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January 13, 2012

49ers' hefty PSL prices raising eyebrows

The San Francisco 49ers put "stadium builder licenses" (aka personal seat licenses) up for sale this week for 9,000 seats at their planned Santa Clara stadium, and the initial reports seem to show a fair bit of sticker shock among fans.

The prices on the initial round of lower level club seats run from $20,000 to $80,000 for a lifetime license to buy tickets (fans then still need to pony up for tickets as well). That's significantly more than the PSLs that the New York Giants PSLs (which topped out at $20,000) and Jets (top price $84,000, but with some lower-level seats priced as low as $2,500 after PSL sales stalled) and even more than the Dallas Cowboys PSLs, which run from $16,000 to $50,000.

If commenters on the official 49ers message board are any guide, this could be a tough sell, with 84% of those polled saying they have no interest in buying PSLs at these prices. (Sample comment: "I was prepared to pay $10K per seat to keep a similar location, but twice that AND a ticket price increase of over 250% is just plain crazy.") This could change as lower-priced PSLs become available for non-club seats, obviously, but it's certainly not a good sign for the 49ers as they try to avoid the a Jets-style PSL glut and last-minute price slashing.

All this should be of concern to Santa Clara, because the PSL money is slated to be used to pay back $450 million in public debt that the city stadium authority will be borrowing from the 49ers, at 8.5% interest. [UPDATE: Sorry, confused two different stadium loans there for a minute. For the full explanation, see my original post, which got it right.] If there's a shortfall ... well, nobody's exactly sure what happens, except that it'll be the city's problem, not the team's. It actually presents a weird incentive for the 49ers in setting prices — if they price seats too high and they don't sell, they're still guaranteed to get their cash from Santa Clara (except for the actual tickets they'd end up eating, obviously), which may be one reason the team has been so aggressive about pricing.

Of course, there's also that petition drive underway to hold a revote on the entire stadium project, which makes this not exactly the best time to piss off your fan base. The stadium opposition group Santa Clara Plays Fair issued a press release last night touting radio show host (and former weatherman and current climate change denier) Brian Sussman's switch from the pro-stadium camp to the anti-stadium side, with Sussman telling listeners, "My eyes were finally opened when the football team informed me my four seats in the new stadium would cost $160,000." How many of his fellow fans balk at those prices could determine whether the Santa Clara succeeds or fails — and just possibly, whether it gets built at all.


Gotta love Sussman's change of heart: "I'm fully in favor of spending OPM to build a stadium for me, but ask those of us who will benefit to pay up? Not so much."

Posted by Keith on January 13, 2012 08:40 AM

Leaving aside the consideration that probably in some cases the PSL's would be bought by corporations who would write off some of the cost, I don't have much of a problem with the idea. If the team can raise money from fans who voluntarily choose to drop this much dough on this sort of thing, that's a freely performed agreement and well and good.

On the other hand, I will be contacting Santa Clara County today. I don't have as much money as the 49ers but I'll float them a loan at 7.5 %. That's an entire point in savings.

One question though, Neil, if you can answer. I know little about the issue but couldn't the county borrow money from a bank at less than 8.5%? If so, why pay the 49ers a higher rate? OK, I know the answer to that one.

Posted by Alex Bensky on January 13, 2012 09:56 AM


It's the city, not the county of Santa Clara that's backstopping this.

Proponents like to tout alleged county wide benefits though...

Posted by santa clara jay on January 13, 2012 11:28 AM

Actually, I think I screwed that up - it's not the loan from the 49ers that will be repaid by PSLs, but rather the direct stadium bonds. Hold tight while I correct...

Posted by Neil deMause on January 13, 2012 11:45 AM

Mr. Sussman is upset that his PSL license will cost $40K a seat to maintain his current advantageous location (as well as the huge price increases in per game charges). This underlines that point that the there is great value in getting to attend games without paying. Which leads to the question of whether the stadium advocates on the city council and within the city staff will be obligated to purchase PSLs (aka builder's licenses) in order to attend games.
If that's not their personal expectation, then I�d call it corruption.

Posted by santa clara jay on January 13, 2012 11:59 AM

Why is it that agreements in term sheets only come after the voters "decide" issues?

Air-finger quotes here because the voters didn't really decide anything. Just what the heck did they actually vote on?

"Should we be allowed to do anything we want?" should be on ballots everywhere in North America now.

Posted by MikeM on January 13, 2012 01:12 PM

Basically it's looking like taxpayers need to vote out of office any elected officials who have buddied up to the NFL or other pro-sports teams. Because the bait and switch that's happening in Santa Clara could happen anywhere.

