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Football: Barbour explains reasons for declining 49ers’ offer to move the 2014 Big Game

A proposal to move the 2014 Big Game from Berkeley to the new Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara that could have “potentially” earned each school an additional $1 million in revenue was declined Thursday by Cal, which said it didn’t have the chance to properly explain the opportunity to its fan base.

Cal athletic director Sandy Barbour said she wasn’t so much caught off guard by the negative reaction of fans to the proposal, as she was by the awkward timing of information that leaked to the public.

“Because of that, we’ll never really know if we had been able to properly (frame) the message, what the response would have been,” she said during a media teleconference. “Our community got caught flat-footed without any explanation of a why or a what. Of course the reaction was pretty strong.”

Barbour said the 49ers floated the idea to both schools last April or May, but that she didn’t receive a formal proposal from the club until this Monday.

By then, talk of moving the game on a one-year basis to the 49ers’ new facility had become public and fans from both Cal and Stanford reacted sharply.

Jeffrey Warren, who last Friday broke news of the proposal on his blog, “A Cal Fan’s View,” said he was pleased.

“I’m excited. I’m happy for the kids,” said Warren, suggesting most of them wouldn’t have made the trip from Berkeley to Santa Clara. “The students would be playing beer pong in the fraternities and watching the game on TV.”

Fan response was at the heart of the decision to keep the Big Game at Memorial Stadium. Even while she was traveling in China with the women’s basketball team, Barbour said she was able to gauge reaction through emails and Twitter.

“The feedback and the input was useful,” she said.

The rivalry game, first played in 1892, is scheduled to be held in Berkeley in 2014. Had the two schools accepted the proposal, Cal would have hosted the 2015 Big Game.

Barbour said ticket prices for the game at Santa Clara would have been higher than usual and that the 49ers were offering a “gaurantee” to both schools at a level where “potentially we were looking at approximately a seven-figure incremental” increase in income.

The Cal athletic department is seeking creative ways to help pay down the $474 million debt incurred by the renovation of Memorial Stadium and construction of a student-athlete high-performance training center.

Asked if she would entertain moving the Big Game to another site in the future, Barbour said, “I’ll look at any opportunity somebody puts in front of me.”

Cal’s campus upper administration was involved in the decision, Barbour said, as was first-year coach Sonny Dykes, whose Bears open the season Saturday night against No. 22 Northwestern.

“He saw advantages for recruiting, advantages to playing in a brand new state- of-the-art NFL stadium, playing in a facility that’s going to host the (2016) Super Bowl,” Barbour said. “He already understands the enormity of the Big Game.

“He asked, `What are our fans going to think about this?’ ”

Ultimately, Cal’s fans delivered an answer that was loud and clear.

Follow me on Twitter at twitter.com/JeffFaraudo.

Jeff Faraudo

  • Pasadena Dave

    I was on the fence about this issue, but I’m glad fan/alumni feedback was a factor and the administration listened before making this decision. A potential seven figure payday is news to me because the only figures I saw floated anywhere was in the low six figure range. Hard to turn that down considering it could all go towards paying down the principle of our stadium debt, but I guess things like tradition and playing in our home stadium are priceless aspects of what makes our rivalry game special.

  • milo

    Blame the Niners and Santa Clara Stadium Authority on this one. They propose the idea in April and only deliver the proposal and term sheet on Monday, after the leak, days before the season starts? Well of course it’s not going to fly.

    My guess is they had their heads up their butts, left some i’s un-dotted and t’s uncrossed and left just enough room for a sh*t storm, and Cal and Stanfurd obliged.

  • SacraBlue

    Pasadena Dave makes a good point. All the reports I saw said Cal might make and extra $100,000. Where did this million extra dollars per team come from?

    Even so, what a bad idea. The Big Game has been jerked around enough in recent years.

  • Hungry

    I’d have no problem with the idea. $1M is a lot of money, and the excitement of playing in the brand new stadium & potential recruits. I’ve never been to a Big Game just because the limitation of seats and thus high ticket price. With more seats at Levi I will probably make it just because it’s history! But … the decision is made now so let’s move on to Saturday!@

  • CalBearister

    “Barbour said ticket prices for the game at Santa Clara would have been higher than usual and that the 49ers were offering a “guarantee” to both schools at a level where “potentially we were looking at approximately a seven-figure incremental” increase in income.”

    Yeah. That would have worked out great. Let’s get in the crystal ball and see how this plays out.

    The guarantee was that the schools make no less than they would ordinarily. The “potential” upside was $1MM. But with higher prices and a venue far, far away, Cal fans decide not to go. Stanfurd fans decide not to go because they don’t even show up at Circus Minimus. So the stadium is half empty, and the “potential” evaporates.

  • BlueNGold

    It is good to know that the AD and DIA were listening to the alums and fans. I agree with Sandy, the proposal was not handled well and Cal did not get out in front of the inevitable blow back. But, if the idea was first floated back in April or May, you have to wonder why it was not put out there as a possibility, with the reasons why it would benefit Cal. As it was, the proposal was announced (or leaked) with no real effort to sell whatever benefits were supposed to be in it for Cal. All I heard in the media was why the furd would support it. But, having said all that, I continue to believe that holding the BG in Santa Clara would have the effect of keeping a lot of Cal fans at home watching it on TV, thus negating the big payout that might be theoretically possible if the game sold out or nearly sold out. Considering the higher ticket prices that would be charged, I have to believe that the stay home factor would have a huge effect.

  • GoatBoy

    The Big Game should be sacrosanct. If they want to play a non-conference game there- like a game against Ohio State or Northwestern- I’d be open to that idea. Might bring in some more money, exposure, etc. Lots of teams do that. But don’t mess with the Big Game like this.