Putting a value on The City’s pigskin payoff 

While a political debate has raged for the better part of this decade regarding keeping the 49ers within city limits, the vagaries of the team’s economic contributions to The City make it unclear just how valuable the professional football franchise is to San Francisco.

Reports have been made on the team’s potential impact on a proposed move to Santa Clara (both negatively and positively). But the last economic analysis of the 49ers’ relationship with San Francisco came in 1997, and even that document was tied to a proposed shopping center development.

While the team provides part-time jobs, tax revenue for The City and much-needed national exposure for San Francisco, it may take a move to Santa Clara to determine its true impact.

As a tenant of the Recreation and Park Department (the team’s stadium, Candlestick Park, is named after the city park it occupies), the 49ers pay the city agency $5.5 million each year. However, the Recreation and Park Department spends $4.1 million maintaining the facility, making it a net of $1.4 million for the agency, a modest contribution for a department with a $117 million budget.

Similarly, San Francisco’s general fund receives about $2.4 million in various tax forms from the team, barely a drop in the ocean for a city with a $6.6 billion budget. While the direct contribution to The City is important, especially in lean times as these, the 49ers are hardly propping up San Francisco’s public finances.

It’s also difficult to determine the team’s importance as a creator of local jobs. Even though the team still plays its home games at Candlestick Park, the franchise headquarters is in Santa Clara, so a move would not take away any full-time employees away from The City.

During game days, the team employs 1,500 part-time workers to maintain its concessions, take tickets, help with parking and undertake various other tasks. But most of those employees are part of a circuit that regularly works at a number of different concessions, so 10 fewer days on the job (all the team’s home games and preseason contests) would hardly be a major blow.

Ian Lewis, research director for Unite Here Local 2, the union that represents concession workers at Candlestick Park, said many of the game-day employees have full-time jobs, or work a string of other concession opportunities, such as openings at AT&T Park. There is a chance that some of the employees would seek work at the 49ers’ stadium in Santa Clara, but the game-day work is not crucial to their income.

“Certainly, no one is able to pay the rent and sustain a family by working just at Candlestick Park,” said Lewis. “One of the realities of the service sector is that you have to string together a number of employment opportunities to make ends meet. So, one job isn’t a make-or-break situation.”

With a move to Santa Clara, there is a question of the indirect losses from missing out on a national television audience.

Overhead shots of The City’s scenic landmarks, from the iconic Golden Gate Bridge to the notorious former Alcatraz prison, are important exposure opportunities for San Francisco, attracting potential tourists.

According to Joe D’Alessandro, president of the San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau, moving the team to Santa Clara will do little to affect that asset.

“You’re still going to be seeing shots of Telegraph Hill and Fisherman’s Wharf during breaks in the action,” D’Alessandro said. “San Francisco will still be the main focus, even if the team plays in Santa Clara.”

Subsequently, the remoteness of Candlestick Park and the culture and infrequency of football — 10 home contests a year (including two exhibitions), and many fans elect to bring their own food and drink to tailgate in the team’s parking lot — means that the team has less impact on the local economy than baseball’s Giants, who play in a more densely populated area.

Ben Kaufman, coordinator of the Bayview Merchants Association, said that on game days, businesses typically see little difference in activity in the neighborhood, which borders Candlestick.

D’Alessandro added that it’s difficult to determine how many 49ers fans (and backers of opposing squads) actually stay overnight in The City, since there has never been a formal poll taken during a game.

Sparkling stadium in The City might stimulate the economy

While it may be tough to ascertain just how important Candlestick Park and the 49ers are to San Francisco, business and tourism officials agree a new stadium in The City would play a crucial role in stimulating the economy.

A new, refurbished stadium to replace the rundown Candlestick Park would bring opportunities to host dozens of events outside of football games, such as concerts and international soccer matches, according to Joe D’Alessandro, president of the San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau. Plus, a new stadium could reel in the biggest fish of them all — the Super Bowl.

In 1997, a report commissioned to discuss benefits of upgrading Candlestick Park found that a Super Bowl would generate $300 million for The City.