Our city attorney just released a letter that says we don't have the right to a referendum because what the council did was an administrative act to carry out the will of the voters who voted 'yes' on Measure J. Never mind that there are many people who voted 'yes' on J who are now signing the petitions because they're saying 'this deal isn't what we voted for.'

So other potential NFL cities take note - the closed door dealings and hoodwinking of the voters that has gone on in Santa Clara, and the misuse of our school district to win the stadium election, will provide a blueprint for other NFL teams.

Shame on them and Shame on Roger Goodell and Neil Glat etc. for not putting a stop to this. The dissent in Santa Clara is growing by leaps and bounds. Enough is enough.

Posted by SantaClaraTaxpayer on January 13, 2012 03:18 PM

My rep called me last night. Some babyfaced kid from Oklahoma. I've had 47 yard line tickets for over 40 years. Told me seat licenses were going like hotcakes and why hadn't I contacted them. Said they had sold 200. Told him we'd talk after the playoffs, but ripped him and asked how he expected me to come up with $160K. How am I supposed to feel good about taking my 12 year old daughter to a game for $320?

Look,I'll pay the seat license but that price is outrageous. Also given that they are moving to someplace less convenient to me, I'll probably end up going to less games.

I think I'll spend the money on a really good home theatre. This saddens me that I cannot continue the legacy. At least I'm not a Santa Clara taxpayer.

The kid told me it is like buying property. I told him that I'd never buy a spec community property until I'd seen a working model. I also told him how price values had decreased in the Bay Area over the last 5 years. Bad analogy kid!

Posted by route53 on January 13, 2012 05:21 PM

Like buying property??? Wow, that IS terrible analogy!

It's more like a longer-term lease--because when the 49ers cry that they need a brand new stadium in 25 years, those SBLs will be worth the paper they are printed on.

Posted by NoStadiumTax on January 13, 2012 05:59 PM

Hopefully this will spell the end of the 49ers' presence in the Bay Area.

Posted by Allan on January 13, 2012 07:32 PM

Here's the Chronicle blog entry on the letter to the Santa Clara group.

I call bull. They're just trying to increase this group's expenses, hoping they'll go away.

Posted by MikeM on January 13, 2012 07:44 PM

MikeM - There is every possibility that Santa Clara was targeted for a stadium because we are not a wealthy community (like Palo Alto) and don't have the personal deep pockets to fight back (like peninsula communities are doing with high speed rail.)

And we have a rag of a weekly paper that ran 25 weeks of pro-stadium articles plus multiple full page colored ads each week. They made lots of money off of the stadium campaign.

Then we have the SJ Merc which also got a lot of money for ads and ran over and over articles that were written like cheerleading pieces rather than objective analyses.

(And yes, Neil, I've read your FAIR article on how sports pages are like the toy dept of a department store.)

People in SCPF knew all along that a bait and switch was being pulled, we just didn't have the numbers until the DDA came out last month. Then many people in the rest of the city woke up to the reality of being financially pillaged by professional sports joined with a pro-stadium council. People honestly wanted to believe that their city council would not give false information. That belief died with the DDA last month.

The Santa Clara case highlights the manipulation of the electorate by pro-stadium forces to get what they want, and then when the citizenry says 'that's not what we voted for' they're told tough luck.

Warning to any other city considering doing a deal with a pro sports team. Just. Don't. Do. It.

Posted by SantaClaraTaxpayer on January 13, 2012 08:49 PM

I never trusted the council from day one. But what disappointed me the most was the fact that there was never any push back on the council from the "professional" city staff.

It was idealistic that they'd be a voice of reason and curb the council's worst actions, but I was completely misguided in this belief.

I still think it's a glaring conflict of interest for the council to negotiate a "deal" and then accept free choice seats worth thousands of dollars to the games.

Posted by santa clara jay on January 13, 2012 11:40 PM


Being in Edmonton I have to ask if there are some strong similarities and difference to what is going on here with the Oilers new building?

I know in April(ish) the City came out with he framework of what they were comfortable negotiating (a cap on how much it would cost, a commitment they wouldn't proceed without Katz putting up $100M cash, etc). Since then the City seems to have abandoned all precaution and gone headlong into a deal that could prove to be extremely expensive.


Posted by Andrew T on January 14, 2012 01:45 AM

I just found out about the PSL fees. It's completely outrageous. My family has had season tickets since the very start in 1946. We've been loyal fans and over the years graduates to fantastic seats (50 yard line, home side, row 2). Up until 2004, our loyalty was rewarded by relatively low rise in cost of tickets and increasingly better seats.

