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CGB Debate: Big Game In Santa Clara

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TwistNHook takes on NorcalNick as we all continue to bemoan the latest Big Game scheduling debacle.


NorcalNick: Various reporters have let it be known that Cal and Stanford are seriously considering moving the 2014 Big Game to the San Francisco 49ers of Santa Clara's new stadium, pushing the 2015 game to Memorial.

And I hate it.

But Twist, you might think you can convince me, and may others who dislike the idea, otherwise? So I guess we should start with a simple question: What positives come out of this decision? The only advantage I see here is the potential for Cal to make more money, a potential I see as mitigated by various factors. Am I missing something?


I can't sit here and tell you this is a great idea. I can't even sit here and tell you it is a good idea. That is because a)I'm probably not going to attend this game and b)Cal has not really provided enough specifics to justify the actions. There may be the specifics out there, but they have yet to put them forward. So, in putting this post together, all I can do is extrapolate based on prior experience and guesstimation!

NorcalNick: Extrapolate and guess away!

TwistNHook: While I cannot tell you that this a good idea, I can tell you that this is an opportunity for it to be a great idea. An opportunity for Cal to plant their flag in the South Bay and potentially make more money going forward. We've exhaustively analyzed the financial problems Cal Athletics has right now. Over $400 million in stadium debt in the long term. Short term solvency problems for many sports, culminating in almost cutting 5 sports several years back. Before we get a bit deeper into that, let me touch on a few quick hitters that bear mention.

1. I should get this out of the way just because I have seen a bit of confusion regarding the scheduling here. Cal is not replacing their 2014 Berkeley home Big Game with the Levi's Stadium one. They are merely postponing it to 2015. Now, admittedly, people may hate this, given that it gives a generation of Cal fans/players 1 Berkeley big game (and during October at that!). But I just wanted to be clear.

2. This does have another effect, which is putting the Berkeley Big Games in the odd years and the Stanford Big Games in the even years. Previous to this switch, Cal's even year's season tickets always seemed substantially more interesting to me (before adding in the out of conference games). UCLA, Oregon, and Stanford (plus a tidbit of Washington) were big draw games. In the odd years, only USC was really the big draw game. Washington State, Oregon State, and whatever Arizona I didn't care much about weren't that interesting.

This all came to a head in the odd AT+T Park year of 2011 when basically, you had to pay for season tickets with only USC really all that interesting. By moving Stanford to the odd years, it helps even that out a bit. This could potentially help season ticket tales. Additionally, it could help Cal plan better if season ticket sales are consistent year to year and don't fluctuate from odd year to even year to odd year to even year.

NorcalNick: See, I can understand that rationale to an extent, but it seems to me that there are less painful solutions to the issue of an unbalanced schedule. If we're worried that odd year schedules are less attractive, then Cal athletics needs to make it a point to have an marquee non-conference opponent visit in odd years. Big time teams like Tennessee, Ohio St., or Texas.

TwistNHook: Having put those two items behind us, let's take a closer look at the two more important aspects to this game. Cal's opportunity to make a lot of money in the long term and a lot of money in the short term.

3. Last time Cal had a neutral site game like this was against Fresno State in 2011 at Candlestick Park. We spoke with Cal Athletics at that time regarding the process for ticket sales there and reported back to you:

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.

I suspect the situation here will be similar, but on steroids. While the Candlestick tickets started at $40 (with a $20 ticket for Cal students), I suspect the tickets for Big Game at Levi's will start substantially higher. They will be much cheaper than other rivalry neutral games (Red River Rivalry tickets apparently start at $282 or something absurd like that), but I suspect more expensive than what the Big Game tickets would have been were it to be in Berkeley. That could mean a larger guarantee than the $1 million for the Candlestick game, which in and of itself is a positive thing. Without further specifics, I cannot determine what the guarantee will be.

4. So that guarantee of presumably over $1 mil is the short term gain. What is the long term gain? Trying to appeal to South Bay fans. The South Bay/peninsula is currently America's economic engine. There are a plethora of massive companies down there with names we've all heard of, Google, Facebook, etc etc. Cal is banking on these companies (and many, many more) buying out expensive tickets/suites for the game. Cal is hoping that the exposure down there will cause South Bay fans to be interested in coming up to games in Berkeley. Cal's hope is that the normal fans will calm down and continue to support Cal as they always have PLUS a new flood of South Bay fans will start going to games.

This ultimately depends on how the team is doing in 2014. I don't think the Candlestick experiment provided a massive boost to the Cal fan base. That was partially because it was a mediocre game played by a mediocre team in a mediocre year. Perhaps 2014 will be different and an exciting Bear Raid squad will help lure South Bay/peninsula fans and their bucko bucks north for some college football.

