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Sports Illustrated: What was Cal Athletics smoking putting the Oregon game at Levi's Stadium?

Must've been some strong stuff.

"Home game."
"Home game."
Brian Bahr

Avinash Kunnath: So I went to the game. I wasn't in the seats, so I can't comment on the in-game experience, but let me say a few positive things before I harken on the negatives.

It's a nice stadium. If you're in the mood to be pampered, there are plenty of ways to treat yourself. If you are a member of the 1% and got the luxury suites, I'm sure you had a whale of a time and can't wait to do this again. And if you're in the ESP section and had club seating, it probably reminded you a lot of the Memorial Stadium Club, only much more expansive and a much wider range of liquor to imbibe.

What was Levi's Stadium like in terms of providing us with an actual home environment? Here's what Pete Thamel (a neutral third party) had to say at Sports Illustrated.

Over the years, it’s become a place for students gather and occasionally smoke a bit of marijuana during games. It’s one of those endearing traditions in college football that gives the stadium a cool tie to campus. And after seeing the sterile atmosphere, empty seats and surplus of Oregon fans at Levi’s Stadium on Friday night, it was embarrassing for Cal that it didn’t play this game at home. Instead, it took a check and alienated local fans, who had to drive 43 miles through a thicket of Bay Area traffic to see a so-called "home" game.

It would be hard to blame Cal coach Sonny Dykes if he’s steamed at his bosses for having this game at Levi’s. Especially because Cal played competitively for a half and got no juice from the crowd. The atmosphere here was about as intimidating as a yoga instructor. Cal conceded home-field advantage to Oregon and lost any sense of intimacy and atmosphere that goes along with playing at home. On television, the game looked awful. In person, the cheers were bigger for the Ducks. When you get only a handful of home football games every year, why would you give up the most prominent one?

Makes you wonder if some of that second-hand smoke floating its way around Cal impacted the administrators’ decision making.

I can assure you that Cal-Oregon would have come pretty close to filling Memorial on a Friday night. It would've been a fun, raucous environment, parking be damned. You renovated this stadium so that it would make sense to have a Friday night game there. I don't think we win in Memorial, but I think if it's 31-28 or 38-28 there that crowd might get themselves into it and put home field advantage somewhere in the picture.

Instead? Levi's Stadium was filled with Oregon fans tailgating hours before kickoff. In the stands, the breakdown was probably 60-40 Oregon to Cal, as the more affluent Golden Bears fled to the luxuries of the suites and the indoor clubs with their $11 draft beers and one eye on the World Series. After the first quarter, the Ducks were the noisier group by a large margin. With the game under wraps early in the 4th quarter, the stadium was nearly two-thirds empty, as fans filtered out to try and beat the traffic nightmare that usually accompanies any big South Bay environment.

The issue is the same: This was a home game that was ultimately sacrificed for the sake of some extra money, which is the sort of short-term agreement I fundamentally disagree with, no matter how good the cash payment is. The athletic department has made decisions like this for years, and it has come at the cost of a lot of goodwill and probably the closed pockets of many a potential Cal alum. The fact that Cal Athletics decided to put the Big Game (which only got reversed because of huge public outcry) AND the Oregon game (the two games most likely to sell out at Memorial) on the table for Levi's makes it pretty clear that the department cares more about squeezing cash out of any arrangement they can find regardless.

If Cal is going to do a game like this at Levi's again, it needs to be a one-off neutral site contest, it needs to be earlier in the year (first week of the season would be nice so we could get the Thursday/Friday night contest and get some extra time for Game 2), and it needs to be a non-conference game so we don't sacrifice a home contest that MIGHT INFLUENCE THE PAC-12 RACE. Spending a Friday night in Santa Clara alienates your fans from buying season tickets, it makes our fanbase look like a bit of a joke nationally, and we get a little trickle of revenue in return.

If those conditions are met, then a return to Santa Clara would be acceptable.

Otherwise? We have a nice option called Memorial Stadium. USE THE DAMN THING.

LeonPowe: Unless it came with a seven figure guarantee (doubtful) I'd never do this again. The difficulties of a Friday night game in the Bay Area are hard enough - students don't have transport down to the game, we had a home game turned into a neutral game and the seats are red. No no no. (Unless we gets the big monies)

Ruey Yen: I don't know if the actual financial figures will ever be revealed, but I do think it is unfortunate (particularly if one is not a fan of the SF Giants) that this game took place at the same time as a World Series game. The Oregon game was already scheduled as a Friday night game (thanks Pac-12 TV contract) which would have prevented quite a bit of the usual fanbase to attend the game anyhow. I can see with how the Levi folks really want to dip into the college football stadium, Cal actually got a fairly favorable payday to move this game. However, even if that was the case, with the Pac-12 title game now scheduled to take place at Levi, I doubt their offer to Cal in the future would be as good. So I would not be surprised if this was just an one time thing (no 2015 game is scheduled for Levi).

While the stadium kind of looked empty right at the start of the game, it did eventually fill up pretty well. Of course, that New York Times map using Facebook data does claim that NorCal is apparently a strong Ducks territory... Now if we do return to prominence in the near future (to the degree that Furd has achieved in recent years), I can actually see how Cal could become the NorCal team in such a way that the school would make quite a financial windfall to play at Levi again, but that is probably pretty far down the line.

boomtho: I think the Levi's experiment was a bad decision, unless we made a significantly higher amount of money than we would have made in Berkeley (I'm talking like $500K+ more than Cal would have brought in). From my friends at the game, the game didn't "feel" right or feel like college football. In addition, it sounds like there were a lot of Oregon fans, and they were the people that arrived early as well. I really think taking our best home game and moving it offsite (and out of the season ticket package!) is a really rotten deal for fans.

Nick Kranz: From a purely rational-self-interest perspective, I hope that Cal never does something like this again. The only way it would make sense is if it's a way to secure a one-off game against a really exciting non-conference opponent, and we don't have to play that team on the road. Which is a pipe dream that will never happen. The idea of taking time off work, paying more money, and having to deal with and entirely new stadium and town that I don't know how to navigate? Not attending was frankly an easy decision.

Obviously, what is or isn't good for me from a very narrow perspective doesn't necessarily have any relationship to what is good for the athletic department. Having said that, I suspect that the majority of Cal fans would have preferred the game be played in Memorial. Thus, the question becomes twofold: 1) How much more money would Cal realize by playing in Levi's? and 2) Is that money worth whatever lingering negativity (if any) created in your core group of customers? That's a question we can't answer without more information about the contract Cal signed with the 49ers and the revenue that was generated in the end, but I think we all have our suspicions and opinions about the nature of the cost/benefit analysis going on here.