Along with the events it could attract, a new stadium would play a key role in the proposal to redevelop the Hunters Point-
Bayview neighborhood, according to Jim Lazarus, public policy director of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce.

Unlike the existing setup, where the marooned Candlestick Park has little effect on local businesses, a commercial district surrounding the new stadium would benefit directly from game days, Lazarus said.

“We want the team to continue playing here,” said Lazarus. “We feel like they’re already a key contributor to The City, and a future with a new stadium would only bring more opportunities.”

Voters to decide future of move

On June 8, Santa Clara voters will decide the fate of the San Francisco 49ers’ proposed move to the Silicon Valley.

If voters reject Measure J, an initiative that outlines specific funding elements of the $937 million stadium proposal, including a $114 million contribution from the 49ers, the project — at least in its current form — will die, putting San Francisco back into play.

If Measure J passes, even with a ballot victory, the team will still have to draft a more detailed financing plan.

Voters must approve Measure J for the new stadium plan to move forward, but passage of the initiative does not assure the team will move to Santa Clara.

Opinion polls show Santa Clara County residents favor the proposed move by a slight majority.

A recent poll found that 52 percent of likely voters supported the move, 36 percent were against it and 11 percent were undecided.

The ballot measure needs only a majority vote to pass.

49ers by the numbers

For Rec and Park

  • $5.5M: Revenues generated for Recreation and Park Department from stadium
  • $4.1M: Rec and Park expenditures for maintaining stadium
  • $1.4M: Net revenue for department
  • $117M: Rec and Park total budget


For The City

  • $290,000: Annual sales tax revenue generated from 49ers for City’s general fund
  • $280,000: Annual property tax revenue generated from 49ers for City’s general fund
  • $1.8M: Other tax revenue generated from 49ers for City’s general fund
  • $2.4M: Total general fund contribution

At Candlestick Park

  • 1,500: Workers employed by 49ers on 10 game days a year
  • $24.6 million: Total cost to build stadium in 1960
  • 100 percent: Portion of the stadium that was publicly financed

Source: San Francisco 49ers, city of San Francisco

Where the faithful flock

A look at the history of where the 49ers have played their home games:

1922: San Francisco accepts $100,000 gift from the estate of Mary Kezar to build a memorial in honor of her mother and uncles, who were pioneers in the area; San Francisco chips in $200,000 to build the stadium

1925: On May 2, Kezar Stadium is dedicated, featuring a 2-mile race between Ville Ritola and Paavo Nurmi of Finland, two of the premier distance runners of the era

1946: The 49ers play their inaugural season at Kezar Stadium

1957: Giants announce they are moving from New York to San Francisco

1958: Groundbreaking for $24.6 million stadium, then called Bay View Stadium, on Candlestick Point

1959: Candlestick Park is winning name in fan contest

1960: On April 12, the Giants play the first game at Candlestick Park, with President Richard Nixon throwing out the first pitch. The Raiders make their debut, playing their only season at Kezar Stadium

1971: On Jan. 3, the 49ers play their final game at Kezar Stadium, losing to the Dallas Cowboys 17-10 in the NFC Championship Game
Open-ended stadium is fully enclosed and artifical turf replaces natural grass as the stadium prepares for the 49ers’ arrival

1979: Artificial turf is replaced by natural grass

1995: Stadium name goes corporate as 3Com buys naming rights through 2002 for $900,000 a year

1999: On Sept. 30, the Giants play their final game at Candlestick Park, moving into what is now AT&T Park the next season

2002: Naming-rights deal expires and stadium name is offically changed to San Francisco Stadium at Candlestick Point

2004: On Sept. 28, Monster Cable, an S.F. company that makes cables for electronic equipment, purchases naming rights.
On Nov. 2, city voters mandate the name revert to Candlestick Park in 2008

2006: On Nov. 8, the 49ers announce they are abandoning plans to find a stadium site in San Francisco and are pursuing a move to Santa Clara

About The Author

Will Reisman

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