Pac-12 football title game at Levi’s Stadium: Will it work at a neutral site?
The Pac-12, after having superior division winners host in its first three years with a title game, has chosen to plop the thing in the middle of an area demonstrably lukewarm about college football.
Times college football reporter
Larry Scott, the enterprising Pac-12 commissioner, spent his Thursday morning summarizing the move of the conference football title game to the new Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.
“This will be a great platform for our fans,” he said.
In the tech age, the term isn’t a site, or a stadium, or a venue. It’s a platform.
It should be noted up front there’s no perfect place for the Pac-12 title game, no Atlanta as the hub for an easy drive for most SEC fans, no Chicago or Indianapolis as the epicenter of Big Ten football.
So the Pac-12, after having superior division winners host in its first three years with a title game, has chosen to plop the thing in the middle of an area demonstrably lukewarm about college football.
And Levi’s Stadium didn’t even have to fend off others to win over the league. On a conference call, Scott made it plain there was no bidding process.
“We were only going to move to a neutral-site model if we were going to do it in Santa Clara in this new venue,” Scott said. “I didn’t want to take other cities through that.”
He said other possibilities, including Seattle and CenturyLink Field, were evaluated back in 2011 when the league was plotting its first such games. It settled on the home-host format, and dealt with all the uncertainties and last-minute planning, first at Oregon, then Stanford (where it went over badly, for a variety of reasons) and then Arizona State.
After that, Seattle was never in the picture. When I talked last week to Ralph Morton, executive director of the Seattle Sports Commission, he said: “The last information we had from them (the Pac-12 representatives), they were focusing on the business model of staying on campuses. We don’t know if there’s going to be opportunities to bid.”
Well, there aren’t, at least until this three-year contract runs out. What happened is, Levi’s, the new digs of the 49ers, has a high-end roster of suite-holders — “Some of the greatest names in technology, many from our schools,” Scott said — and club-seat subscribers, and the 49ers are trying to scoop up every event they can to keep them happy.
They’ve already hooked up with the Fight Hunger Bowl, which is moving south from the Giants ballpark.
Levi’s approached the Pac-12 some time ago about taking the event on. It pressed the issue, got nowhere, then sweetened the deal and gave the league an offer it couldn’t refuse.
Scott, meanwhile, says the place has a wow factor like Cowboys Stadium, Jerry Jones’ monument to excess, with the video board stretching from Fort Worth to Plano. Scott attended the Louisiana State-Oregon opener there a few years ago and said: “It’s a happening, a place you want to experience because of the amenities. It’s what I think is going to make this special and buzz-worthy.”
Make no mistake, Scott likes a show. In 2010, they had Pac-12 football media day on the floor of the Rose Bowl. The next year, they went to Fox Studios. Then to Universal Studios. Then to Sony. This year, Paramount.
Coming soon: Media day, poolside at Martin Scorsese’s mansion in Brentwood.
Anyway, this move drew a thumbs-up from Scott Woodward and Bill Moos, the athletic directors at Washington and Washington State, respectively.
“It takes a lot of the guesswork out of it,” Woodward said, referring to the stability of knowing the site in advance. Moos noted the enhanced experience of the players, who now won’t merely be playing another home or road game.
“That’s the upside,” Woodward said. “The downside is: Do the fans show up?”
The Niner brass has Scott persuaded, contending that fans normally shut out of NFL tickets will be hungry to buy these up. Scott says president Paraag Marathe told him he expects a sellout in the 68,500-seat facility.
About that, we’ll see. Stanford has a top-10 program, and the general local reaction is, “Meh.”
There are other concerns: In the new four-team college playoff, does it make more sense to maximize the better team’s chances with a home-field advantage? Do fans save their cash for a prospective trip to the semifinals instead?
Larry Scott has his event. He’s convinced fans will be anything but neutral about it.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org
About Bud Withers
Bud Withers gives his take on college sports, with the latest from the Huskies, Cougs, and the rest of the Pac-12.
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