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.
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