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Learn More About Cal's Endowment Seating Program

TwistNHook:  On March 6, 2010, I attended a presentation about Cal's Endowment Seating Program before the Cal-Stanford women's basketball game.  We'll have much more on the basketball game, but we wanted to dedicate an entire post to the ESP, because it is unique and important.

ragnarok:  I also attended the same presentation a week earlier, before the Men's Basketball game vs. ASU.  I took notes and pictures too, and so will be chiming in from time to time.


TwistNHook:  I first arrived at 10:30 AM at the appointed time.  I noticed that people were attending without a ticket to the women's basketball game.  I was surprised at this, because based on the email I received, I was under the impression that you had to have tickets to the women's game to attend the pitch.  They were giving these people tickets to the women's game that I say said "VIP" on them and told them to give them back at the end.  A couple thoughts:

1.  Uh, that honor system is quaint.  Would have been so easy to just keep the tickets, perhaps.
2.  Even if you return the tickets, women's bball is open seating, nobody really checks tickets as long as you don't get too greedy.  So, you could probably have gotten into the game somewhere for free, saving $10-17 bucks!
3.  So, basically I could have potentially talked my way into free VIP seats?  This will become important later on, but at the time I was kicking myself for paying those 12 dollars.  My mooching ability has really fallen off, hasn't it?

ragnarok:  I can't help but think that if you're trying to get longtime fans to potentially donate tens of thousands of dollars to your athletic program for football tickets, you won't really dicker with those same people over a $12 seat to a women's basketball game.  Besides the fact that these big-time donors would probably be the least likely to try and mooch free seats (TwistNHook notwithstanding).

TwistNHook:  So, I wandered around for a while.  Ran into Yes We Cannon, who was attending also.  We took a peek at the court itself.  The entire men's b-ball team was out, practicing.  Monty was saying something to the team, which I failed to understand.  I did not take any photos, because I feared that if they saw me I'd get booted for being a "spy" or some such thing.  The photos would not have been all that bad, because they were just sorta standing around.  Better safe than sorry, though. 

Different standards for practicing viewing than the football team.  We just sorta wandered in and listened for a few moments.  We probably could have stayed much longer.  With the football team, you are booted immediately.  Yes We Cannon told me once he was on the cannon platform doing some work while a football practice was going on and he was told to leave by the football team.  So, you can see the strictness.  Any thoughts as to the difference?

So, we went back to the club room.  Very, very nice room that only the rich olds get to go to I believe.  The last time I was there, I was with the marching band and Ben Braun was doing a chalk talk.  Many, many moons ago. 

There have been some changes to it.  They sliced part of it out and turned that into 3 rooms.  Why?

Well, apparently, those 3 rooms are indicative of the 3 different levels of seating experiences for the ESP program, Stadium Club, Field Club, and University Club.  More on that later.  Here is a visual appreciation of the 3 different levels:


In the middle of the main room in these 3 rooms, there is a giant model of the renovated Memorial.



TwistNHook:  Notice the visibly increased disabled access there.  That must be a main concern, because Memorial is difficult enough to navigate for the abled bodied let alone those with disabilities.

ragnarok:  Indeed.  I'd imagine it'd be impossible to build this stadium now in its current configuration and still hope to comply with California's Building Code.  Oh, and if you're wondering how the disabled will get to some of those seats, there will be elevators in place on the west side, carrying people to both ADA and VIP sections.

One thing to note about this model is that it is not up-to-date with the latest plans.  It is in fact from 2007, during the first heady days of the tree sit-in, when none of us had any idea it would drag on for nearly two years.  Subsequently, due to conflicts with the Panoramic Hill Association, some of the plans have been scaled back.  For instance, take a look at the East Side of the stadium model:


That right there is a model of an elevated concourse above the east side of memorial, with additional seating and amenities.  It would certain enhance the fan experience on the student side of the stadium, but due to neighbor complaints, it won't be part of this renovation plan, and it may never get built at all.  A shame, if you ask me.

Here's a closer view of the outside of the west facade of Memorial Stadium, showing the new promenade built on top of the Student Athlete High Performance Center (which Athletics claims is due to be finished in 6 months, on time and on budget...wait, what?  When have you EVER heard of a major project like this being both on time and on budget?  Usually just getting one is cause for celebration).


Two things to note about this part of the model.  1) Just to the left of the start of the stairs (over on the right of the picture) is a set of doors, which I believe will be the doors leading to the ESP seats.  That's right, ESP seating will get to use their own private entrance, meaning they get to their seats quicker and easier, with less contact with the rest of us plebeians.  2) The main west side walkway inside the stadium will be emptied of tiny rooms (including offices, weight rooms, and the Hall of Fame room) and opened up for the renovation.  In fact, this process has already begun, and fans visiting during next season will see a drastically gutted west side of Memorial Stadium.

