STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Troubled economy or not, a new football stadium is on the way for the University of California at Berkeley. It's a $200 million project, and school officials want to help pay for it by selling seat licenses. Think of it as your own private box, just without the box. Ethan Lindsey reports from Oregon Public Broadcasting.
Unidentified Man: It's etched in Stoney(ph).
Mr. CARL STONEY(ph) (Season Ticket Holder, California Golden Bears): All right.
ETHAN LINDSEY: Carl Stoney is what California Golden Bear fans call an old blue. He's been a season ticket holder for almost two decades.
Mr. STONEY: I go to almost all Cal home games, and I go to most of the road games unless I have a wedding conflict.
LINDSEY: As he slaps high fives with a dozen other Cal fans at a tailgate outside California Memorial Stadium, Stoney says school loyalty is only one part of it.
Mr. STONEY: You see surveys of the best football venues in the United States, and Cal Memorial Stadium typically is the best, nestled against the hills, looking out over the San Francisco Bay.
LINDSEY: The 80-year-old arena has the views, but even fans like Stoney would admit it's come apart at the seams. Literally, it's built directly on top of an earthquake fault, plus there aren't even close to enough restrooms for 80,000 fans, and the seats are crumbling. That's why the school wants $200 million to rebuild it. The plan is to use a new concept called equity seat rights, or licenses.
Mr. RICH MAGID (Chief Operating Officer, Stadium Capital Financing Group): Really, what an equity seat right does is it makes the seat like a condominium.
LINDSEY: Rich Magid is the chief financial officer of Stadium Capital, the company selling the idea. He hopes success in Berkeley could convince other teams to try it out as well.
Mr. MAGID: Instead of buying a ticket to a game, you're owning the right to that seat, either forever, for perpetuity, or for a long period of time.
LINDSEY: These are expensive seats - almost $250,000 per chair. But the money in effect gives you ownership of the seat for 50 years. You can pass on ownership to your kids or sell them to a friend. The plan isn't legally a mortgage. The tax implications of that would just be too difficult. But like a mortgage, you can sell the seat, and you're given 30 years to pay off the cost.
If it works, the university would secure a 30-year stream of revenue. And with that, it hopes to go to a bank and ask for the hundreds of millions of dollars it needs to rebuild the stadium. Andrew Zimbalist is a professor of sports economics at Smith College. He says pro football teams have used similar schemes.
Professor ANDREW ZIMBALIST (Economics, Smith College): You've got an athletic director who is being entrepreneurial and who's trying to push the envelope. So that's good news. The not-so-good news is that this is a very, very difficult environment for new projects in the sports area.
LINDSEY: Zimbalist questions whether donors and banks will be willing to hand over all that money when the financial sky is falling. Dave Rosselli says, no problem. He's the school's associate athletic director. He contends that donations come from deep-pocketed alumni that can still afford to give, even in a recession. What they won't put up with, he says, is losing.
Mr. DAVID ROSSELLI (Associate Athletic Director, University of California): If the football program tanks, and stays in the tank, clearly it's going to be a problem. But that would be a problem anyway, whether we were doing a seat license program or not.
LINDSEY: A new stadium is expected to bring new energy, better recruits, and more football wins. And that's why athletic Director Sandy Barbour is so pumped about the project.
Ms. SANDY BARBOUR (Athletic Director, University Of California): What I love is that it gives a lot of folks a connection, an investment, and, frankly, a stake in what we're doing.
LINDSEY: OK. Here's where I should confess I'm a Berkeley alum and a Cal football season ticket holder. And when I told Barbour that, she tried to make a sale.
Ms. BARBOUR: I know you are passionate about Cal, and athletics is a part of that. And we need your help. And this is how we're going to ensure our success.
LINDSEY: Go Bears.
Ms. BARBOUR: Go Bears.
LINDSEY: I didn't sign on. But the school's athletic department says more than 1,000 fans have expressed interest in the plan, and some have already signed letters of intent. For NPR News, I'm Ethan Lindsey.