California athletic director Sandy Barbour turned down a proposal from the San Francisco 49ers -- received this Monday – to host the 2014 Big Game at the newly-constructed Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., despite the fact that the potential financial benefit to the university would have been "a seven-figure incremental [increase] over hosting it at home."
"It would have come from the 49ers guaranteeing both Stanford and Cal a take, because, essentially, this was – and this is something that was widely misunderstood – this was a neutral-site game that the 49ers were running, and Cal and Stanford were going to benefit from, financially," Barbour said in a conference call on Thursday.
The playing of the Big Game at Levi's Stadium would have shifted the schedule of the Big Game, so that the Bears would host the game in odd years, and the Cardinal in the even years, balancing both team's schedules by allowing Stanford to play Cal and Notre Dame at home in alternate years, and by allowing the Bears to have Stanford, Oregon State and USC at home in odd years, while hosting UCLA, Washington and Oregon in even years.
"It would be one less game in that season, but obviously, one of the things we were looking at in the term we use – balancing the schedule – is that we'll have a more attractive home schedule each year, that we hope would translate into season tickets," Barbour said. "That would have had an economic impact on the city of Berkeley."
The playing of the Big Game in Santa Clara would also have marked the fourth consecutive year where Cal students would not have been able to have a true home Big Game experience, after playing at Stanford in 2011, playing the game in October in 2012, playing the game on the road in 2013 and then in Santa Clara in 2014. That means that an entire graduating class would never have experienced a Big Game, at home, as the last game of the season.
"That absolutely was a factor," Barbour said. "When I talked to the ASUC President, I was the one that brought that to her attention. We talked about that. We talked about that the freshmen entering in 2011 would not have experienced what we would consider to be a traditional, home Big Game. That was absolutely a factor."
Ticket prices– as well as transportation to Levi's Stadium – would have been a burden on the student body.
"The prices that had been proposed – although we were still working on some of them – were higher," Barbour said.
The 49ers would also have given Cal a guarantee, similar to playing an intersectional game on the road.
Having played an entire season out of Memorial Stadium in 2011 due to renovations, there was also the local economic impact to consider. Though Barbour did not broach the topic with the City of Berkeley, the local government's likely response played in to the final decision to decline the proposal.
"That certainly is something that we recognized," Barbour said. "It's one less game in that season. We understood that it would not be a positive thing for them, and given the 2011 season that we played out of Berkeley, we have pretty good data about the economic impact."
Another factor that was hard to ignore for Barbour was the outcry of fans, alumni and other stakeholders. The deal was first broached back in "April or May," according to Barbour, but before the deal was even technically on the table, word leaked out while Barbour was in China with the women's basketball team.
"I was more caught off guard on the timing, the fact that we got it when we did, because I left for China, and we hadn't even received the proposal yet from the 49ers," Barbour said. "We'd been talking about it, and we knew kind of what it was, but we were at least a month away from a final decision, and several months away, if we had decided to go for it, we were several months away from any announcement. Really, the timing caught me and caught us very off-guard, and I think part of the problem was because of that. We'll never really know, if we would have been able to properly message the motivations and exactly what the motivation was, what the response would have been. Our community got caught flat-footed, without any explanation of either a why or really a what, so of course, the reaction was pretty strong."
Barbour began to receive the negative feedback while overseas.
"My iPhone works the same in the Oakland Hills as it did in Shanghai, as it did in Hong Kong," Barbour said. "I was hearing from lots of people … The feedback and the input was useful, certainly being in China, most of it I was getting was email and twitter. If I had been here, if I had been at Golden Bear Day at Memorial Stadium on Saturday, I certainly would have had more face-to-face interaction."
As it stood, Barbour had had discussions both with vice chancellors and "at the Chancellorial level," as to the merits of potentially holding Big Game 2014 at a neutral site.
"Mostly, this was a very intricate decision, it was about student-athletes and their experience," Barbour said. "It was about the student body as a whole. It was about traditions and discussions about what could be preserved at a neutral site. It was about money – what's the financial upside to us, and how do we determine that? How do we quantify it? How do we measure it? What are the right metrics to use there? – so 99.5 percent of the work and the discussion was within athletics and with our community stakeholders."
One of those who was a part of those discussions was new head coach Sonny Dykes.
"Obviously Sonny weighed in, in advance," Barbour said. "Certainly, it was a concern of ours, which is one of many reasons why we consulted him. You all have gotten to know him well enough by now: Sonny's going to take on anyone, anywhere. He saw advantages – recruiting advantages – to playing in a brand-new, state-of-the-art NFL stadium, playing in the facility that's going to host the Super Bowl here within the next couple years. He already understands the enormity of the Big Game and what it means to our folks and certainly, he had concerns about how our community was going to react.
"He had input on competitive factors and he had input on how he and his staff felt about it, and he certainly did express concern about what our fans would think about this. He asked that question."
Despite the outcome of this particular situation, Barbour said that she is open to other proposals down the road, including proposals involving Big Game.
"We declined this proposal for 2014, but as my statement said, we'll continue to look at these kinds of opportunities," Barbour said. "I'll look at any opportunity that somebody puts in front of me."
IN-DEPTH: Indecent Proposal?
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