Earlier this year, I wrote a story detailing the strained relationship between the San Francisco 49ers and the city of Santa Clara, the city where Levi Stadium is located. In 2009, the city and team saw eye-to-eye on everything and life was great. The 49ers got millions of taxpayer dollars and in return promised a “partnership between the city and the team”. How quickly things fell apart. It wasn’t that long before the city of Santa Clara and 49ers began fighting over money generated at the stadium.
Unlike most sports teams who have issues with their local city, the 49ers are one of the most aggressive in their tactics. Several years ago, when Santa Clara city leaders pointed out that the 49ers were using taxpayer money to subsidize the 49ers stadium expenses, the 49ers spent millions to vote out any city official who was being mean to them. No, I am not kidding. They spent millions to get them out. It isn’t a coincidence that almost all the city council problems have disappeared since.
Another promise by the 49ers was that the stadium would “generate millions of dollars in revenue for the city”. This includes concerts and other events not related to the NFL. Considering that the city/stadium contract allows the city to earn 50% of profits from non-NFL events, this sounds like a great deal. Except, the 49ers, now valued above $5 billion, continue to claim that they are not making money. This comes after the NFL continuing to break record revenues and profits.
When city leaders began to question the accounting, the team just ignored them. The city got so tired of the 49ers stiffing them, that they removed the team as managers of Levi Stadium. The 49ers filed a lawsuit and after several years of both sides negotiating, the city came to an agreement with the 49ers. The 49ers can continue to manage the stadium and the city gets roughly $13 million, some of which went to the city’s general fund.
Over the last few years, the problem of the 49ers not sharing money with the city has come back into focus, while a new issue has also come up. The new issue revolves around the city and team fighting over expenses from police and other public safety officials during game days. The 49ers claim that what the city charges them is “among the highest rates for such services in the country”.
As for the lack of money being shared, the city continues to claim that the 49ers are hiding financial information from the city. A civil grand report from last year claims that the city of Santa Clara “hadn’t seen any revenue from…events in six years” nor have they “seen any money from…events from the stadium’s most recent fiscal year”. When it was announced last year that a report was being done by a civil grand jury, the 49ers responded with an unusual act of having a 49ers executive follow, investigate and harass the jurors.
BizJournal did a good job of breaking down the most recent argument. This year, the 49ers claim that the concerts generated $20.5 million while incurring $11.7 million in expenses. Based on the contract, the city should see $4.4 million. Except the team takes issue with how much they are paying for public safety from the city…so the 49ers are disputing whether the city should see that full $4.4 million amount.
Now there is even a newer new issue. The 2026 World Cup games are coming up soon. Vancouver’s local government has talked about needing to save $100 million of taxpayer money for their matches. Toronto has indicated it may need to save almost $300 million of taxpayer money. How much is Santa Clara saving? We don’t know. In fact, they don’t know either.
The 49ers and FIFA are giving the city almost no information. The city host agreement between FIFA and Santa Clara? City hasn’t gotten it from the team or FIFA. The stadium agreement between the 49ers and the US Soccer Federation? The mayor just received it and was provided no details because it was “heavily redacted”. You may be thinking that the social security numbers of team executives were blacked out, right?
“The numerous redactions include key information such as the stadium rental fee that FIFA, soccer’s world governing body, and the U.S. Soccer Federation agreed to pay the 49ers…The 97-page document provided few clues about how much hosting World Cup games at Levi’s Stadium will cost and who will pay for it. A three-page appendix titled “stadium rental fee” — the total money FIFA will pay — is blacked out.”— San Francisco Chronicle, 10/20/23
Nothing? The San Francisco Chronicle got hold of an unsigned agreement between the city of Los Angeles and FIFA. The contract language had numerous demands for cities hosting matches:
- The city must “pay for all police, fire, security and medical services — not only at the stadium, but also at team training sites and team hotels”.
- The city needs to “pay for a World Cup fan fest, set up a venue where fans without tickets could watch the games on giant televisions, and provide free public transit for FIFA officials, reporters, and ticket holders on game days”.
- The city needs to “fully indemnify” FIFA against lawsuits.
So how on earth is Santa Clara supposed to figure out what they need for the matches? The 49ers response has been a bit comical. The newest city manager of Santa Clara admits that they haven’t released everything to the city and public (Fun Fact: The last city manager was replaced by the 49ers-bought-city-council after she pointed out many conflict of interests by the 49ers President when courting for World Cup matches).
The 49ers can’t even remember their excuses from one day to the next. One day, the team says that FIFA rules are so complicated that they can’t share any part of their agreement without breaking FIFA’s unknown rules. Other days, there are possible issues with non-profits being involved. What that has to do with anything is unclear, but it apparently is stopping the 49ers from being transparent.