Tuesday, June 5, 2012

California Memorial Stadium Tour

As a season ticket holder for Cal football I received an email about an upcoming preview tour of the "new & improved" California Memorial Stadium. I instantly shot back an email saying I'd like to RSVP. I attended on Wed 5/30.

Once at the new adjoining Simpson Center for Student Athlete High Performance we (about 25-30 guests) were brought to a large conference style room, I'd guess about 100 X 60. It was obvious this was not only a preview tour but an opportunity to upgrade to the fancy high roller ESP donor seats. I was pre-qualified very well by a staff member asking me “if I intended to upgrade." I laughed a bit and told her that my priorities were to get my two kids through college first.

The Athletic Department Sales Staff did a wonderful job presenting the material about ESP seats, dispelling many myths, and breaking down how the price structure was set (based on 2010 pricing basically). The ESP seating includes three sections: Field Club- standard stadium chairs in the lower levels, Stadium Club- a padded chair with an extra inch wide, and the University Club- a luxury seat, even wider, and leather. Alicia (a former Cal swimmer) & Justin were the two point people of the day, but I did have great conversations with Valerie (former Cal softball), and “my” rep Kevin who has assisted me over the years.

We had a chance to sample some of the food that will be offered at the new & improved concession stands. It was 4pm and I wasn't really that hungry but I did grab a half a Sausage-Dog of some sort, Waffle Fries, and a really yummy Tri-Tip appetizer type of thing. They will also be offering Sushi and more upscale food ala AT&T. They also had ice cream bars, and a slushy type of icee drink.

A pleasant surprise was a short chat with our beloved AD Sandy Barbour. I've seen her at games, heard her on TV, and we even swap tweets now and then, but Sandy really impressed me. She has a dynamic personality with a genuine feel. She talked about the need for getting the stadium remodeled upon her arrival in Berkeley. Sandy explained she had experience in fund raising, facilities management, etc. Then she deadpanned, "But the one thing I didn't have was experience with tree sitters." This statement received both laughs & applause from the guests.

The Tour:

My photos of the tour are available to look at here: http://s1261.photobucket.com/albums/ii595/norcalscott2/ They’re nothing great but I did want to share with fellow Bear fans.

Considering the stage of construction we had to really visualize what things will look like come September 1st and the first game vs. Nevada. Some areas, like the main concourse, were more completed than the three ESP levels & their respective private club rooms. One thing is for sure, it is going to be awesome. We were told that in the main concourse the area is 3 to 4 times as wide! And it looks like it! The concourse has bright blue (almost a royal hue) tile in the customer service areas like concessions & restrooms.

One area that has fascinated me is the grass plaza area that doubles as the roof for the Simpson Center, the Student-Athlete High Performance Center. We learned that on game days this will be a ticketed area so only ticket holders will have access to the plaza. It consists of lush green grass and what looked like a combination of pavers & concrete. I did not get to ask the question, but I wonder if ticket holders will be able to bring in food to basically picnic in the plaza.

For me the highlight of the tour was being in the University Club room area. We were taken to the backside and out to the new overlook area. This overlook area looks out over the campus with a great view of the Campanile. Views of downtown Oakland & San Francisco filled the horizon. It was breathtaking. The most unique thing we were told is that the floor will be made of tempered glass, allowing the Richie-Rich Donor to look down below.

We all know that with this major renovation CMS will lose about 10,000 seats, about 1/7th of its former capacity. We learned that with the expanded leg room and various seat widths of the three levels of ESP seating this is where most of the seats were lost. While a better explanation could not be given, some seats were lost in the other 2/3rds of the stadium where the renovations took place. Due to new wider concourse tunnels and new ADA seating accounted for this. Just by looking around it was fairly obvious to me that the new concourse tunnels have also been moved slightly in most areas, and they looked slightly higher too. These tunnels are also much wider, and no longer have steps but small ramps. The ramps double as entry to the ADA seats.

My Disappointment:

This tour could have been so much better. Yes, the main intent was to upsell season ticket holders to ESP seats, but even a quick 15 minutes through the Simpson Center would have been a nice added bonus. From the large room were we gathered and watched the power point, heard the sales pitch, and heard Sandy speak we could look through the glass wall down two floors into the expansive training facility. Tons of weight machines, racks, treadmills, etc etc. I've seen photos of this room via the Bear Blog and even on twitter from various current & former players, but this training area looked awesome! As a former jock myself I would have loved to walk through and see what else was there. Plus just to see other areas for the student-athletes: dining hall, trainer’s rooms, coaches offices. I want to see it all! If Cal wants alumni & donors to increase their annual giving they need to show off these new facilities. I’m sure it costs a pretty penny to run & maintain the new Simpson Center.

My Prediction:

Without a doubt Cal has done a complete 180 degree turn in the type of facilities our student-athletes have at their access. The stadium & Simpson Center now match the academic reputation of the University of California as the #1 public university in the world. I believe that these facilities will have a positive impact not only on recruiting for the future, but inspire current student-athletes to push a little harder, to do that extra set of reps, or even stay a little bit longer in a trainer’s room getting treatment simply because the facilities are inviting & beautiful. While it is hard to predict how the renovations will impact season ticket sales we were told that about 70% of the regular bench seating is sold. I did read a tweet yesterday (Mon 6/4) from one sales staffer saying that the phones were ringing off the hook for new season ticket sales.

A giant "THANK YOU" goes out to Sandy Barbour for her hard work & leadership. Kudos to the many behind the scenes staff members who solicited funds from alumni & boosters to make this dream a reality. And a special nod to the Judge who kicked out the damn tree sitters!


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