Yet in the last 8 years, the 49ers not only switched to a tiered model, which caused our ticket prices to spike way up, we're now literally being asked to shell out $160K for the same two seats. Are they out of their mind?

Actually, the funny thing is we're not even being offered the $80K PSLs. Apparently those have been reserved for "high rollers" and we've been "graciously" offered 30 yard line, visitor side seats for "only" $30K each. It's insulting and it's sick.

My grandfather supported the team from the start. My father grew up a niners fan, as did I. But now we're effectively being told to buzz off and that our loyalty doesn't mean squat.

Shame on the 49ers.

Posted by Patrick Lightbody on January 16, 2012 01:46 AM

Patrick - too bad they weren't forthcoming about the PSL fees during the stadium campaign when they wanted fan support for a new stadium. Santa Clara Plays Fair could see the handwriting on the wall and tried to warn fans through information on it's website - to no avail. Fans backed the 49ers during the campaign instead of demanding the truth about what it would cost them to keep their season tickets in a new stadium.

It's all about money for the 49ers owners. And both fans and the citizens of Santa Clara are getting the short end of the stick. At least the fans have the choice to say no and just stay home and watch games on a bigscreen TV.

Posted by SantaClaraTaxpayer on January 16, 2012 03:27 AM

I guess the 49ers don't want to share the corporate suite revenues with the city so they have to stick it to the rank and file fans who supported them though the decades.

I appreciate these posts from the season ticket holders. It makes me think that selling these PSLs is going to be a formidable challenge--which obviously bodes ill for the city.

Posted by santa clara jay on January 16, 2012 02:16 PM

If they build a good stadium, Santa Clara will be fine financially. If they want it they'll probably get the Pac-12 championship game, a labor day college football game featuring a top Pac-12 team, 1-2 US or Mexico men's soccer matches and a bowl game featuring a top 3 Pac-12 team every year.Plus a Super Bowl every 8-10 years. If an L.A. stadium ever gets built they'll lose some of that, but at $3-5 million per event, those extras will be enough to make this a net positive financially for the city.

Whether Santa Clarans want to engage in NIMBYism is another matter (and I suspect that is the real reason that the Usual Suspects come to this message board to hammer the proposal any chance they get), but if they actually have the Niners locked into paying $30M/yr to pay for this thing, I'd be shocked if the city took a bath when all is said and done.

On the pricing issue, it is hard to have much sympathy here. From what they have said it sounds like some seats will be sold without PSLs and that current ticket holders will be able to pick from a number of different options. I think any team should have the right to turn an area of a stadium into a "club" area if they want to. If the seats someone used to have are now located in the "club" area, then you just get a new location. How hard is that?

My guess is that they are going to have oodles of problems selling those high priced seats, anyway. The Packers, at least up until this year, have been unable to sell their club seats because at those prices ticket brokers get scared away. I'm guessing the Cowboys and Giants do OK with those, but I sense that the Niners are a level below them in terms of local demand.

Posted by Ben Miller on January 16, 2012 05:25 PM

Interesting counter points Ben.

While I completely concur with what you are saying about a giving a private company the freedom to do what it wants with its product don't forget that this is still a publicly financed project. The 49ers are counting on people like Patrick Lightbody to not only buy these PSLs (not 100% sure what happens if this sale falls flat) but politically support the project. Turning on these people is good neither financially nor politically and I'm afraid that's what the 49ers have done. And I won't believe its a done deal until a stadium's been built.

The only other comment I'll make is a small one. Ideally if the 49ers pay $30M a year for the duration of the lease and don't negotiate down to a $1 a year plus $10M in "management fees" this deal looks good. And if the 49ers are cooperative and make sure that the city can book other events and coordinate fairly to ensure Bowl games can be played and the NFL is generous and the Bay area entertains a few Super Bowls in the coming years then, yes, this deal looks very good.

But those are all "ifs" and as we've seen elsewhere they can be huge gambles.

Posted by Andrew T on January 16, 2012 07:02 PM


"Right all those "ifs" are huge gambles"

At least we agree on something. My problem is that even if everything "works out" what do really get? Not much in my book--a virtually useless for anything but pro-football-- facility.

Do you even live in Santa Clara? Own a home there? Do you know what it's like to have outsiders come into my city and tell me what's good for it and not to worry?

Posted by SANTA CLARA JAY on January 16, 2012 07:08 PM

The fewer supporters the 49ers have, the better. I always find it very inspiring when sports fans realize what a waste of time it is to follow sports. Let's hope the 49ers' support in the Bay Area continues to dwindle.

