49ers “withhold” $5.5m in “rent” on new “stadium,” everyone gets in a needless tizzy

Why is it that just when you’re about to go and declare a new stadium a rare financial success for the public (or at least a rare non-sea of red ink, even if there may be numerous other problems), the team’s owners have to go and ruin it by asking to renegotiate the deal once the place is up and running. Seriously, what’s the deal, San Francisco 49ers?

The Niners agreed to $24.5 million per year for the first two years, but its contract provides a one-time “rent reset” — adjusting the rent based on changes in revenue, updated development costs and expenses.

But the two sides aren’t agreeing on a new rent amount. The team wants to pay $20.25 million. City leaders say they’re still figuring out if that’s enough and are asking for $24.5 million again just to pass a fiscal budget and continue negotiations.

The thing to remember here is that the “rent” involved isn’t actually rent: It’s actually money that the 49ers owners are paying to the Santa Clara stadium authority that the authority will use to repay money that the 49ers loaned to the authority to pay off bank loans for stadium construction that the team took out but the authority is paying for. (If you didn’t understand all that, don’t worry, that’s really only for the tax lawyers to comprehend.) So this is all just a complicated Rube Goldberg scheme for the 49ers to get a federal tax break on paying off their own construction debt.

What’s going on now is that the stadium has been bringing in money at a slightly higher-than-expected pace: Personal seat license holders may be wanting to dump them, but they’re also asking for fewer payment plans than projected, and operating costs have been below expectations as well. So the 49ers, reasonably enough, are saying, “Hey, you don’t need all this money we said we’d give you to pay off our loan, we’re taking some of it back.”

The Santa Clara stadium authority, equally reasonably, is saying that they’re not sure yet what the cash flow is going to look like, so please make your full rent payments so we can balance our budget, and if there’s any left over, we’ll write you a check for the difference. Which the 49ers then agreed to do, sending over a pair of checks worth $5.5 million.

So … what’s the big drama here? Nothing, really, unless abstruse accounting gimmicks are your cup of tea. The rent squabble is just a matter of how the team will pay off its loans — which is a headache for some Santa Clara bean counters, I imagine, but nothing that taxpayers should be worried about. Everything else that’s dysfunctional about Levi’s Stadium is another story, but at least if Santa Clara got a stadium where fans broil, the turf is a disaster, and the team is awful, they’re not stuck with a bill for it as well.

Super Bowl tourists drove away usual visitors to South Bay, just as economists predicted

It’s been a month since Santa Clara welcomed the Super Bowl to the San Francisco 49ersslippery turf, so how did the South Bay make out in terms of that $800 million in economic impact that the NFL projected? Take it away, Team San Jose, the tourism bureau with the instantly dated name:

Even with room rates falling below astronomical predictions, they were still high enough above normal to make the three-day Super Bowl weekend “the best weekend of hotel performance in San Jose history,” said Ben Roschke, Team San Jose’s director of business development.

Sounds great! And what are the actual numbers?

Instead of selling out every single room during Super Bowl week, as the city projected, San Jose hotels actually welcomed fewer guests than the same week last year, preliminary figures released Monday show.

With three out of every 10 rooms vacant, the city won’t reap the nearly $1.9 million in additional hotel taxes it forecast Super Bowl week would deliver. Instead, a report submitted by Smith Travel Research shows the city will likely receive about $600,000 in extra hotel taxes, said Victor Matheson, an economist at College of the Holy Cross, who studies the economics of Super Bowls.

That’s not enough to offset the $1.25 million in costs mostly for police services during Super Bowl week.

How could hotel occupancy rates be both above normal and below normal? The trick is in what timespan you look at: For Super Bowl weekend, even sky-high hotel rates weren’t enough to keep people away, which makes sense given that if you’re already dropping obscene amounts of money on Super Bowl tickets, getting gouged on a hotel stay isn’t that big a deal. However, for the entire week before the game, occupancy rates were down 9% from the same week last year, presumably because business travelers steered clear of the hiked room fees (by 64%, according to the Smith Travel report), while football fans didn’t show up until closer to game time.

