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Three weeks before the refurbished Cal Memorial Stadium is set to open, university officials are taking a new, more aggressive, approach to selling the premium seats that are the backbone of the stadium’s financing plan.

Instead of relying on Cal’s sports development office to reach out to loyal alums, the athletic department is hiring a professional sales staff to target prospects, according to Solomon (Solly) Fulp, the athletic department’s COO. Officials hope the outreach program will jump-start sales for the Endowment Seating Program, which offers ticket holders premium club seats for 30 years for prices ranging from $40,000 to $225,000.

Cal has sold about 70% of its 3,200 premium seats and has raised $145 million through the Endowment Seating Program, well short of its $309 million goal, according to the Cal Bears website. The university has only sold 14 premium seats since Dec. 2011, according to the website, a rate that is lower than officials expected.

Summary of recent premium ticket sales. Source: Cal Bears website

“Last year, if you wanted a ticket you called 1-800-GOBEARS,’ said Fulp. “Your transaction was handled by a student, a part-time trained student. We have now hired a sales force. We’ve got 10 people full-time on the phone, making 85 to 100 calls a day. We’ve seen remarkable success in that to date. It’s amazing what you can do when you call people and reconnect them with their university versus waiting for the phones to ring.”

Fulp said the new approach has brought in $2 million more dollars this year than in the same period the previous year. He is planning on hiring an additional three sales people by Sept. 1.

While the university would like to see brisker sales, officials expect more people to be interested once the stadium reopens and they see what their money can buy, said Dan Mogulof, a university spokesman.

“A percentage of people are holding back,” said Mogulof. “They want to see what the game day experience is like.”

The stadium will reopen on Sept. 1, when the Cal Bears play Nevada at noon. It will be the first home game since November 2010, when the $321 million retrofit and upgrade of the 89-year old stadium began.

Before the game starts, there will be a procession with the Cal Marching Band, the Rally Committee, and alumni carrying banners from all graduating classes since 1873, according to Herb Benenson, assistant athletic director for the Department of Athletic Communications. Then Chancellor Robert Birgeneau and Athletic Director Sandy Barbour will cut a ribbon midfield to officially dedicate the stadium.

A rendering of Cal Memorial Stadium. Source: Cal Bears website

The stadium has been extensively retrofitted to help it withstand an earthquake on the Hayward Fault, which runs directly under the stadium. Parts of the west side of the stadium were put on moveable foundations which should let the structure shake and twist, but not collapse, in an earthquake. (Watch a time lapse video of the renovation, top, courtesy of UC Berkeley.)

The interior of the stadium has been transformed as well, namely the main concourse, which is wider and more spacious than before and opens out onto views of San Francisco Bay and the campus. Offices and team facilities used to block those vistas.

The stadium will now seat 63,000 rather than 71,000 fans, but their experience should be better, said Mogulof. When ticket holder walk in through the historic arch, they will be greeted with aluminum rather than wooden bleachers, modern bathrooms, larger, more modern scoreboards and screens, and a clear sound system.

Players will get to play on a synthetic Matrix turf system, one used by professional teams such as the Dallas Cowboys. They will also be able to work out and train in the High Performance Athletic Center, which opened last year.

“As far as the spirit and communal aspect, nothing is going to change,” said Mogulof. “People are going to enjoy more of it. It’s not going to be as long to get through, walking to the restrooms, moving through the stadium — it’s going to be far easier. All of the things that distracted from the game day experience in the past, people will find the game day quality of life has been greatly enhanced and brought up to modern standards.”

Update: After this article was published, its author was contacted by a Berkeley professor who is critical of the financing of the stadium and contends that Cal is not forthcoming about the actual funds coming in. Brian Barsky, a professor of computer science and vision science, correctly pointed out that Cal has only collected about $35 million for the sale of premium seats and the other $110 million (of $145 million sold) is in pledges. Barsky said that the contracts signed by seat holders are not binding and that calls into question the solidity of the seat sales and the likelihood of the university paying off its stadium and performance center debt service, which is around $447 million.

University spokesman Dan Mogulof disagreed with that assertion saying that it is common in a campaign to get pledges paid out over time. Even if some people drop out, the premium seats can be resold, he said.

“The current commitments we have now are worth $145 million. Even if we factor in some attrition, just with the commitment we have now we are good with meeting our debt payment for the next 20 years.”

Old Cal Memorial Stadium for sale, one bleacher at a time [06.27.12]
Final section of press box is installed at Memorial Stadium [10.13.11]
UC Berkeley’s best work on renovating Memorial Stadium [09.09.11]
Inside Berkeley’s newest, most discreet building [08.08.11]

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Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman...