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Cal Bears' Memorial Stadium Financing Plan Falls Apart

By Anson Whaley -- June 27, 2013 8:22 PM EDT


The University of California was planning a major renovation of Memorial Stadium and construction of a new 140,000 training facility. The total cost? A staggering $474 million, which according to ESPN, would be the most expensive facility upgrade in the history of college athletics.

Per that ESPN piece, things have gone south for a number of reasons. Chief among them, the sale of premium seating for football games has been, well, slow. The university wants to sell 40- and 50-year rights to nearly 3,000 prime seats to account for $272 million. But instead, they've only been able to dump 64% of them - accounting for a $120 million shortfall on that revenue stream alone.

Now there are plenty of reasons the university hasn't been able to sell that many tickets. For one, it's darn expensive. The total number of seats available was approximately 2,900 and if you do the math to get to $272,000, it comes out to an average of nearly $95,000 per seat.

Yeah, that'll price a few folks out - even in California.

There's also that pesky economy thing. Folks are becoming increasingly tight about spending on recreation and that's also true with something so expensive - even for those with the money to spend. Plus, premium seating is only for a select few. If folks can get into the stadium for a cheaper price, many will do it.

Besides the price, there's another factor: on-field performance.

Everyone loves a winner and Cal just hasn't been one recently. The Bears were a dismal 3-9 last season and a combined 12-11 in 2010 and 2011. While they've fared better in the past and have a proud tradition, the Bears haven't been all that good lately. Cal doesn't have a bad program - not by a long shot. But when you're asking folks to shell out several thousands of dollars each year for tickets to six or seven football games, a cumulative losing record over the past three years just doesn't cut it.

Another thing that comes to mind is competition. The recent scandal aside, one reason Penn State football can sell out games in its 107,000 seat-stadium is because it's really the only game in town. Sure, there's minor league baseball and a few other small options, but when it comes to big time sports, Nittany Lions football is it. In California, there are choices aplenty, including both sports and non-sports. The entertainment dollar has to cover a wide range of things - the NBA, MLB, and NFL all included.

So where does Cal go from here? Well, the school has a Plan B, of sorts. First off - calls, calls, calls. And when that fails, more calls. The football ticket sales staff has made about 60,000 phone calls in a little more than a year trying to sell tickets. 'Hey, wanna buy football tickets? Hey, wanna buy football tickets?' Yeah, that could get annoying fairly quickly.

The Bears are also turning the stadium into a multi-use facility renting out empty space to groups. And with the $2.5 million annual revenue expected to be generated from the new college football playoff, Cal is planning to make an average of $10 million a year over the next 40 years to cover the costs.

Seem viable? Maybe. But it's far from a surefire plan, obviously. It relies not only on the sales staff's ability to sell more tickets, but also being able to successfully rent out the stadium to account for millions of dollars a year. And never mind the fact that other athletics programs in the school that live off of football money will be hoping to get a piece of that college football playoff pie money. Fending them off for a year or two might be easy. For 40? Yeah, good luck with that.

In other words, Cal has a long way to go.


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