This is probably fine for the hotels, since they ended up making more money from the increased room rates, even if they hosted fewer people overall. In terms of overall local economic impact, though, it’s terrible, because it means for the first half of Super Bowl week, there were far fewer hotel visitors knocking around San Jose and spending their luscious out-of-town dollars elsewhere in town, something that gamegoers couldn’t make up for during their relatively short stays. (Sales tax receipt figures for Super Bowl week haven’t been released yet, but anecdotal reports from San Jose business owners were that Super Bowl week was “kind of a letdown” and “wasn’t too much different from a normal week.”)

If all that sounds familiar, it should, because economists like Phil Porter have been noting this trend for more than 15 years already. Matheson ended up telling the San Jose Mercury News that the Bay Area as a whole could break even on its Super Bowl hosting costs, which is nice, but isn’t exactly an $800 million windfall.

 

Davis says parking sucks in Santa Clara, will keep looking for “right place” for Raiders

And the hating on Levi’s Stadium continues: Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis says his team won’t move there to share digs with the San Francisco 49ers because the parking lots are too small and traffic is too awful:

“I just don’t think it fits the Raiders,” Davis said Friday. “I’ve said it all along, that there are three words that mean something to me regarding a stadium location. That’s ingress, egress and parking. On game day, our parking lot probably holds the largest non-denominational gathering on Sunday morning that you’ll find. I’m not going to give that up. That’s part of the Raiders in-game experience.”

Given that Davis is in the middle of trying to negotiate a new lease with Oakland, you’d think he’d want to dangle at least the threat of a Santa Clara move to get better terms in his current location. But no, because Mark Davis is either terminally honest, terminally dumb, or just really can’t stand that new stadium the 49ers built:

“The next stadium we build will be around for the next 40 years or so, and that will be for the rest of my life,” Davis said on Saturday. “I want to make sure that, wherever we are, it’s going to be the right place. It can’t be just any place. It has to be the right place.”

At least the San Jose Mercury News’s Mark Purdy loves the Santa Clara stadium, spinning a remark that the head of the Super Bowl committee claims he heard from an unnamed NFL owner into a theory of how Santa Clara will get another Super Bowl sooner than later. Maybe the NFL owners have decided that if football players spend the whole game slipping and falling, at least they won’t be injuring their brains so much by getting tackled?

What if they built a new stadium and nobody showed up — oh, hi, 49ers!

Today in empty stadium porn, we present to you the third quarter at yesterday’s San Francisco 49ers home game:

Okay, so maybe that’s the unbearably sunny side of the field, and new stadiums have all kinds of other things for people to do other than actualy sit in your seats and watch the game (I was at Game 2 of the NLCS last night, and the seats behind home plate were empty for most of the game because it was cold and there’s a club where you can sit inside and watch on TV just steps away), and nobody actually goes to football games to watch with their own eyes anymore anyway. Still, it doesn’t exactly show why this place is $1.2 billion preferable to the place they just blew up. Especially not when the game also featured this, courtesy of the still-crappy stadium turf:

Ah, well, the 49ers owners already got their money from fans to pay for the place, so it’s not their problem. If you own a 49ers personal seat license, though, I’ll be wishing on your behalf for the team to get better, and some quirk of climate change to somehow bring rainclouds to the South Bay, I guess.

More 49ers fans dumping seat licenses, because 49ers’ new stadium sucks

The San Francisco 49ers‘ new stadium in Santa Clara has had some problems since it opened last year — the grass won’t stay put, it was brutally hot, getting in and out by car was often painful, and the stadium lights blinded nearby airline pilots. And now, according to KGO-TV, some seat license holders are fed up and want out of their season-ticket deals:

If you were hoping to get your hands on a San Francisco 49ers Season Builders License, or SBL, you’re in luck. Thousands are now available, but re-sellers say it has nothing to do with the team’s current record. Still, a growing number of fans are very dissatisfied…

“Half the stadium, we get beat up by the sun. So if you’re going to watch a game, you want to enjoy, drink a few beers. Here, you drink a few beers, and you get beat up, come home with sunburn, it’s just a bad experience,” [San Jose resident Tuan] Le said.