NorcalNick: You've identified potential financial gain as the main positive for this move, and I think even the athletic department would be hard pressed to honestly argue that there are other positives. And as a lover of non-revenue sports, I've been willing in the past to begrudgingly accept certain changes, knowing that they were made in the name of funding Cal's many other dedicated athletes.

But I'm having trouble seeing how this will be a meaningful financial gain, unless it's accomplished by price gouging. Basically, Cal will be adding something along the lines of half a home game in terms of revenue. But what percentage of that will have to be handed over to the owners of Levi Stadium?

And frankly, the argument that we might be able to grow our market in Silicon Valley strikes me as a post-hoc justification. Is it possible that Cal attracts new corporate ticket buyers or shows off to non-Cal grads in Santa Clara county? I guess. Those types are just as likely to look in Stanford's direction. And angering your fan base on the chance that we grow our influence just strikes me as bad business. You don't try to attract one market segment by alienating a different, more important market segment.

TwistNHook: OK, couple thoughts.

1. As noted in my previous sections there, NorcalNick, if things are similar to the Candlestick game, then Cal won't be giving any % to the 49ers or Levi's or whatever, I don't think. They'd be working with a third party vendor. The third party vendor would be selling the tickets and making the profits (potentially splitting it with the 49ers etc etc). Cal would get a guaranteed amount of money (depending on tickets sold etc etc). So, the question is whether that guarantee is more than what could be made at a Cal home game.

Additionally, Cal is not necessarily losing a game's worth of profit here. As noted previously, this Big Game is not replacing a Berkeley Big Game. It is postponing it for one year. So, Cal would get the profits of the 2015 Big Game (whatever that may be) plus the guarantee from the 2014 Big Game. When put like that, it makes some increased amount of sense to me.

2. What does post-hoc justification mean? That it is a justification made after the decision to justify the original decision? How can you state that? Were you privy to the original discussions on this? Additionally, it's just a thought I had. It doesn't ACTUALLY come from anybody even REMOTELY close to making this decision. I can't come up with a reason to justify a decision prior to me actually knowing of the decision. So, yes, in one sense it is a post-hoc justification of the decision, but your criticism makes no sense.

NorcalNick: Lawyers gonna lawyer.

TwistNHook: Lastly, it is unclear whether Cal will be able to grow its donor base with wealthy South Bay fans from this. Its a risk like any other. If Cal is sucking, nobody will care. If Cal is doing great, time to take the show on the road! Yes, it is angering many die hard Cal fans, that is for sure. I suspect Cal is banking on their addiction here. They'll come back. They always come back. Or so Cal hopes. I'm seeing some people state that they will decrease their future donations (or cancel them altogether). So, Cal may have misplayed their hand here.

If they can add new South Bay fans and keep the current die-hards (who will grumble and throw up their hands, but come back to the slop trough for more), then it's a plus decision. Tough tightrope to walk and depends on the nature of the team. If the team is winning, all sins will be forgotten.

NorcalNick: The bottom line here is that the team is sacrificing the desires of a healthy portion of its own fan base in a bid to increase revenue. Without seeing numbers, it's tough to speculate, but I have yet to read anything that assuages my doubt. In my mind, Cal would have to make a significantly greater amount from this game than if they had maintained the traditional Big Game schedule.

That said, I'm willing to begrudgingly accept this idea, if my following demands (some stolen shamefully from Fiatlux) are met. Should they fail to be met, I can't be held responsible for my actions!

1. Make money, either now or later (preferably both). If you're going to do something like this, it had better provide Cal with significantly more revenue than not screwing with everything.
2. Cal students are given the best seats in the Cal ticket allotment, and at reasonable prices.
3. Ticket prices for everybody else are kept at or below what we would have paid for a seat in Memorial. Why should we pay more to see a game in a less desirable stadium?
4. Some sort of effort is made to provide transportation to students, even if students have to pay a nominal fee.
5. If at all possible, give season ticket holders the option of including the Big Game in the season ticket package.
6. Explain why this decision was made, with explanations beyond anticipated cliches about 'beautiful stadium' and 'increased exposure.' We know this is about money, so explain to us how this is getting Cal more money. Engage with your customers on an honest level.

If this all happens, I'll be happy. If most of it happens, I'll probably quietly grumble, then buy a ticket. If none of it happens, I might seriously consider snapping a streak of what would be 19 straight Big Games (not bad for someone under 30).

To be honest, I think most of my 'demands' are pipe dreams. Demand #1 directly conflicts with demands #2-4. I don't think it's possible for Cal to make money off this deal AND appease their fan base. It's a fan base that has dealt with three painful season in a row, both in terms of wins/losses and trampled traditions. If you're going to throw something else on the camel's back, you'd better do so as carefully and thoughtfully as possible. I haven't seen that type of caution yet.