Posted by John on January 16, 2012 07:42 PM

It's unfortunate, however, that the 49ers have had so much success this year. That means that the amount of support they have in the Bay Area has increased. But hopefully they'll soon be eliminated from the playoffs and people will go back to not caring about them.

Posted by John on January 16, 2012 08:37 PM

@John - this morning on KSFO talk radio, host Brian Sussman talked about the PSLs, and about how many fans have said they will not renew their seats. He said that at last Saturday's game, when they talked about the Santa Clara stadium, the fans booed.

Santa Clara's Stadium Authority is on the hook for selling the PSLs to pay off part of the $850 million in loans the city has agreed to take on for stadium construction (the loans through the city's Stadium Authority, which is the same people as our city council.)

I don't think the 49ers success this season with a new coach has made a difference here - people who are against a city agency taking on $850 million in loans for a stadium are against it whether or not the team does well. Fans are against PSL prices that are unaffordable, whether or not the team does well.

Posted by SantaClaraTaxpayer on January 17, 2012 03:54 AM

SC Jay,

I work at Techmart near the proposed stadium site maybe 3 or 4 weeks per year on average. I live in Los Angeles.

Also, I must say that if we set 10 on the NIMBYism scale as "David Koresh", your comments are at least a 7.

Posted by Ben Miller on January 17, 2012 11:53 AM

Hi Ben,

Actually the stadium would be several miles from my home. While I don't think it would be great for my overall quality of life during game days, my main objection is on fiscal grounds.

If the 49ers were paying for this and owning their own darn stadium; I'd be writing nothing at all.

How am I a NIMBY for opposing the city taking business risk (because the city council & staff think NFL football is really, really awesome) FBO of billionaire family [business]?

Posted by santa clara jay on January 17, 2012 01:57 PM

SCJ: So, BM is not going to be paying taxes/user fees toward the stadium, does not live near the stadium, and yet accuses those of you that will be doing both of "Nimbyism".


As for the PSL's, I'm not surprised they look like a hard sell. In the 'real' construction world (in which I work), you don't build a condo/apartment/shopping centre until you have enough committed tenants to suggest demand is there and the break even point will be reached.

In my view, PSL sales should be a prerequisite for any city considering building a facility for a pro sports team (IE: show me the fans want it badly enough to post 30% of it's construction cost), not an afterthought which leaves the municipality on the hook if they remain unsold.

2 soccer games (assuming a real pitch will fit in this football facility), 3 NCAAF games and 10 49er games are going to make this a success?

Do the math...

Posted by John Bladen on January 18, 2012 01:23 PM

There is absolutely nothing wrong with Candlestick!!! I am a season ticket holder in the cheap seats and I don't mind it a bit. So much history there.

Posted by JasonInReno on January 31, 2012 07:11 PM

I just want to point out some inaccuracies in this article, particularly when comparing to other teams.

First, keep in mind the $ 20-30k per seat cost is for the club seats only, and no, it's not significantly more expensive than any other team recently charged for club seats.

The Cowboys charge $ 16k-50k+ for their best club seats, after initially having some north of $ 100k. As mentioned the Jets charged as much as $ 80k+ (the $ 2500 seats mentioned were for a few of the worst non-club end zone seats), and the Giants top club seats were also around $ 20k.

Regular seats will be significantly less. Based on what Cowboys, Giants, and Jets charged for PSL's, you can expect non-club field level seats to go for $ around $ 2500-5000 per seat.

Posted by Bill on February 4, 2012 01:24 AM

I just want to point out some inaccuracies in this article, particularly when comparing to other teams.

First, keep in mind the $ 20-30k per seat cost is for the club seats only, and no, it's not significantly more expensive than any other team recently charged for club seats.

The Cowboys charge $ 16k-50k+ for their best club seats, after initially having some north of $ 100k. As mentioned the Jets charged as much as $ 80k+ (the $ 2500 seats mentioned were for a few of the worst non-club end zone seats), and the Giants top club seats were also around $ 20k.

Regular seats will be significantly less. Based on what Cowboys, Giants, and Jets charged for PSL's, you can expect non-club field level seats to go for $ around $ 2500-5000 per seat.

Posted by Bill on February 4, 2012 01:24 AM

We currently have great seats because we have been season ticket holders for over 50 years. It seems that they are pricing out and reseating a high % of their long time season ticket holders into their living rooms.

Posted by Madeline on February 4, 2012 12:33 PM

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