49ers Not Bringing Gold Back to San Francisco

candlestick explosion.jpg
ESPN TV Broadcast
Boom! There goes your stadium.
The 49ers' pending move to Santa Clara feels a bit like losing one's spouse to a rich, superficial cad.

But the analogy breaks down quickly. Ideally, loving and intimate relationships between two people do not require a cost-benefit analysis as the ultimate arbiter of feasibility. Relationships between sports franchises and cities, no matter how loving and intimate, do.

So we were somewhat confused by today's Chronicle article about the financial hit the city will take when the Niners finally start spending seven days a week in the South Bay instead of six. Yes, the loss of the city's beloved team will, at least on one set of books, cost the city several million dollars in lost revenue. But, if you're looking in other sets of books, losing the team figures to be addition by subtraction.

Per the city, the Recreation and Park Department stands to be a short-term fiscal loser when the team leaves (though this impact isn't expected to be felt until fiscal 2015). Yet keeping the Niners in San Francisco is far from a cost-free proposition.

The team plays in Candlestick Park -- a facility that can only generate fond feelings via nostalgia and incredibly strong alcohol. The yearly maintenance budget for Candlestick is $1.75 million. The yearly maintenance budget last year was $1.75 million. The yearly maintenance budget in fiscal 2009 was $1.75 million. In fiscal 2008 -- guess what?

Gee, it's almost as if the city -- which, remember, owns Candlestick -- is putting the bare minimum into maintaining the decrepit, short-timer stadium. And, even with this minimal expenditure, with the exception of years like 2011 -- the team's most successful in decades -- the city barely made enough money back to cover the yearly maintenance.

If you defer maintenance long enough, bad things will happen. The Recreation and Park Department doesn't have figures handy on how much it would have cost to keep Candlestick from becoming a literal crumbling wreck in the near future -- but it would be a lot more than $1.75 million (Also, keep in mind that, on several occasions in recent years, the city agreed to give the Niners a rent vacation in exchange for the team putting money into stadium maintenance).

Of course, all of this scrimping and saving was necessitated by the fact that the team had no desire to stay in the dump -- and finagled a publicly financed stadium down south. Unless Niners ownership were overcome with nostalgia -- or incredibly strong alcohol -- it would not have agreed to toss around staggering amounts of money to keep the team in San Francisco, what with Santa Clara paving the road south with dollar bills. A stadium here would have required significant public expenditure at a level that makes the few million Rec and Park stands to lose in the short term look like toothpaste money.

While it's okay to feel bad for the poor folks at Piccolo Pete's, it's hard to buy jingoistic arguments that the 49ers inject millions in business and tourism dollars into the city's arteries. The neighborhood surrounding Candlestick is one of the city's poorest and most underserved.

As far as tourism dollars, it's hard to imagine folks flying or motoring into the region to spend their free time exclusively enjoying the sights of Santa Clara. And if privately owned houses or other structures are built on The 'Stick's current site, the property tax revenue for the city figures to overwhelm the cost of maintaining the Niners here, even if we budget only enough in maintenance money to keep Candlestick from collapsing when someone slams the door too hard.

Losing the 49ers hurts. But not on the spreadsheet.

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