The NFL “Thanks to you it works”

 

By Richard Eber

As a 49er season ticket holder between 1980 and 1999, I was constantly being barraged with pleas during the home games to donate money to the league’s favored charities

 The United Way “Thanks to you it works” slogan was their battle cry as the message board at Candlestick Park constantly reminded Niner fans.  Somehow, there was supposed to be a linkage between watching Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Ronnie Lott, and the rest of the star players Bill Walsh assembled to contributing to the team’s philanthropic pursuits.

Little known to me at the time was the fact that until 2015, the NFL was run as a non-profit at least as far as the IRS was concerned. As the television contracts continued to increase in revenue to the billions in the last 20 years, there is no indication that that their donations to good causes have increased exponentially.

Each of the 32 franchises has been estimated to have risen in value at least a billion dollars in the past decade. Led by the Dallas Cowboys who are estimated to gross 900 million dollars a year between the gate receipts, merchandise sale, and the Stadium they own, these people do not need my philanthropy.

In the last reporting year of 2018, it was estimated each team contributed approximately 1.5 million dollars each to their charitable foundation.  Even then they receive tax breaks for broadcasting what amounts to largely photo opportunity public service messages of their community involvement during commercial breaks.

At the same time many of the clubs bullied local communities throughout the United States to give them subsidies and tax breaks to build palatial palaces that are often used less than a couple dozen times a year.

The term “blackmail” has been used several times in describing teams threatening to move unless local regional governments gave them loans, subsidies, and tax breaks. For the most part such strategy has worked except in Oakland where they did not want to be fleeced again.  As a result the team is moving to Las Vegas.

Examples of the NFL’s history of legal strong armed tactics include:

  • Seattle where billionaire Paul Allen who owns the team was given 390 of the 560 million it took to build the stadium 20 years ago or face the possibility of the team moving to greener pastures.
  • Minnesota was given what amounted to a 506 million dollar gift to build a domed stadium or risk the team leaving Minneapolis.
  • In Pittsburgh the locals had to spring for 260 million to retire the debt of the old stadium and help with constructing Heinz Field for which the team kept the entire 75 million paid naming rights fee.
  • The State of Maryland forked over 4 million dollars to their billionaire owner Dan Snyder for a new practice facility as if this seemingly incompetent jerk actually needed such a gift.

Leaving the best for last we have my home town San Francisco 49ers moving to Santa Clara to what was named Levi’s Stadium.  With several options available of where to build the successor to Candlestick Park, the Silicon Valley locale ended up being chosen by the team.  Of the 1.3 billion it took to build this facility, the 49ers used 116 million in public funding a 950 million loan secured from the Stadium Authority, seat licenses, and naming rights to the stadium.

The 49ers are obligated to pony up 24.5 million in rent over the next 40 years to pay off the loan.  If things go south as what happened with the Raiders bonds on the Oakland Coliseum, the tax payers will undoubtedly be stuck with the bill.  This is a good possibility in Santa Clara as these football cathedrals seldom last four decades before needing to be replaced by newer models.

Even worse Levi Stadium has to be considered a symbol of corporate greed and excess that might make Robin Leach envious.  Of the 68,500 seats, 8,500 are of the exclusive Club variety along with 174 Luxury Suites.  Those sitting across the field from the rich sitting in theater seats and being pampered with gourmet cuisine are fans facing the hot sun during most day games.  They are being crammed in close quarters that make it difficult to sell concessions in the stands or reach the end an isle without disturbing folks.

If one ventures to where food is sold, it takes almost $ 25.00 to pay for a hot dog and a Bud Light.  Premium brews and adding chili on your frankfurter will run a few more bucks if one can afford such luxury after paying up to $ 100.00 for parking.

In the game I attended the only thing being sold in the end zone where I was seating was a 50/50 raffle benefiting the 49er community fund that helps youth organizations in the Bay Area.  The messages on the scoreboard implored fans to buy these raffle tickets to “be a member of the team” while the owners net millions in revenue from each gridiron battle. 

It is likely few kids will ever get the opportunity to attend a Niner game in person other than qualifying to participate in the kick, pass, and punt competition at half time.  Unless a family of 4 is wealthy or is given tickets, it costs more than $ 1000.00 for all expenses to see them play in person. This is considerably more expensive than visiting the Magic Kingdom in Anaheim for the day including accommodations.

This is a sharp contrast for me to sitting in the obstructed Christopher Milk section for free or with my Dad in $ 5.00 end zone tickets when I was a kid growing up in San Francisco. Recounting these memories at Kezar Stadium, it is difficult for me to say things are so much better in 49er World today.

Despite my misgivings about Levis and the current ownership group that once compared running a professional football team to operating a Dog Track, I am still a 49er Faithful; not to be confused with the bandwagon variety.

Excuse me if I don’t want to be a member of the team and donate my hard earned dollars to billionaires who continue to become richer with the TV contracts, selling apparel, and ripping off fans attending their games in stadiums subsidized by tax payers.

On the other hand I will bleed red and gold this Sunday and hope this version of my beloved team will fulfill the promise of the championship teams I fondly remember from yesteryear.


The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Citizens Journal.


Richard Eber studied journalism at the University of Oregon. He writes about politics, culture, education restaurants, and was former city and sports editor of UCSB Daily. Richard is president of Amerasa Rapid Transit, a specialized freight forwarder.


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