Goodbye, Candlestick Park. Hello, Levi's Stadium.
Barring an unlikely succession of regular-season and playoff upsets, the San Francisco 49ers will play their final game at quaint but antiquated Candlestick Park on Monday night against Atlanta. By this time next year, the 49ers will be completing their first season at Levi's Stadium, the striking, technologically advanced, environmentally friendly building being constructed adjacent to their practice facility in Santa Clara.
Levi's Stadium is the first NFL stadium to be built in California since the mid-1960s. Excluding Chicago's Soldier Field and Green Bay's Lambeau Field, which have undergone extensive renovations this century, California is home to the three oldest stadiums in the league: Candlestick Park (opened in 1960), Oakland's O.co Coliseum (1966) and San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium (1967).
This is not a coincidence. As David Carter, who teaches sports business at USC, explained: "The notion of allocating public dollars in the state of California is one that's not embraced by politicians or voters."
Yet 49ers ownership, led by Jed York, was able to get it done. It was extraordinarily difficult -- miraculous even -- as ESPN The Magazine chronicled earlier this fall. (Google "Levi's Stadium Hail Mary" for further details.) But after years of campaigning and negotiating, construction began in April 2012 and Levi's Stadium is set to open in August 2014.
All of which begs the question: If they can do it, why can't we?
The short answer: Even though Levi's Stadium is proof that these projects can succeed in California, it isn't necessarily a precursor to other deals getting done elsewhere in the state.
"No two of these deals are near anywhere alike," Carter said. "The personalities, the profit margins, whatever the market is -- each one of those is really different. It's hard to take a lot away (from Levi's Stadium) or say our situation is similar, why can't we get this done? I don't think it's that simplistic."
To use a Levi's-inspired analogy, no two pairs of jeans fit exactly the same. For example, San Francisco had an existing NFL team, the 49ers. The Los Angeles/Orange County market hasn't had one in almost 20 years. That, among myriad other factors, alters the dynamic.
As O.C.-based agent Leigh Steinberg, former co-chair of "Save the Rams," put it: "There's no team. There's no heritage. The Rams are long gone. The Raiders were only here for a while. The fact is, we've got UCLA and USC, two baseball teams, two basketball teams and two hockey teams. When I drive through Newport Beach, there are people out jogging, skateboarding, doing outdoor athletics. There's no comparison between the two markets."
Among the many necessary components to get a stadium deal done, Steinberg said, is to have "a single, committed political leader to lead the process." That's been a huge impediment in San Diego, where Mark Fabiani has been working on stadium initiatives for the Chargers for more than a decade.
Since Fabiani joined the organization in 2002, San Diego has undergone five mayoral changes. An election to determine the next mayor is scheduled for Feb. 11.
After failing to complete a deal in San Francisco, the 49ers turned their attention to Santa Clara, 45 miles to the south. It's in the heart of the vibrant Silicon Valley, a rich source of potential tech sponsorships the 49ers already have tapped. They also have had great success selling personal-seat licenses to their expansive, affluent Bay Area fan base.
"We look at them with admiration," Fabiani said. "If we could sell $550 million in PSLs, we wouldn't be having this conversation.
"We can't. That's just not our market. That's not a complaint about our market. It's just the reality."
The Chargers have had the capacity to opt out of their stadium lease since 2007. Fabiani said he expects the team again will forgo that option in 2014, primarily because the Spanos family doesn't want to leave San Diego.
"But in the end," Fabiani added, "a business needs to compete against other businesses. We ultimately can't compete on equal footing playing in a stadium such as ours."
Former wide receiver Dwight Clark -- who was on the receiving end of "The Catch," the greatest 49ers moment in Candlestick Park history -- described the team's stadium transition as "bittersweet."
"I hate to see Candlestick go, and I hate that the 49ers won't be playing on that field," Clark said during a conference call Wednesday. "But I totally understand it. I understand you have to have a new stadium."
More than half the NFL's 32 teams have moved into new stadiums since 1998, and three more are on their way (49ers, Vikings, Falcons). The newer stadiums provide revenue streams the older venues simply can't. And that revenue -- from PSLs, luxury suites, naming rights, sponsorships, concessions, parking -- is not shared with other clubs.