TwistNHook:  Anyway, back to my story!  First, we watched a video on the importance of sports to Cal.  Pretty sweet stuff.  How Cal wants to protect its athletics program forever and ever and ever and ever.


Then, we went out for the presentation.  The presenter's name was Monica Lebron and as we will learn later is one of the most awesome persons to ever walk the planet earth.  She first talked about how this ESP plan was different.  Normally, you borrow money, build the edifice, and then pay off the debt by raising money.  So, you have a building and you have no money as it was used to pay off all the debt.  Cal's plan is to essentially borrow the money, renovate Memorial, then raise $300,000,000.00 to put in an endowment.  This will allow Cal to retain some of the money after servicing the debt and provide for Cal sports infinitely due to the interest.  Sounds like a huge goal, but if Cal can pull it off, it'd mean that Cal can maintain all 27 sports programs, which is unique for a major university.  And especially a public one.  Apparently, few public universities have this many sports programs.

Ms. Lebron noted that there was an embarrassing lack of modern amenities at the Cal stadium.  Forget WiFi or HD TVs or even cup-holders.  Things like handrails.  Yes.  Handrails.  We talking about handrails.


Mr. Lebron also noted the current plans for 2011.  As of that date, the frontrunner was AT+T Park with the Coliseum in 2nd and the Stick a "distant 3rd!"  YES!!! YES!  Nothing is official or confirmed yet, but that is huge.  The Stick is the worst.  Super far, terrible parking.  AT+T is not great, but anything is better than the Stick.  I'd love the Coliseum, but oh well.    

Ms. Lebron said there were 2 main points she hoped to make during this presentation.  Hopefully, I characterize these incredibly important points well:

1.  No longer are people locked into a 30 or 40 year ticket program.  She said that there was some hesitation on the part of donors regarding the time frame.   For example, rich people are old.  Its just the way it is.  Us young people are poor and can't afford $225,000.00 for a football ticket (she didn't exactly say this, but Yes We Cannon and myself appeared to be the only people under the age of 50 at the presentation, so yknow).  But old people tend to not want to enter into a contract for 30 years.  If you are a rich donor and you are 75, it doesn't make any sense to buy a ticket for 50 years that you can't get out of.  And for us youngs, even if you had tons of money laying around, you might not spend the next 30-50 years in the Bay Area.  So, it seems difficult for even young rich people to buy in.

So, Cal now makes it so you can easily get out.  You can just walk away.  She said not to feel sorry for Cal if you walk away, because they can easily re-sell the seat.  I often do feel sorry for Cal, so it is easy to feel really sorry that they can't sell their $225,000.00 seats to their rich people.  I'm happy to have that weight off my shoulders!  They want to make this as flexible as possible for people.  Certainly understandable.

ragnarok:  Also worth noting is that the seats are both willable and transferable, so if you get divorced or leave the Bay Area or kick the bucket, you or your heirs can still retain the full value of the seats you paid for.

TwistNHook:  2.  It is not really a giant lump sum of $225,000.00 or whatever.  She said that the media really blew that number out of proportion.  They provided a sheet with all the flexible donation options.  For example, you can buy a $225,000.00 seat in Section A of University Club.  You can also buy a seat for $40,000.00 in Section C of Field Club.  Those are the two opposite ends of the spectrum.

Or you can pay it over time.  30 years is the longest amount of time available on the chart, although 40 years were mentioned.  I mean Cal is going to want to work with people to ensure that the people can give Cal as much money as possible for the longest time possible.

But, of course, it is very expensive to pay over time.  I am taking all these numbers directly from the sheets provided by Cal athletics.   You can see a copy of this information here.  And here is the chart itself:



If you want a Section A University Club seat (and really who doesn't), then you want the best seat available.  There appear to be 3 ways to pay:

Yearly donation of $15,421.00 for 30 years. 
5 Year annual donation of $50,391.00.
One time Donation of $225,000.00


So.................................if you pay it yearly for 30 years, you end up paying $462,630.00 by my math.  Feel free to double check me as I am math illiterate.  If you do the 5 year plan, you pay $251,955 by my math.

So, if you do the, in theory, easiest available plan for most people who don't have $225,000 laying around, then you end up paying twice as much.

ragnarok:  I think it's also important to note something else about these University Club seats:  there aren't very many of them, and the University in no way considers them "competitively priced".  Instead, they are considered basically a nice perk for making what can only be termed a "major philanthropic gift".  The vast majority of the seats in the ESP program are more in the price range of a luxury car and less in the price range of a summer home.

