What San Jose Can Learn from 49ers

The San Francisco 49ers broke ground Thursday on their new stadium in Santa Clara and threw a tremendous party replete with football royalty, current players, politicians and, most importantly, volunteers from the Measure J campaign that made the day possible.

The Niners won that election with 58 percent of the vote in Santa Clara. They left nothing to chance, building a political team led by consultant Ed McGovern and the irrepressible Councilmember Kevin Moore. They also gave the City of Santa Clara a great deal, spent time educating the community on the benefits, and steam-rolled a small, but vocal, minority of NIMBYS.

It should be noted here that the Council had a strong majority of members supporting the project in addition to Moore. Patricia Mahan, Lisa Gillmor, Pat Kolstad, Jamie Mathews, Dominic Casserta and Joe Kornder all strongly supported the stadium. But Moore was particularly creative, effective and motivating behind the scenes. Part of the art of leadership is to let others take the credit. Moore had no problem giving his other councilmembers first billing in a project he personally brought to the table.

The model used by Santa Clara and the Niners should be replicated in San Jose for the new A’s stadium.

The Niners already had the support of football fans, the business community, labor, most of the politicians and city staff. But they never confused that support with a majority of public approval. Not everybody is a football fan, but everyone is a fan of something and the Niners quickly recognized that uniting disparate interests and going beyond the minimum would reap enormous public support.

Here are the seven reasons why the Niners were able to make this work and how the city of Santa Clara wins:

First: Make the plan subject to voter approval on your own terms and embrace the concept of a public vote—it is going to the ballot anyway. By placing it on the ballot on terms favorable to the team, it is more likely to pass.

Second: Build the right political team by hiring everyone necessary for success. Do not let the political divisions of the city or pet peeves of politicians dictate who is on the team. This was done in Santa Clara. John McLemore and Patty Mahan ran against each other for mayor, and both were invited and solicited to be on the Niners team, because both supported the project. In San Francisco, Willie Brown literally hired everyone—with the exception of Clint Reilly—to support his election for mayor. Thus, no professional consultant had an incentive to work against him.

Third: Retail politics is important. Jed York was never too busy to meet with Santa Clara voters. He went to town meetings, interacted with regular folks and is genuinely a very nice human being. He cares passionately about his team and the community his team serves. He brought in team members to help sell the package; a little celebrity help, but not in itself enough to guarantee victory.

Fourth: Build a community benefits plan that has something for everyone. And this one has many details.

The Niners made the city a full partner in their stadium effort, because Santa Clara owns the stadium and will share in the governance and revenue. The stadium will be built LEED certified, making it close to net-neutral on the electric grid. It has bike trails to the stadium and utilizes mass transit corridors, leaving environmentalists thrilled with the project.

None of this mentions a new hotel tax that was implemented during a recession and supported by the industry who will bear the burden. No business objects to being taxed if the new revenue means additional profits it otherwise would not generate. No general taxes were raised.

The schools got $28 million in new funding as a result of the package. Not everyone is a football fan, but almost everyone supports new money for schools.

Fifth: The jobs and economic activity generated from the project will benefit all of Santa Clara and surrounding areas. A Super Bowl will generate anywhere from $250-500 million in economic activity. There are some who claim the figures are not that high, but nobody believes a city loses money. Add to the 10 games the Niners will play there every year and the other events—concerts, other sporting events,monster truck shows, etc.—and the entire city will have an avalanche of new riches.

Sixth: The Niners didn’t try spending a lot of time with the NIMBYS. Some people are Negative Nancys—always finding fault, never accepting reasoned approaches, always looking at potential catastrophic consequences based on unreasonable expectations. (i.e. What if nobody shows up to watch the Niners?) Convincing your political opponents, regardless of reasonableness, is not a healthy use of time, especially when winning 58 percent is more than good enough.

And Seventh: The NFL was completely behind the Niners’ vision. It would help if Major League Baseball would afford the Oakland A’s the same courtesy.

If MLB signs off on San Jose but the city’s body politic is unable or unwilling to commit to the effort, now there is a city next door that has the ability to support the A’s and their vision for a new home.

Rich Robinson is an attorney and political consultant in Silicon Valley. Opinions are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside.


  1. I have to commend Rich Robinson for his excellent commendation to the team in Santa Clara, and to the elected officials, Measure J campaign staff and volunteers, as well as city staff.  Rich has an excellent forumla for success which is based on the oustanding work of Moore, Matthews, Mahan, Gillmor, and the members of the City Council past and present to mske this great day happen.  Rich is right that it also includes the community leaders and residents of the city, who all made this dream a reality.  Rich also played a part in this great story, and he should take a bow for also making it happen.  As with any winner, all the pistons fired in the right direction, and I am proud to know all people involved and was tearfully joyfull that the groundbreaking was such a success.

  2. Properly done a MLB team will make the City money.  Yes there will be investment costs, but some of those can be soft costs—ie land aquisition, infrastructure (which is needed anyway and benefits all).

    The key to economic success, whether a City, business or personal is to invest.  Cutting everythng, especially in hard times is a prescription for disaster.  Is there some risk, yes.  But crossing the street takes some risk. 

    The best way to fix pensions is a better return on investments.  If we had put all of our pension funds into Apple 5 years ago, nobody would have a problem.

    Just sayin

    • Rich,

      You say soft costs.  What your saying is millions of dollars that the city claims it does not have.  Buying land and building infrastructure when MLB has not committed to SJ and voters have not approved is risky spending when there is no guarantee a team will ever come.