The San Jose Mercury News reported that the 49ers project a profit of $100 million in the first year of Levi's Stadium's existence, compared to roughly breaking even in the last year of Candlestick Park's. Although still constricted by the salary cap, the 49ers would be able to use that cash to pay players' signing bonuses and/or retain sought-after coach Jim Harbaugh.
Not only are they trying to compete with other teams by upgrading to Levi's Stadium, but the 49ers are trying to compete with their fans' living rooms. One of the challenges the NFL faces is trying to make the in-stadium experience match or exceed the high-definition comforts of home. To that end, Levi's Stadium will feature all the modern amenities and then some, including stadium-wide WiFi capability and HD video screens measuring more than 13,000 square feet.
"Just keep in mind what's behind it -- the fan experience," Jack Hill, project executive for the new stadium, said while leading a visitor on a tour last month. "We recognize that our fans have a choice."
Niners fans undoubtedly will be pleased with the finished product when it opens next summer. They'll be the envy of the state.
LEVI'S STADIUM FYI
Barring a string of upsets, the San Francisco 49ers will play their final game at Candlestick Park on Monday. Next season, they'll begin play at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara. The stadium's first event is an MLS match between Seattle and San Jose on Aug. 2. Here's how Levi's Stadium compares to Candlestick Park:
Candlestick Park; Levi's Stadium
$32 million; Cost; $1.2 billion
0; Club Seats; 9,000
985,000; Stadium sq. footage; 1,850,000
1,296; Scoreboard sq. footage; 13,600
239; Concession stands; 370
FANTASY PICKUP OF THE WEEK
QB Kirk Cousins, Washington
If you're a go-for-it kind of owner, you'll consider signing and starting Cousins in your Super Bowl or third-place game. Consider: In his first start last week, Cousins passed for 381 yards and three touchdowns on 45 attempts at Atlanta. This week, he faces the 32nd-ranked Dallas pass defense, which has allowed four touchdowns each of the past two weeks -- against "backups" Josh McCown and Matt Flynn. Starting Cousins isn't the safe move, but it just might be the winning one.
Week 16: NFL Power Rankings
By MICHAEL LEV
ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
THE ELITE eLEVen
(previous rank in parentheses)
1. Seattle (2) -- Seahawks didn't allow Giants to cross midfield until late in fourth quarter -- then intercepted them.
2. San Francisco (5) -- Second-best team in football. Unfortunately, road to Super Bowl goes through best team (see No. 1).
3. Denver (1) -- Thursday loss to San Diego just an off night. Broncos will be fine. Move along. Nothing to see here.
4. Carolina (4) -- Week 14 head-to-head result aside, the Panthers are playing better than the Saints right now.
5. New Orleans (3) -- Saints have lost four of their past five road games. Combined score of past two: 61-23.
6. Kansas City (8) -- It's entirely possible the Chiefs have gone from overrated to underrated.
7. Cincinnati (6) -- What a dud Sunday night. Bengals now 3-5 on road -- and might have to start there in playoffs.
8. New England (7) -- Patriots' past five games: lost by four, won by three, won by three, won by one, lost by four.
9. Arizona (10) -- Cardinals survived a scare, but unless they can shock Seahawks in Seattle, it won't matter.
10. Baltimore (12) -- MNF hero Justin Tucker is 69 of 74 for his career, including playoffs. That's 93.2 percent.
11. Miami (13) -- Ryan Tannehill in December: 8-2 TD-INT ratio, 103.2 rating, 3-0 win-loss record.
12. Philadelphia (9)
13. Chicago (14)
14. Indianapolis (16)
15. Detroit (11)
16. San Diego (17)
17. Green Bay (18)
18. Dallas (15)
19. Pittsburgh (19)
20. St. Louis (22)
21. Tampa Bay (20)
22. Atlanta (24)
23. Tennessee (23)
24. Buffalo (26)
25. N.Y. Jets (25)
26. N.Y. Giants (21)
27. Minnesota (29)
28. Jacksonville (27)
29. Cleveland (28)
30. Oakland (30)
31. Washington (32)
32. Houston (31)
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