Other fans complained that the 49ers changed their ticket policy this year, sending only electronic tickets that can’t be printed until 72 hours before the game, making it harder to sell unwanted tickets.

Now, it’s only 3,000 licenses that are up for resale, up only slightly from last spring, and not all that much in a 68,000-seat stadium. And besides, the magic of PSLs (or SBLs as the 49ers call them) is that the team doesn’t have to give a crap about any of this: They’ve sold the licenses already, and it’s the fans’ problem if they made a bad investment.

The more interesting question is what this means for plans to finance stadiums in Los Angeles by similar means: Will L.A. fans, seeing the mess in Santa Clara, be more hesitant to plunk down for Rams/Raiders/Chargers PSLs? Nobody knows, but then nobody knows how viable those PSL sales projections were in the first place. This is a cautionary tale for somebody, that’s for sure, but whether it’s for football fans, for city officials in Inglewood and Carson, or for cities that think they have to outbid L.A. for the right to keep their teams is yet to be determined.

49ers stadium sod is still a disaster, people are now blaming Taylor Swift

With another NFL season lurking menacingly on the horizon, it’s time to revisit the San Francisco 49ers‘ new stadium with its perpetually awful field. Now that it’s had a full year to grow and put down roots, surely things are much improved now, no?

No:

Things eventually got so bad that the 49ers canceled Sunday’s open practice at the stadium, moving it to an adjacent practice field that has an actual, you know, field.

What is going on here isn’t exactly clear. The Bay Area Sports Guy blog notes that the 49ers are jamming in additional events to make money — both those open practices, which are free but a perk for the PSL holders that helped pay for stadium construction, and concerts, which are decidedly not free — but still, other stadiums manage to hold more than eight or ten events a year without having the grass fall out in clumps. Mike Florio of NBC Sports asks the question and then (predictably, because it’s Mike Florio) doesn’t attempt to answer it, and none of the Bay Area news outlets appear to have done a thorough investigation. So it’s possible that the 49ers have discovered a downside of financing billion-dollar-plus stadiums without major public subsidies — you have to squeeze every last dollar from other sources, which is tough on the sod — or it’s possible they just have a lousy grounds crew. Or, you know, that maybe the climate change that is soon going to kill us all is starting by ruining football.

First season of 49ers’ stadium was a disappointment, maybe not so much to the 49ers

I thought about writing some kind of year-end list for this site, but got stuck on whether the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel or the Buffalo News should win Best Performance As A Team PR Department By An Allegedly Major Newspaper, and never got around to writing the rest. Newballpark.org had no such problems, though, and devotes an entire post today to all the ways in which the San Francisco 49ers‘ new stadium was a disappointment: the sod had to be replaced five separate times, it was crazy hot in the sun during the early season, and attendance for college games was pretty lousy. The 49ers kinda sucked. And, though the site doesn’t mention this bit, the traffic was terrible, at least in the early going.

All this is fun to point and laugh at, but I’m not sure that Newballpark’s proposed solution (the 49ers should have built a roof on the stadium) makes all that much sense: Yeah, it would have kept fans from collapsing from the heat, but you can put in a fake turf field if you want for a hell of a lot less than the couple hundred million dollars it would have taken to add a roof, retractable or not. And as for the 49ers’ on-field fortunes taking a nosedive, you could make the case that this actually happened at the perfect time for the 49ers: All their crazy-high-priced PSLs have already sold, so the team owners have guaranteed that they can pay off their building, regardless of whether those PSLs are worth much going forward. Yes, it would be nice to keep people actually going to games and buying $6 bags of M&Ms, but if the choice is between people being disappointed in the product after they’ve paid for it or beforehand, I’d guess that the Yorks will take the former any day.

