The announcement that Cal will play its 2011 home games at AT&T Park comes as somewhat of a surprise to me. Clearly, it has the most modern and desirable facilities, but the fact that Cal will have to sacrifice around 20,000 fans per game seems like a significant drawback.
Financial details of the agreement between Cal and the Giants are not yet available because the contract has yet to be officially signed. Perhaps the Giants came the cheapest, and perhaps the allocation of the revenues will make the loss of attendance more tolerable. But the bottom line is even if there isn’t a significant financial impact, the non-season ticket holder will have a very tough time getting to a home game in 2011.
The Bears have about 38,000 season-ticket holders. Assuming that number holds steady, that leaves only about 7,000 single-game tickets per home date for other fans to purchase. The configuration for Cal games at AT&T Park will allow for a capacity of 45,000.
This is not to say this isn’t the right decision by Cal. It is just a little bit of a surprising one. The Oakland Coliseum holds over 63,000 for football and Candlestick Park holds almost 70,000. The university could have packed in a lot more fans at those venues.
But those venues had drawbacks. Candlestick Park is quite a haul from the East Bay, where much of Cal’s fan base comes from. And, of course, it doesn’t have the vibrant surrounding area that comes with AT&T Park, and the public transportation options aren’t as strong. The biggest negative with the Coliseum is that it houses both the A’s and Raiders, and it would have been a real challenge in terms of scheduling. And like Candlestick, there aren’t the pregame and postgame options near the Coliseum.
Still, there are fans who usually can attend Cal homes games regularly without season tickets that may not be able to get tickets in 2011.
In discussing the decision to go with AT&T Park at today’s press conference, athletic Sandy Barbour acknowledged that having smaller crowds was a significant sacrifice. But she said all of the appealing things about AT&T Park — the amenities, the public transportation options, the surrounding area for pregame and postgame, the proximity to campus, the marketing affect it might have for the new Memorial Stadium — were enough to outweigh the negatives.
She also pointed out that it was for only one season. When the Bears return to Memorial Stadium in 2012, they will also return to getting larger crowds, although it will be smaller than the old Memorial Stadium. But one could also make the argument that, if it is only for one season, Cal could do without some of the bells and whistles that AT&T Park can provide to get more fans to the game.
Then there’s this: Don’t downplay the marketing affect playing at AT&T Park could have. Of the three venues considered, AT&T Park will be the most similar to the renovated Memorial Stadium in terms of amenities and game-day experience. Even if it is only 7,000 casual fans per game, that could help Cal expand its fan base moving forward once it returns to Memorial Stadium. And maybe being a tough ticket isn’t such a bad thing. If getting a ticket to a Cal football game is considered a premium, that could also help marketing the program in the future.
Also consider that playing in San Francisco could help Cal make a dent in a new fan base. The majority of fans that come to football games don’t come from San Francisco. Barbour said she is excited about the prospect of drawing in new fans by playing at AT&T Park.