For campus, city and local businesses, gameday preparations begin well before action

Football gamedays have a large impact on the campus and the surrounding community.
Kevin Foote/Senior Staff
Football gamedays have a large impact on the campus and the surrounding community.

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Early in the morning on gamedays in Berkeley, the streets are quiet. But at Memorial Stadium, the atmosphere is anything but calm.

In just a few hours, tens of thousands of football fans will flock to the stadium, ready to watch Cal and its opponent of the week face off in another game of the season. Behind the scenes, however, about 1,500 workers from the campus and the city are preparing for the crowds soon to come.

Cal’s football games are some of the largest campus events of the year, bringing in an average attendance of 50,000 people per game this season, according to Cal Athletics Associate Athletic Director Herb Benenson. These games bring their own fair share of impacts on residential neighborhoods and businesses in the city.

While gameday expenses total about $500,000 per game for the campus, ticket revenue alone is usually about $1.5 million, with even more revenue earned from merchandise, concession sales and other means, according to Benenson. The UC Berkeley Parking and Transportation department, for instance, generates about $500,000 from season ticket permits.

This entire gameday production, like playing football, is a team effort involving Cal Athletics, UCPD and the Berkeley Police Department, Cal Dining and the city of Berkeley.

Discussions between Cal Athletics and the city’s Transportation Division begin in the spring prior to football season, during which they coordinate logistics concerning traffic and parking demand, post-game cleanup, shuttle bus services and public transit.

Proper preparation is critical — especially for games such as the Friday night match against the University of Washington last November, when the city had to accommodate not only the gameday rush but also the regular commuter rush. Even with prior planning, there was severe traffic and a significant lack of parking due to the number of people entering and leaving the city, said John Caner, CEO of the Downtown Berkeley Association.

“We love the football games, but the only time it’s a problem are the Friday night games,” Caner said.

Despite extensive organizing throughout the year, a lot still has to be done right before the games. During the season, Cal Athletics holds football operations meetings with city and campus stakeholders every Tuesday before a home game to finalize everything from wristband colors to food catering for the visiting team.

On gamedays, workers from Cal Dining, which provides the concessions at the games, begin grilling the first of 8,000 hot dogs and sausages — their best-selling menu item. More than 30 officers from BPD set up road closures and begin directing traffic around the stadium. In the city’s Downtown area, about 15 Downtown Berkeley Association ambassadors walk around greeting visitors and providing directions.

But in areas closer to the stadium, many residents are prepared to spend another day confined inside their homes.

Those driving to the game, with the exception of those with season parking permits who can park on campus, have the option to either park in a nearby parking garage — some with rates as high as $25 for a day — or on the streets, which many do. This limits parking for nearby residents such as Joan Barnett, president of the Dwight-Hillside Neighborhood Association, which encompasses the area just south of the stadium.

“We’re captive (in our homes) when there’s a football game,” Barnett said. “A number of these are very old homes; many don’t have garages. You either have to leave your car there and stay home all day or go out all day, because if you go out and come back, there won’t be any parking.”

And when the games occur late at night, excessive noise may plague the neighborhood after games and significantly disrupt elderly households and families with young children, Barnett said.

Although the increased number of visitors in Berkeley may prove troublesome for neighborhoods, most of the restaurants that line Telegraph Avenue and the Downtown area — many of which are still recovering from the drop in sales in 2008 — enjoy a significant boost in business as visitors pass through the area on their way up to Memorial Stadium, said Dave Fogarty, one of the city’s economic development project coordinators.

To prepare for the 25 percent increase in customers and sales it experiences on gamedays, Smart Alec’s on Telegraph usually takes on three more employees than usual, according to its manager, Maribel Perez.

“Cal football games bring in a tremendous amount of people who discover our business … so it helps grow our business in off seasons,” said Alex Popov, owner of Pappy’s Grill & Sports Bar.

This is a contrast to the 2011 season, when Memorial Stadium was being renovated and games were played in San Francisco.

Greg Mauldin, general manager at the Hotel Shattuck Plaza, saw a “noticeable difference” in occupancy at the hotel, which is usually booked full on home-game weekends by football fans and other visitors.

But currently, the rebound of retail stores in Berkeley is lagging behind that of restaurants, and unfortunately, it is the retail stores that find themselves with fewer visitors on gamedays, Fogarty said.

“All the parking tends to be occupied by people going to the games,” Fogarty said. “As a result, the so-called ‘destination businesses’ that depend on customers driving from another city or some place farther away in Berkeley … lose out.”

Amoeba Music — which Fogarty classifies as a “destination business” — does experience worse-than-average business on gamedays, according to owner and co-founder Marc Weinstein.

Still, any increase in activity on Telegraph is a benefit for the area, said street vendor Diana Yoshida.

“It’s a net positive,” said Roland Peterson, executive director of the Telegraph Business Improvement District. “Even though the noneateries don’t do as well as food businesses, they get exposure.”

Exposure, Mauldin agrees, is one of the most important effects gamedays have on the area that few other campus events have.

“What is wonderful is that people who otherwise would not come to Berkeley can come to Berkeley and experience things,” he said. “People get to see a different Berkeley than they might have typically stereotyped … a world of diversity you almost can’t get anywhere else.”

Alison Fu covers city news. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @alisonfu_.