Cal Football: More on the Memorial Stadium Debt

Kelley L Cox-US PRESSWIRE

According to the Chronicle, things look ugly.

If you went to any home games last season, then you already know that the ESP seats aren't even close to being sold out yet - and that spells trouble for the university down the line, as it takes funds out of academics, and reroutes them to paying the debt, instead. As it stands right now, we're still in the easy phase of things:

This year, the campus contributed $4.5 million.

Stadium debt already absorbs 20 percent of intercollegiate athletics' annual income, or roughly $18 million of its $89 million budget. And that pays only the interest.

Cal won't start paying down the principal until 2032, when its yearly payments rise to $26 million, then $37 million, before tapering off in 2051. After a brief respite, Cal will owe a lump sum of $82 million in 2053 alone. Then it will have six decades to pay off the final 17 percent, or $75 million.

The Chronicle did some digging, and discovered that the situation could be even worse than originally imagined - even after every ESP seat was sold, the stadium debt would remain at a staggering 134 million.

This has forced some changes in strategy, including the usage of sales professionals. Other steps being taken include:

-- "Corporate Bundles." These are short-term, discounted seats in the University Club section where the price is normally $175,000 - the cheapest tier in the priciest area. Now, corporations can pay $10,000 a seat for a two-year contract, but they have to buy six-seat bundles. Buyers can also write off about two-thirds of the price because it's considered a philanthropic donation, spokesman Dan Mogulof said.

-- "Perk Pricing." Available only to friends of endowment seat owners, this program is meant to entice new long-term buyers with single-season, discounted seats. These cost $2,500 in the University Club, $1,400 in the mid-level Stadium Club, and $700 in the Field Club.

-- Playoff payoff: Beginning in 2014, Cal will get additional TV revenue from college football's new playoff system, and will earmark a portion for stadium debt. It expects another bump-up in 2017 after renegotiating its media contract, and it will use some of that for the same purpose.

-- Landlording: Some of the more glittery new spaces, like the University Club with its romance-worthy views of the bay and Mount Tamalpais, will be rented out for events, while office space in the complex - left unfinished for lack of funds - will be completed and leased to other departments or off-campus agencies.

Even with all that, though, skeptics remain.

Taking a grimmer view is Roger Noll, an emeritus professor at Stanford and an expert in stadium financing.

He pointed to less ambitious efforts to finance new stadiums in Michigan and Texas, which aren't going well.

"If Texas can't raise the money, how the hell do you think Cal can?" Noll said with a rueful laugh.

"I hope they succeed, but the chances are not very high," he said. "My guess is the incremental revenue from the stadium is not going to be even close to paying off the structural deficit."

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