The University of California, Berkeley (Cal) has one of the largest college athletic departments around the country, housing hundreds of athletes and staff members. With COVID-19 and the cancellation of all athletic events, Cal lost many of its major money-making tactics. Ticket sales from games, large fundraising events, and all other in-person conventions are not able to take place due to the health risks they now carry. These issues have caused Cal’s athletic department to face a huge budget deficit and newfound need to make up for money lost.
Some of the critical tools being used by Cal’s athletic department to connect with Cal supporters and raise money are online events and fundraisers. These programs showcase Cal alumni, coaches, and athletes, all speaking about Cal sports and their personal athletic experiences. The Cal Athletics Fund Caravan 2020 kicked off in June, with four head coaches from the university speaking in a live virtual conference about coaching and leadership during the pandemic. This online program took the place of the previous in-person coaches caravan planned for this year. “An in-depth look at the current and future states of our sports programs, the department, and collegiate athletics through the eyes of our Cal Athletics coaches, administrators, alumni, and other special guests,” describes the caravan website. This program is an effective way for Cal to connect with supporters during the pandemic and bring in revenue.
With the recent reversal of the previously cancelled fall football season by the Pacific Coast Conference (Pac-12), Cal’s football games serve as another possible fundraising mechanism for the department. According to a New York Times interview with Jim Knowlton, Cal’s athletic director, they are dealing with the possible need to take out a $20 million loan to support the athletics department during the 2020-21 fiscal year. The potential money received from partnerships with television companies Entertainment and Sports Programming Network (ESPN) and Fox could diminish the need for this loan altogether. “Depending on how much we receive from our TV partners, it could be no loan at all, if, in fact, we get $20-plus million from our TV partners,” said Knowlton in the article. If the football season is able to be aired on TV, Cal, as well as the television networks, will profit from the streaming of their football games.
Another major financial concern for Cal’s athletic department was the possible loss of revenue from pre-purchased season tickets for sports games during the current academic year. Game tickets have been a significant way for the department to bring in money, with thousands of people attending Cal games every year. This worry was disproved by loyal Cal fans with over 91 percent of season-ticket holders renewing their subscriptions, as reported by Knowlton in the New York Times article. “We gave our season-ticket holders options to donate what they’d already put down, roll it to next year, or get a refund. And less than seven percent of our season-ticket holders asked for a refund,” said Knowlton.
The pandemic has taken a hit on all departments at Cal and athletics is no exception. However, Cal staff, along with supporters and fans, are working hard in finding new and innovative ways to fundraise and support the athletic department during the pandemic.