When Cal named Jeff Tedford to coach its football team three seasons ago, the prospect of rustling up more than $140 million to rebuild the antiquated and often half-empty Memorial Stadium seemed like a hail mary.
But now that Cal has re-signed the coach who filled the stadium and turned its moribund football program into a national title contender, Bear fans have reason to be confident that their stadium prayers might soon be answered.
“We’re probably in the best position in decades to take this on,” said Dexter Bailey, Cal’s executive associate athletic director in charge of its fundraising drive for renovating the team’s 81-year-old facility. Already, he said, the university has raised $20 million without actively soliciting for donations.
When Cal kicks off its official effort, expected to begin next year, Bailey can impress potential donors with a winning team, a proven coach, and a new chancellor who has a track record of supporting his athletic department.
But while Bear fans, all too accustomed to waiting in line at the stadium’s multitude of port-o-potties, rejoice at the prospect of a first class facility, many Berkeley residents recoil at the notion of keeping the stadium in their back yard.
They argue that the time is right to move the stadium from its current location in Strawberry Canyon directly on top of an earthquake fault and just beside residential communities, where neighbors often find themselves barraged with unwanted visitors for the team’s five to six home games every year.
“I think the university is using Coach Tedford as an excuse to push for rebuilding at the current location instead of looking for the best possible site,” said Janice Thomas, who lives on Panoramic Hill, just beside the stadium. She and other residents have pushed for the university to consider building a new stadium on the Albany waterfront or the west side of campus, two options university officials have said were not under consideration.
Stadium opponents are facing an unparalleled drive from boosters determined to keep Cal from returning to the basement of collegian football.
Over the last five weeks, boosters raised $10 million dollars to keep Coach Tedford in Berkeley. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” said David Rosselli, the assistant athletic director in charge of major gifts. “There’s tremendous support to elevate the program into a national powerhouse and keep it there.”
The money allowed Cal to sign Tedford to a five-year contract extension that will pay $1.5 million annually, nearly double his previous salary. The contract is comparable with salaries paid by some of the traditional football powers who were rumored to make a run at luring Tedford during the off-season.
The university’s ability to pay top dollar for Tedford illustrates its sudden rise as a football power and an attractive partner to sports-loving corporations. Over the past year, the athletic department has signed 27 new corporate partnerships and seen its sponsorship revenue jump from $2.6 million a year to $4.3 million, said Director of Corporate Sponsorships Solomon Fulp. He attributed nearly all of the increased revenues to Tedford.
Tedford has been clear that for him to stay at Cal, the university would have to upgrade Memorial Stadium, widely considered the most outdated facility in the Bear’s conference and a hindrance in recruiting top high school talent.
Like his previous contract, Tedford’s new deal contains escape clauses if the university falls behind on stadium renovations, but at Monday’s press conference the coach appeared confident that the project was on track.
“I’ve been encouraged by the direction that the stadium project is heading in,” he said.
Competing design proposals are now before Chancellor Robert Birgeneau, Bailey said. At his previous job as the chancellor of the University of Toronto, Birgeneau championed an $80 million renovation to its football stadium to house both the university’s team and the Canadian Football League’s Toronto Argonauts.
Any proposal for a renovated Memorial Stadium would include a seismic retrofit, luxury suites, new football offices, a new weight room, new locker room and possible academic space as well.
Compounding neighborhood concerns, university officials have not ruled out handing the project over to a private developer, which several neighbors fear would result in more intensive use of a renovated stadium to maximize profit.
Don Muret, facilities reporter for the Sports Business Journal, said that private developers building and operating on campus stadiums is a growing trend, but so far such proposals have been confined to basketball arenas that can more easily host a variety of events.
“It’s becoming more common now that states have no public money whatsoever,” he said.
Muret added that owners of recently renovated football stadiums have typically tried to book different events at the facilities. “Everyone is trying to get creative,” he said. “They try concerts, corporate hospitality meetings, even weddings.”