Money in the Bank

If Successful, the Endowment Seating Program Could Fully Fund Cal's Athletic Department

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Cal field hockey coach Shellie Onstead has been hoping for a locker room for 28 years. In a twist of fate, the football program may be able to provide her with just that.

The Cal athletic department kicked off the Endowment Seating Program-a massive fundraising campaign-on January 1. The program aims to collect between $300 and 325 million dollars by selling the rights to between 40 and 50 years of priority seating at Cal football games. That money will go toward funding athletics across campus, including field hockey.

Ranging in cost from $40,000 to $225,000 per seat, each newly constructed section will include benefits from private restrooms to catered food, drinks and pregame field access.

If the UC Board of Regents votes to pass the project in September, the sale of these 3,000 seats will fund seismic upgrades for Memorial Stadium.

But to spend over $200,000 for a cushioned seat and extra leg room seems absurd. Are there really enough Cal alumni with that much disposable income to burn despite the current economic downturn?

To be brief: yes.

"What we have in present value is $160 million," says Assistant Athletic Director Nate Pine, who arrived at Cal last September with experience fundraising for Oregon State's recent stadium renovation. "What we have when you take out the full thirty year commitment is $293 (million)."

In just over seven months, Pine and the rest of the athletic department focused on fundraising have raised 64-percent of their stated goal-six months ahead of the expected schedule.

The thriving success of the program despite the current economic struggles certainly comes as a surprise. Pine attributes the generosity of Cal alumni and fans to a variety of factors.

First, Pine describes a "clear communication strategy" that targets all donors, but specifically seeks out those already invested in football season tickets. They were offered first priority for high-end seats while being told of the desperate need for funds.

"People know we need to have this project to go through otherwise we won't be able to keep football on campus," says Pine. "The regents have told us that the stadium is unsafe and we need to do the seismic upgrade. People understand that there is a lot of value in keeping football on campus, and there is a deep tradition here."

Second, Cal has initiated a multifaceted marketing campaign including electronic media, in-game advertisements, direct mail delivered to the home, print media publications and even a telephone campaign complete with a recorded message from football coach Jeff Tedford.

Project donations are also tax-deductable, giving the program an advantage over professional sports by offering the entertainment value of high-level football to supplement the tax break.

"When you're very successful and you're making a million dollars a year, you're going to have to pay the government a quarter of that," says Pine. "If you're able to give to something you're passionate about and save some of that tax implication, you're probably going to do it."

The Endowment Seating Program, however, aims to do much more than provide comfort for Cal's top donors and refurbish a stadium in desperate need of an upgrade.

If successful, it will be a groundbreaking feat in collegiate sports.

"We're the first program of our kind to go after an endowment that will support our entire program," Pine says.

Currently, the Cal athletic department requires approximately six million dollars in university funds, according to Pine's estimate.

"Depending on how successful this endowment is and the growth of the endowment, hopefully someday there is no need for student funds or university funds," he says. "In fact, some programs who have been very successful actually give money back to the university and help them supplement academic funds and student learning."

Additionally, the program hopes to secure the budget for all 27 sports on campus.

The endowment reaches far beyond securing financial budgets, however, and is specifically geared toward improving Cal's achievements in athletic competition across the board.

"The success and growth of the endowment is going to give us the ability to not only secure the budgets of all 27 sports at their current levels," Pine says, "but hopefully grow over time as the endowment increases where we can give them more opportunities maybe for international travel or to have a better recruiting budget."

Specifically, the athletic department hopes to continue to climb the Director's Cup standings-the annual award given to the university with the most athletic success across all sports.

"Cal takes a lot of pride in having 27 sports and being successful. Just like our undergraduate academic offering a wide variety of courses of study, we have a wide variety of intercollegiate athletics, which is important," Pine says. "That's what Cal's all about."

Onstead, a former Cal athlete herself, is excited about a program that offers possibilities for her team.

"I've never heard of a viable option for a long term plan," says Onstead of the possibility of secured budget. "It would provide an immediate help for us in the area of scholarships. Right now we aren't fully funded so this would be a huge, huge help."

Onstead is optimistic that additional funds and improved facilities will allow for a full complement of scholarships and a bigger recruiting budget necessary to reach the NCAA tournament.

"I have bought into the fact that this will have an immediate impact on our program," she says. "I know people who have been supporting field hockey who are now buying seats. The goal is universal."

Regardless of the reasons, however, the Endowment Seating Program is turning heads off the field in an effort to allow the Bears to continue to turn heads on the field.

And Onstead will finally get her locker room.

Tags: MEMORIAL STADIUM, CAL FOOTBALL


Contact David Seawright at [email protected]



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