Sunday, May 2, 2010

Could Santa Clara Voters Say Yes to Raising Taxes for a Football Stadium?

Could Santa Clara Voters Say Yes to Raising Taxes for a Football Stadium?

By Evan Weiner

May 2, 2010

(New York, N. Y.) -- In this day and age of Tea Baggers or the Coffee Party and other rabble rousers jumping up and down and shouting to provide TV and radio producers a chance of showing "Good TV" or providing "Good radio", people in Santa Clara, California may be leaning to saying yes to a proposal that would ultimately provide a partially publicly financed stadium for the San Francisco 49ers.

Stadium stories generally produce "good TV", sound bites that inflame, and that ultimately leads to radio pillaging. It is just how it works because "Good TV" or "Good radio" brings in advertising revenue and may have nothing at all to do with the merits of a story. We expect more from a ten year old than we do from a radio personality like oh say New York's WFAN radio's Evan Roberts who repeatedly called Philadelphia Phillies fans "animals." A ten year old acting up in school is marched to the Principal's office and reprimanded. In radio lying about a hockey player been drunk, calling a political leader in New Jersey after being fired for lying about a hockey player's drunkard state gets you a plum job.

So for all of you who decide what goes on TV news during this important May sweeps or for the barkers on radio, chew on this.

Santa Clara residents may vote to raise taxes for a football stadium which goes totally against the TV "news" chatter shows and the carnival barkers of talk radio's narrative along with tabloid newspapers.

Santa Clara residents may say yes to spending at least $114 million on the project and possibly be on the hook for as much as $444 million on June 8 for the stadium that may house not only the San Francisco 49ers but the Oakland Raiders as well. The reason why Santa Clara voters may say yes may have more to do with a perception that the San Francisco Giants ownership and Major League Baseball are playing a heavy handed role (along with San Francisco officials) in keeping Oakland A's owner from setting up shop in San Jose and that this is their way of getting even.

The National Football League would like both the 49ers and Raiders to share the facility in much the same way as the New York Giants and Jets each put a significant amount of dollars, hundreds of millions of dollars, into the new Meadowlands football facility which recently opened.

The cash strapped state of New Jersey, whose governor Chris Christie is sparring with teachers and stadiums over draconian cuts in education, is providing hundreds of millions of dollars to pay for infrastructure and providing tax breaks and incentives for the two teams.

In Santa Clara, only the 49ers ownership, the York family, is investing in the facility and based on track records in Vancouver and Minneapolis, that might not be the wisest decision the Yorks ever made if the stadium referendum does pass. The original owners of the Minnesota Timber Wolves, Harvey Ratner and Marvin Wolfenson, could not swing buying an National Basketball Association expansion team for $32.5 million in 1987 and then funding an arena in Minneapolis that had a corporate sponsor's name attached to the building. By 1994, Ratner and Wolfenson had enough and sold the team to a group led by boxing promoter Bob Arum who wanted to move the team to New Orleans.

The NBA blocked the move as league officials felt that moving from the bigger Twin-Cities market to the Crescent City was a step backwards. Eventually the state legislature worked out a deal that allowed Minneapolis to take over the building and the Timber Wolves franchise was sold to a local businessman who kept the team in Minneapolis.

There is a similar tale of woe that also enveloped an NBA owner. Arthur Griffiths owned a National Hockey League team in Vancouver in the 1990s. Griffiths looked at how the economics of the NHL was changing and decided to finance a new arena for his Canucks. The NBA was thinking about expanding in 1995 with Toronto as a primary target but Griffiths was planning a new building and seemed willing to give NBA owners about $100 million in exchange for an NBA expansion team in Vancouver. The NBA liked Vancouver's dynamics even though the Canadian dollar was faltering compared to the US greenback. The NBA had identified Hong Kong as a major non-American supporter of the league and with many Hong Kong residents moving to the Vancouver area in the anticipation of China taking over the area; the NBA figured Vancouver would be a strong 21st century franchise.

It did not work out for Griffiths who was saddled by too many bills. The NBA expansion fee along with the $160 million price tag, that in Canadian dollars, for the arena. Griffiths sold the Canucks, the NBA expansion team, the Grizzlies, and the arena. The NBA team would eventually move to Memphis where it is a financial liability.

The Yorks may not have the money to run a football team and build a stadium that could cost as much as $937 million particularly if the corporate naming rights train runs through Santa Clara and leaves the Yorks looking for a corporate naming rights partner like Jerry Jones in Arlington, Texas and the woody Johnson-Mara/Tisch partnership in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Jones' Dallas Cowboys Cowboys Stadium has a gaping hole where a corporate sponsor should be hanging a shingle at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas and so far no one has stopped up and replaced Allainz as the naming rights holder at the new Giants-Jets Meadowlands Stadium.

Allainz dropped out of the running as the Meadowlands naming rights partner in September 2008 after media stories appeared in the greater New York area about Allianz’s candidacy as a stadium sponsor. These stories covered the naming rights talks and in that context also addressed Allianz history as a major German company during the Nazi era. After the stories appeared, The Meadowlands Stadium Company decided not to pursue further talks thereafter bowing to pressure from various groups who had highlighted Allainz's activities with the Nazi Government in Germany.

There were reports that Allainz was willing to pay the Giants/Jets ownership somewhere between $25 and 30 annually to put the company name on the stadium.

The Yorks might be able to defer some of the stadium's annual costs if they can persuade Al Davis and the Oakland Raiders to join them if the stadium is built. So far the Yorks intend to go it on their own and Davis is saying nothing. But clearly a corporate sponsor will help. The go it alone route is something Ed Roski in Los Angeles or, more precisely, in the City of Industry is not an avenue he would like to pursue. Roski would like to attract an NFL owner to move to his proposed stadium to share in a real estate deal to make a stadium work.

It will be a tough road to hoe if the York family decides to build the stadium with no help. But Santa Clara residents seem willing to be York's partner and that doesn't fit the media narrative of no more taxes but that may not be "Good TV" or "Good radio" which is what journalism is all about these days.

Evan Weiner is an author, radio-TV commentator and lecturer on "The Politics of Sports Business" and can be reached for speaking engagements at

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