial company. Given that Kabam operates in the mobile gaming domain, I wonder if they will still be around at the end of the 15-year agreement. If they go under, I suppose we could always find someone else to buy the field rights (which ideally will be worth more, as we hopefully aren't again coming off two consecutive disastrous seasons).

Avinash Kunnath: Here is some information from the press release:

Naming rights to the field is one element of a broad financing plan for both California Memorial Stadium and the adjacent Simpson Center for Student-Athlete High Performance unveiled nearly a year ago and reviewed by faculty from Berkeley Haas School of Business. Other aspects of the model include proceeds from the seat sales in the Endowment Seating Program (ESP), stadium lease and rental income, investment returns and philanthropy. In addition to securing the partnership between Cal and Kabam, long-tern agreements have been signed for a Haas School of Business Innovation Lab (iLab) and a Recreation Sports fitness facility inside the stadium. Taken together, these revenue streams are enabling Cal Athletics to meet its financial obligations, and as of the end of the 2013 fiscal year, the cash balance in a Fund Functioning as an Endowment for the projects was $54.7 million, or more than $2 million above the base-case expected value.

"From the very beginning, naming rights have been part of the financial model, which is meant to ensure that the athletic department is able to fulfill its responsibility and service its debt," said John Wilton, Vice Chancellor for administration and finance. "Under these diversified sources of revenue, there is less reliance on any one particular component with more stability and certainty over the long run."

With a value of nearly $1.2 million per year over the lifetime of the agreement, the Cal-Kabam partnership is the largest field naming rights deal in collegiate sports.

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Let us know what you think about the new name in the comments below!

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