The San Francisco 49ers are feeling pretty good about themselves, and they should. They just produced a landslide victory at the polls, with nearly 60 percent of Santa Clara voters approving a $937 million stadium for construction in 2012.
"This is huge," said 49ers president Jed York, who deserves a curtain call for orchestrating the improbable win. "We didn't expect this margin of victory. Even in our polling we didn't see numbers this high."
|Jed York and the Niners long have been angling for a new stadium. (Getty Images)|
It's not an unreasonable thing to ask. With taxpayers signing off on a new stadium, the next step is financing it. And this isn't exactly an economic climate conducive to building ballparks that run nearly $1 billion -- unless, of course, you have someone or something to help defray the costs.
Naming rights, luxury boxes, stadium construction licenses and concession fees are some things that could help. The Oakland Raiders are someone, and, granted, the Raiders and anyone are strange bedfellows. But the New York Giants and Jets collaborated on a stadium project, and the result was a $1.6 billion park that will host a future Super Bowl.
There hasn't been a Super Bowl in California since San Diego had one in January, 2003, primarily because the three NFL stadiums in California are the three worst in the league. But that could change, depending on what happens next in Santa Clara -- and what happens next is trying to finance this deal.
York said he is "confident" the 49ers can pull it off, and maybe he's right. He kept assuring skeptics that voters would approve a new stadium, and he was dead solid perfect on that score. But it's one thing to convince someone to pull a lever; it's another to convince him to dig into his wallet, and this is where the Raiders might enter the picture.
Before I go any farther, let me make something clear: I'm not saying inviting the Raiders in is a good idea or is something the 49ers want to pursue. I'm just saying it's out there as an option, and with Oakland going nowhere in talks about a new home maybe it's an option the Raiders and 49ers explore.
"Part of the term sheet says you can have two teams in this building," said York, "but we haven't had those conversations with the Raiders. They're focused on trying to get something done in Oakland. It's definitely something we've said we would explore, and it's something that, on the surface, makes sense to share the costs of a stadium like that. But we haven't gone down that road yet, and I know the Raiders' first priority is to get something done in Oakland."
Only they haven't. Which is why this is intriguing. I admit that it makes more sense fiscally than it does realistically. The Raiders already have trouble filling their own stadium. So now you want fans to tool on down the road from the East Bay or Marin County to Santa Clara? Good luck. The 49ers have a substantial fan base there, with 45 percent of season ticketholders from Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties, but the Raiders don't -- and, yeah, that could be an issue. Then there’s the additional noise and traffic a second football team would produce.
Plus, I can't imagine either fan base would be all that geeked up about going into partnership with the other. There is more than a bay that separates these two groups. There is a cultural divide, and I'll just leave it at that. I know a lot of people out there -- and not just San Francisco fans -- who wonder: Do you really want to get in bed with the Oakland Raiders? They sued the league. They tried to sue Oakland and Alameda County. Now they're suing their former No. 1 draft pick, while a former employee is suing the team and its head coach.
Oh, and did I mention they left two cities the past three decades?
It's always something with these guys. Yet the 49ers and Raiders seem to get along, scrimmaging in Napa last summer and facing each other in preseason contests the past nine years and 10 of the last 11. Is it too much of a reach, then, to think they might consider sharing the same stadium, too? I mean, it works for the only other area that plays home to two NFL clubs, and if it can play in New Jersey, why not Santa Clara?
"We have a really good working relationship with the Raiders," said York, "going as far back as my grandfather buying the team. Al [Davis] brokered that deal. So it's not like we can't work together. We keep each other updated on stadium progress because, obviously, there are a lot of things we can learn from all the teams, especially in California, that are going through this process.
"We know where the Raiders are. They know where we are in our stadium process. So we keep each other updated. But we haven't gone to that next level of how we put something together."
The question, of course, is will they?
"I couldn't be the one to guess," said York, "but it's definitely something that's an option for both teams, and it's something that, at some point, we'll all have to consider. There are compelling reasons to do it, which is why we've called it out in a term sheet."
One reason it makes sense is that the 49ers have been down this road before ... and without results. A stadium referendum narrowly passed in 1997, with the 49ers given approval to launch a new park/shopping mall complex at Candlestick Point. Only it never happened. It didn't get past the planning phase and eventually died from neglect.
The new stadium doesn't have a mall attached to it and is located farther to the south in an area that can be reached by three major highways. That's a plus. But the downside is that it still needs to be financed -- an obstacle that, along with a change in the 49ers' ownership, helped kill the 1997 deal.
"This is not degrading what that project was in '97," said York, "but there was a need to get that project done quickly. They felt that with the political landscape (being what it was) they had a very short window to get something approved. And they did it. And they did it hoping the project they approved was going to work.
"They did a feasibility study after the project was approved. It takes a little more time to go through and do the feasibility study beforehand, but that's what we decided to do in Santa Clara.
"The biggest thing here is that we don't need a third party, whether it's a shopping mall or a condo developer to finance this building. You have the redevelopment funds. You have the local hotels. And more importantly you have the infrastructure that already exists. So the onus is on us to go forward and secure financing."
That's where the Raiders could come in. The 49ers are counting on the NFL contributing to the project, and maybe it does. But it depleted its stadium financing fund, and its focus now is not on a new ballpark; it's on a new collective bargaining agreement. The 49ers are counting on stadium naming rights, too, but I know a shiny new park in New Jersey that was counting on one and is still waiting.
My point is: There are potential sources of revenue out there that may or may not happen and a team across the bay that could help win them. The next feasibility study the 49ers should launch is whether it makes sense to do business with the Oakland Raiders.
"This was a great victory," said York, "but until we have shovels in the ground, a stadium up and running and we're winning Super Bowls I haven't accomplished my goal yet."