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Cal vs. Hawaii In Australia, A Decision By Cal Athletics Even I Could Complain About

How does the Cal v. Hawaii game in Australia relate to the long-term goals of Cal?

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NOTE: This opinion piece does not reflect the opinions of the entire California Golden Blogs editorial staff.

Whenever I put my daughter down to sleep, I whisper in her ear before she goes to bed. I tell her that I love her and I just want to surround her with happiness and her community. People are always looking for "their community." A place where they feel comfortable and build strong relationships with others in the community. When people feel part of a community, they want to help perpetuate that community and grow it. It becomes a cycle of growth as more and more people get involved positively into the community.

One such community is the Cal community. A community that I love and a community that I think has been damaged by the decision to play a football game in Australia against Hawaii. Because of this game, Cal has cancelled a scheduled home game against South Dakota.

This is part of Cal's recent pattern of incurring hundreds of millions of dollars of debt to upgrade the stadium only to seek other places to play. Two years ago, they hosted Oregon at Levi's Stadium, about an hour south of Cal. There were allegations that Cal was looking to host a Big Game at Levi's, also. That idea thankfully died a mercifully quick death, but for all the pomp and circumstance of the new Memorial, Cal now is looking for other places to play to make quick money. Irony even an Alanis Morissette stan could appreciate.

I didn't say anything when Cal played Oregon at Levi's, because it was still relatively close to home, and at that point it seemed like a one-off occurrence. But with the discussion of moving a Big Game, and this game in Australia, the situation has changed. Australia is not an hour south of Berkeley. The attendance and revenue for Cal as a home team will be different in Australia. There are significant costs to playing the game over there. That makes it less clear how much money Cal will make on this trip.

When Cal makes a decision for money reasons, people often decry it. They say that the corporate nature of professional sports is infringing on collegiate sports. They say "Back in my day..." I usually am pretty relaxed, because I understand the financial situation for Cal requires these types of actions. I recognize and appreciate that the decision to play home games in other stadiums may be motivated by the quick money in an effort to offset the costs of the stadium

However, in this instance, the short term gain of the Australia game comes at the expense of the Cal home fans (such as me) and the Cal community and I find this deeply unfortunate. This Australia game, is taking a home game away from Cal fans, in order to seek out overseas

Money. Cal is losing out on an opportunity to continue to build the money that comes from the Cal community.

Ultimately this comes down to two key issues that I have with Cal Football, despite my deep and abiding love for all things Blue and Gold. First, the goals of Cal Athletics, and second the impact on Cal's community.Let's break it down.

What is Cal Football's Goal?

Cal Athletics (like all other sporting concerns) is a multi-million dollar corporation in the entertainment industry. They are an entertainment company. They produce a sports entertainment product and then sell that product to make money. They make money by selling tickets, merchandise, and receiving donations.

Think of it like the TV industry. The TV industry's job is to sell commercial time for ads. They want to maximize the rates by providing the highest possible ratings and then turning around to the companies to say "We have the most eyeballs possible!" Their job is not to provide great TV. However, in theory, the better the TV, the more eyeballs you get and the higher rates you can provide. The Kardashians are somewhat proving this theory wrong, but either way, TV industry's job is to get ratings to sell ads.

The same way, a major part of Cal Athletics is selling ads and getting media exposure to bring in money for the programs. Ultimately, the goal is money.

How Can Cal Achieve That Goal?

Similarly, it is not Cal's job to win games. However, winning games is the best way to sell tickets and merchandise. Fewer people buy your tickets when you win 1 game and have a historically inept defense. This is especially important for football, because they are the economic engine for most other sports, which lose money. A few of Cal's products have to financially support the vast majority of its products.

But there are other ways to bring in money, such as placing games in larger media markets. This is frequently done by mid-major teams, or FCS teams which agree to play away games at large programs for a paycheck. When Grambling State came to play Cal last season, everyone got something out of it. Cal got an almost guaranteed win in a home opener. Cal fans got a chance to see Grambling State's band. Grambling State fans got to see their team in a major media market.

But Grambling State was the biggest winner because the athletic program got paid to come west. Just as Grambling State was willing to take a shellacking for a paycheck, Cal is now willing to give up its home opener for the money from a game in Australia. Someone at Cal has decided this is the best method of achieving Cal's goal. I disagree. I think that this game comes at the expense of Cal's goals, or at least what I think Cal's goals should be.

The Cal Community

There is one thing that Cal (and other collegiate sports) have going for it and that is the connection to a larger collegiate community. The UC Berkeley is massive and Cal football is, by far, the easiest way to bring it together. On gamedays, thousands of people gather together in celebration of this community. They tailgate before and/or after games. They go out to restaurants before and/or after games, significantly boosting the local economy. They party at frats before and/or after games. Then, they are at the game itself. And in all of these things they contribute money to the Cal community. They buy tickets, they buy merchandise, they feel more likely to donate money either to athletics or academics due to the emotional connection with the school. That money helps to grow the community and helps to benefit everyone for the next game and for future years.

When Cal football can grow the community, it does not just benefit Cal athletics. People are more likely to donate to the school itself. This is why I always found the argument that athletics was a drain on the school to be incorrect. Athletics benefits the school more than the school benefits the department.

This is where another key aspect to making money comes in: community. The Cal community is a great one and I am so happy to be a part of it. I look at the Stanford community across the bay and, even with all of their unfortunate success in recent years, it seems flaccid. However, by giving up this home game, Athletics has given up an opportunity to continue to build that community. It is, in my view, short term gain for long term pain.

Australia And The Cal Community

Now, I know what a lot of you will say: "This is just a game against South Dakota!" That is true, this is not a premiere game. However, it is important to put this in context. There are only 7 home games max a year (6 in odd years). So, this is 15% of all football opportunities being given away. Additionally, now that we have a game after Thanksgiving, that opportunity is diminished. They have put UCLA there this year and that may help buoy the standard attendance drop off at the post-Thanksgiving game. That post-Thanksgiving game's decreased attendance makes the South Dakota game that much more important.

Additionally, it is the first game of the year. That first game of the year is always an important game, because people are excited. Cal, perhaps, has yet to completely embarrass itself and hopes are high. The NFL has yet to start at that point. Sometimes the As and Giants are already well out of the playoffs (and it is looking bleak for the A's already).

These opportunities to build community are not just about die hard fans, but about all fans. General fans may want to take their kids, if any, to an early game, especially if the ticket prices are not as high as other premiere games. These non-premiere games are more likely to be in the afternoon due to TV and so it is easier to bring kids. That is a great opportunity to build community, because you are getting the kids when they are young into the community. Cal tends to win these types of games, so the fans go home happy.

Obviously, I love going to the games and it is personally frustrating for me that we're trading a home game for a game I won't be able to attend. Beyond my personal disappointment, this does not seem like it's in Cal's rational self-interest.

The simple truth is that there are not that many football games and giving up even one is potentially hindering financially to Cal. They make up for that by getting money in Australia and that may be a pretty penny. Who knows maybe some Australians will become Cal fans to some extent (although that justification is significantly less than when Cal holds games at Levi's Stadium). However, in the long run, even a game against South Dakota seems to be more in Cal's rational self-interest.