TwistNHook:  Let's go to the other end.  Field Level Club Seats Section C.  Based off of the chart, this is the cheapest available seat in the ESP program.  Cal is basically taking away tons of those west side sections that all the rich people sat in for decades upon decades.  If you don't want to lose your seat and be sloughed off to some ignominious end zone where you are delineated by colors (COLORS?!?!?), you need to join the ESP program and this is the cheapest way in.  Let's look at the numbers:

Yearly donation of $2,741.00 for 30 years
5 year annual donation of $8,958.00
One time donation of $40,000.00

Let's bust out that calculation machine.  SOMEBODY BRING ME MY REALLY BIG ABACUS AND MY SECRETARY!

$82,230.00 for the 30 year model.  $44,790 for the 5 year model.  Again, if you take the easiest route, you end up paying more than double what the one-time up-front cost is.

Ms. Lebron spoke of this extra money as an administration fee over time, which was termed in a way that was confusing to me.  But I am not a donor, so a lot of what they were discussing was foreign to me.  I fear I am mischaracterizing this in some manner.  So, essentially, all you have to do is pony up $2,700.00 a year and you are off the races!  Not bad at all.

I don't know if these rich olds can handle $2,700 a year, but I'm struggling with the roughly $350.00 it cost to go to the odd year games, so I'll focus on $2,700 later!  I should mention that Cal lowered the season tickets by $60.00 for young alums this year.  Count in the fact that in the even years Stanford is included (it's an extra $75.00 to Stanford in the odd years) and that's a great deal.  Thank you, Cal, for that!

ragnarok:  For those who care, what's going on here is that the University secured a $300M loan at 5% interest to pay for this project.  If they sell all these seats for the up-front cost, they get to pay off their loan right away, and have some left over for an endowment, one that will hopefully last for decades to come.  However, if seat holders want to pay in installments, they can do that too, but the University will charge them a 6% compound "administration fee" to do so, which will basically cover the interest on the loan and leave a little bit extra as a cushion besides.

Another benefit of this payment structure is that the University is actually really flexible about how you can pay for these seats.  The sample pledges are in a lump sum, over five years, and over 30 years, but if you wanted to pay over a different length of time, they can make that happen.  Apparently, some people have made pledges to pay over seven years, or ten years, or twelve years, for whatever personal reasons they may have.  They'll just take the lump sum amount, add in the 6% fee over the life of the pledge, and there's your annual payment.  Easy!

TwistNHook:  Taking a step back here, it seemed as if the discussion was designed to help the donors understand that they had made a few changes to the program.  People feared the lack of flexibility in the program and sales were perhaps slow.  So, they've made it more flexible, hoping that will increase interest.  Hopefully, it will!  Open your wallets, rich olds!  Also, they wanted to emphasize that you don't have to drop near a quarter mil to get in on the action.  That there are great seats (or a great seat) available.

After the presentation, we went back into the 3 rooms for a Q+A.  The first dude expressed concern that he has had seats for many, many moons now and he doesn't pay anywhere close to $2,700.00.  More like $1,000 a ticket.  So, it did not seem like a fair comparison to him.  The answer back was that people often buy more tickets than they really need.  So, if you buy 4 tickets, but only really need 2, you'll be fine.  Except you'll just have 2 tickets instead of 4.  It was starting to get a little tense at this point.

Then, the athletics people better explained where they were coming from.  They have to do this renovation.  Have to.  Period.  Otherwise, they cannot use Memorial.  It is just plain unsafe.  And we are already 2 years behind!  DAMN YOU, RUNNIE DUB AND YOUR BAND OF NOT SO MERRY PRANKSTERS!!!!!  So, they need to try to raise large amounts of capital and do it in a way that provides great amenities.  This calmed some of the tension a little, because people realized that Cal is doing the best it can.

One thing that the Athletics people noted was that over time, the ESP program is actually cheaper.  Ticket prices have gone up an average of 3% a year, although they are not increased each year.  So, after approximately 12-15 years, since the ESP prices are locked in, you will actually have cheaper seats than us shmucks outside the program.  Interesting food for thought.

ragnarok:  Indeed.  Also worth emphasizing is that, unlike the Personal Seat Licenses that many NFL teams (including the Raiders) have sold, the entire cost of the ESP pledge includes tickets for 40, 45, or even 50 years, depending on the level of commitment.  So, once you've paid your big upfront costs, you're in the clear.  Athletics cannot raise ticket prices on you, because you've already bought your tickets.

Oh, and did I mention that these seats also come with parking passes?  I don't know enough about Cal's donor parking situation to know exactly where they would be situated, but I'd imagine that parking passes in Berkeley on Football Saturdays are worth well more than their weight in gold!