So, does that make the new 49ers stadium a success, or not? It depends on what you mean by success: Despite a $1.2 billion price tag, it was paid for without bankrupting either the team or the city of Santa Clara, which is a rarity these days. On the other hand, all 49ers fans get for their years of waiting (and their hard-earned PSL cash) is to have escaped a stadium where they were in danger of frostbite for one where they’re in danger of heatstroke. And sports teams, it turns out, don’t magically turn into winners, or even remain winners, just because they’re in a schmancier building. Maybe everyone’s New Year’s resolution — for ticket-buying fans, for cities seeking stadium deals, and even for teams looking to cash in on the former two parties — should be “be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.”

Fans at 49ers home opener spend more time getting out of parking lot than watching 49ers lose

The San Francisco 49ers finally had their real, honest-to-god, official regular season home opener at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara yesterday, and according to the San Jose Mercury News, the traffic still royally sucks:

While post-game transit rides appeared smooth, some fans who drove reported huge waits to get out of the parking spaces, saying it took two hours or more just to leave their lot.
Some fans resorted to driving over curbs to get out and others said travelers looked so angry they were ready to fight the parking attendants. Others, in a fit of rage, claimed they wouldn’t return until the situation was fixed.

At least traffic getting to the game was a “non-issue,” according to NBC Bay Area, with — sorry, you weren’t finished, Merc News?

Fans going to the blue lots off Lawrence Expressway reported pregame waits of up to two hours.

“I have to say, it’s beyond frustrating,” San Jose resident Joey Windham, 35, said from his car before the game, where he had barely budged for two hours. “It pretty much has zapped the life out of everybody.”

 

Now, the 49ers’ old place had some traffic problems, too, so take all this with a grain of salt. (Especially the bit about fans refusing to come back.) But if nothing else, this is a sign that the preseason traffic woes can’t be cured by the Great America amusement park being closed on game days (as it was last night), or running a few extra commuter trains.

One improvement: No one died from the heat this time!

49ers have now ripped up entire field at new stadium twice before opening day

Oh hey, did I neglect to mention that the San Francisco 49ers‘ new stadium has a field that’s falling apart? Apparently the 49ers (or maybe the field itself) is trying to get my attention, because the team has now replaced the grass twice in the last week:

The thicker-cut field installed two days before Sunday’s preseason game against the San Diego Chargers was meant as a temporary solution because the sod cannot generate the deep roots needed for long-term use.

Now, team officials are also removing and making undisclosed “tweaks” to part of the sand base below the turf, and are ripping out the entire 2.5-acre playing surface, including the sidelines and the area behind the endzones, which had not previously been replaced.

Deadspin posted this photo from Instagram (the link appears to have gone dead), which, um, yikes:

The 49ers are footing the bill for all this, so the only harm done here is to the high school games that have had to be canceled rescheduled (they’ve been moved to Columbus Day weekend, with additional games added then as well), and maybe to any players who end up getting injured playing on turf that isn’t actually rooted to the ground. (The 49ers’ home opener is on Sept. 14.) Still, it’s a reminder that “new” doesn’t necessarily mean “better,” or even “done well.” Just think: If this happened at the Oakland Coliseum, people would be calling for the wrecking balls to start swinging before halftime.

 

First Santa Clara 49ers game reviews: Great food, try not to die from heat

I’m on wonky internet in an undisclosed location, but here are the top headlines from Sunday’s first-ever San Francisco 49ers game at their new stadium in Santa Clara:

So, new 49ers stadium overall report: Great place to eat and go to the bathroom, not impossible to get to if you leave enough time, don’t stay in your seats to watch the game on a sunny day or you’ll maybe die. I think in headlinese that qualifies as “mixed reviews.”