      • There are also all of the costs associated with the events that are netted out in any of the figures that the politicians and consultants share—such as extra police, maintenance and clean up after crowds, more wear and tear on roads etc. That all eats into the “profits” and so the net profits should be provided but they never are.

    • Very few teams and/or are making money. on top of that you ASSUME it will and can be done correctly here in San Jose , when all evidence points the opposite direction. this Mayor is a walking contradiction , on one hand he says “San Jose is going broke” and on the other hand he is “Wasting” millions try to force a team into San Jose and an Illegal Ballot measure. Does that sound fiscally responsible to you. This Mayor ran on “Open Government” , So how can he go on KLIV and state that “City Employees enjoy a 90% pension w/free Med and Den for life @ 15 years.” This is the Person you want us to trust? NEGATIVE………..not going to happen

    • I think the City’s best case revenue estimates are $3 million/year including revenue from crowd spending at local businesses.  I know many will say “if it brings in $1.oo more than it cost it is worth the effort.”  $3mil/year seems like chump change given the size of the expenditure.

  3. Santa Clara Unified got some extra money, because that was a condition for using redevelopment funds.  The notion that the statium was good for education is a crock.

    Santa Clara Unified is trying to pass a parcel tax.  I hope they’re successful, but I fear that Santa Clara voters will not support it, because they know in their heart of hearts that they will have to pay for the stadium.

  4. There’s another big ad in the Merc for tickets to the new stadium.  Seems like sales might be a bit slow.  Hopefully that doesn’t feed on itself.

    • How about just saying, I am against the stadium, and I remain skeptical that it will succeed, and here is why?

      Can we leave the quips and side glances out of it.

      The Measure passed in a Republican primary by over 4,000 votes.  The famous “hidden ball” trick was never really done as the term sheet said, “financiang can occur, if an only if, NO GENERAL FUND MONEY OR CITY ASSETS CAN BE USED AS COLLATERAL.  PERIOD.

      Now, a judge, who is far removed from events in Santa Clara it is not even funny, ruled that the financiang deal was borne from the assertions that a financing plan be set with no collateral of city assets or funds.  Three to four lenders are lending to the authority, through the 49ers, and the authority pays down the debt from revenue with the stadium leasehold as the security.  If there is a default, the stadium is foreclosed on, not the city.

      If the Merc or Rosen though this was a bad deal, they would pounce on it, as to expose any problem would make world headlines.

      • You wrote: “If the Merc or Rosen thought this was a bad deal, they would pounce on it….to make world headlines”

        The Murk purposely ignores bad deals involving Reed, the A’s, and basically anything else that makes the city administration look bad. This is already a well established fact.

      • Here’s what the Wall Street Journal had on 1/19/12:

        A study prepared for Santa Clara in 2007 projected about $43 million in annual economic activity in the city as a result of the stadium, with about $700,000 added to the city’s coffers. That study said the net benefit to the city of a stadium was less than that of an office building of a similar size. But the city says it structured the current deal so that the benefits are about the same.
        Under the deal with the 49ers, Santa Clara is setting up a Stadium Authority that will own the stadium and assume the $850 million in debt. The structure is designed to protect the city from creditors in the event the stadium’s finances go sour. The 49ers have agreed to pay enough rent to cover the stadium debt payments and expenses when combined with the Stadium Authority’s share of revenue. But that rent—projected at $30 million a year, up from a 2010 estimate of $5 million a year—will be set before the stadium begins operations and locked in place for 40 years. The city won’t be able to renegotiate if revenue comes up short.


  5. 1)  Property tax valuations have gone up considerably around the stadium site, which also means a bonanza for the schools. 
    2) So if the schools got extra money, even one million dollars, that is not good for the schools?
    3)  Three of the biggest opponents of the stadium are supporting the 7 dollar a month parcel tax.
    4)  Santa Clara has no parcel tax, and the stadium funds were figured into the calculation thus maiing it a low figure for the parcel tax of only 84 ollars a year.
    5)  The Mercury News calculated the “public share” of the stadium as th lowest for any stadium project ever.

  6. I agree we can learn something from the 49ers, especially the 49er teams from the 80’s.

    1) hire competent leadership (Bill Walsh)
    2) Pay well
    3) Hire Players with the best work ethic
    4) Let all emplyees do what they do well
    5) Treat all employees like family – encourage
      loyalty to one-another
    6) Pay employees well

    The City of San Jose could do well to learn those lessons dump this City Manager, this Mayor and his puppets on the council and hire some folks who know how to lead. Only then will this City have any chance of achieving the potential we all saw when San Jose was THE SAFEST BIG CITY IN THE USA.

    Contrast the 49ers with the Oakland A’s of recent history. Hire a penny pincher (Billy Beane) micro-manage every aspect of the organization – pay the MLB “minimum wage” to as many players on the forty man roster as you can – Loose games…. average home attendance at around 6000 and even more telling have the lowest rated TV/Radio ratings of all area pro teams and look for a stadium handout from Mayor Reed who claims his City is broke…

    a looser is a looser is a looser and Mayor Reed leads the pack

  7. What we can learn.  Nothing!  This city needs to get it’s finaces in order.  We do not need a MLB team.  OK, blame pensions (not the problem) but this city and mayor are out of control!  Bad money decisions, so put it on the backs of employees.

  8. A newspaper which published 7 letters to the editor from the leader of the opposition of the stadium, and carried two quotes in every article from opponents. Oh, please!

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