TwistNHook:  The Athletics people also discussed the reasoning behind only 3,000 ESP seats.  They are taking 12,000 seats and turning them into 3,000 seats.  That is a net loss of 9,000 seats that will reduce capacity to 63,000 seats.  Any increase in the ESP program means an increased loss in seats.  We could be talking like 50,000 seats.  The Athletics people noted that Stanford dropped its capacity down to that level and they disagreed with that decision.  At that point, somebody blurted out "AND THEY STILL CAN'T FILL IT UP!"  A hearty laugh was had by all.

The Athletics people noted that the entire stadium was going to be re-seated.  However, this did not mean that the band or young alum section was going to be moved.  Whew!

ragnarok:  Yeah, it's mostly just going to be the West Side of the stadium that will be affected.  Now, this isn't final, but the current plan is for donor sections *not* included within the ESP program (say, between the goal line and the 30 yard line on either side) is to take out, say, every 5th bench to give people more leg room, and possibly add a small backrest to those benches.  Nothing finalized, however.  In any case, I think we should expect that the entire stadium will be receiving new benches.  Yay!

TwistNHook:  The Athletics people noted that the 3 rooms were indicative of the 3 types of seats available.  The first is Field Club.  It is merely the enhanced concourse there with increased concessions.  Not bad. 




ragnarok:  These seats are nice.  Not super-nice, but certainly comparable to the seats in AT&T Park, and a darn sight better than wooden benches that may have actually been installed in the 1920's.  Of course, you're not paying tens of thousands of dollars just for some nice chairs.  No, you also get exclusive access to the Field Level Club, which will be located below these seats.  The nice thing about this is that the only people allowed in the Field Level Club are those with ESP seats, so you have a much smaller pool of people with whom to wait in line for concessions and bathrooms.  Plus, they will have HDTVs with game feeds on them, so during super-rainy games (like Oregon a couple years ago), you can just duck inside and watch the game from a dry and comfortable vantage.

TwistNHook:  Then, you have the Stadium Club.  Fluffier seats (I know, because I tried!)  Complimentary food.  Good stuff.  Here's a shot:


ragnarok:  Yeah, not only do you get cushy seats and comped food, but even the seatwidth is improved; 20" as opposed to 19".  As is the view, as these seats are up higher in the bowl, and so afford a better view of the action.  And the Stadium Club itself is not just limited to seatholders -- guests are allowed too!  Pretty swanky, eh?

TwistNHook:  Then, the University Club.  These are like luxury boxes.  Also free food.  More legroom still.  Comfy, comfy seats. 


But I'll be honest, different people have different views of Cal football.  For me, sitting in a luxury box is not and (hopefully) never will be Cal football.  Perhaps it is because I come from the band experience, but to me Cal football is the heat, it is the brutal sun, it is standing the entire game.  It's not for the weak of heart, I guess.  I don't begrudge Cal trying to increase the amenities and raise money and protect all 27 sports.  That is great.  I do not begrudge other Cal fans who have other experiences enjoying the fruits of their labor.  But if I had $225,000.00 I am not sure I'd drop it on a ticket.  I might buy a house instead.  Nah, who am I kidding, I'd just buy $225,000.00 worth of Marshawn jerseys to wear on the East Side.

ragnarok:  Technically, even these University Club seats aren't in private boxes; the only two private boxes in the entire renovated stadium are reserved for the Chancellor and for the Athletic Director.  Apparently, this setup is fairly typical across college football stadiums.

Finally, I want to touch on one final detail that caught my eye, but that teetotalling TwistNHook understandably has overlooked.  Take a closer look at the ESP seats in the model:


Notice that, surrounding those seats in between the thirty yard lines (the ESP seats) is a low wall, cutting off access to these exclusive seating areas to those without access to tens of thousands of dollars to spend on football tickets.  Now it may just seem to be a needless division between those well-heeled donors and the rest of us schmucks, but it does actually have an important implication:  because the section is walled off, the university can consider it a "controlled area," which means that they're allowed to sell alcohol within these seating sections.  That's right, not only does $2700/year buy you a nice seat, but it also buys you the right to purchase and consume alcohol in those seats.

Yeah, that's right, booze in your seats; who's thinking of opening up their wallets now?  No more sneaking flasks in for ragnarok!  (Actually, no.  I in no way can afford these seats, and with a baby on the way, it would be totally irresponsible to spend what could become her college fund on forty years of football tickets.)

TwistNHook:  In any case, Yes We Cannon and I looked around at the various items on the wall (like this vintage clock) and then left to get ready for the Cal-Stanford women's basketball game.  More on that tomorrow.


Learn more about the ESP program here and