49ers move is money-driven, but it's not all bad
I've no idea what the 49ers are going to look like a few years from now, when they're playing in a stadium 37 miles removed from Candlestick Point and yet still trying to call themselves the San Francisco 49ers. (Better put "San Francisco" in quotes from now on, just to be sure.)
The news that York already has decided to terminate negotiations with San Francisco and move the 49ers down the peninsula to Santa Clara, coupled with the announcement earlier this week that the Oakland Athletics are shuffling over 20 miles to nearby Fremont, leaves one with the impression that the Bay Area sports world is imploding. Oh, the humanity!
In fact, though, this is a bizarre little growth phase, with dollars as the seeds and corporate sponsorship as the water of life. It's not personal; it's business. Repeat ad nauseam: It's not personal; it's business.
Both York and A's owner Lewis Wolff get that. They get that they're playing in places that aren't nearly as new as "brand new," not as sweet as "unlimited suites." Wolff's team shares space with the Raiders in a Coliseum whose baseball charm was walled off years ago in a desperate effort to buy Al Davis' elusive love via increased NFL capacity. Not only didn't that work, but the result, a true defacing of a heretofore pleasant multi-purpose facility, has driven Wolff to seek a cool, baseball-only place across the bay from San Jose for his merry little band of overachievers.
York's situation is different. The man has made enough mistakes as owner of the 49ers that he almost needs to hold on to Candlestick as a gaffe-storage facility, but one thing he didn't inherit in the DeBartolo-to-DeBartolo family transfer of years ago (he's married to Eddie's sister) was any myopia about the old stadium by the bay.
Monster Park, as it's currently called, is simply old. Nothing remotely sentimental about it. It is a construct of wondrous dilapidation. It still holds enough people for football, but there are no ancillary revenue streams, to put it in York-speak. No bells, no whistles, no super infrastructure -- and no one claiming it's a long-term solution to anything.
Beyond that, San Francisco -- and the Bay Area in general -- is a tough place to do business on a massive sporting scale. Ask the baseball Giants, who tried and failed in four separate public votes before finally deciding to build AT&T Park themselves. York and his people worked with San Francisco officials on various plans over the years, but the most available idea -- another stadium right at Candlestick Point -- was far too expensive, given the cost to improve the area and update the infrastructure. York's people estimated that those costs alone might double the price of the deal, which puts it past the $1 billion mark. Oy.
In other words, money money money money money. Enter Santa Clara, the place where the 49ers already have their training facilities and front-office headquarters. The city has land adjacent to the current practice site and alongside the Great America theme park and its convention center, it has the will to make a deal happen, and it has the placement -- among Silicon Valley's corporate titans -- to entice all sorts of revenue streams. With the 49ers intending to produce a privately financed facility that would require no public vote on funds, this is a move that actually makes sense, all Candlestick sentiment aside.
One question, of course, is how York possibly could make good on his stated intent never to change the name of the franchise, which he considers both historic and a valuable marketing tool. "San Francisco 49ers, Brought to You by Santa Clara" has a ring to it, but it's probably best to check with Artie Moreno and the Angels for specific wording on such things.
It's difficult to grow nostalgic over a dump. Candlestick has played host to its share of indelible memories -- The Catch, from Joe Montana-to-Dwight Clark, is celebrating its 25th anniversary this season -- and a slew of winners. But just as obviously, the stadium wasn't the reason the team succeeded, as York's dismal tenure as owner to this point has amply proved. Just secure talent, baby.
In the meantime, a new place. It's something to talk about while the team tries to put itself back together again. It comes at little expense to the 49ers' fan base, which is diverse enough geographically that a move away from San Francisco itself is not a business risk. And it gives York and his folks another four or five years to figure out a name. Start suggesting now.
Mark Kreidler's book "Four Days to Glory: Wrestling With the Soul of the American Heartland" will be published by HarperCollins on Jan. 23, 2007. It may be preordered on amazon.com. Kreidler, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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