According to Team Marketing Report’s NFL Fan Cost Index for 2011, the San Francisco 49ers had, on average, the 9th highest priced tickets in the league at $83.54. That price was a 9.4% rise over 2010. Given the facts that the team was in the bottom 10 in terms of payroll, and the 49ers play in one of the more decrepit stadiums in the NFL, that’s a bit of a shock. But that’s nothing compared to longtime season ticket holders experiencing sticker shock when they found out how much their locations would cost in the new Santa Clara Stadium.
The 49ers have been preparing for the blowback for a while. It’s happened everywhere else seat licenses have been offered: Dallas, New York, and yes, Oakland. Priced at up to $80k per seat for the premier 50-yard line lower club locations, it’s clear that these seats aren’t for the guy who makes less than $80k per year. These seats are for the corporate crowd. Will they sell? Of course they’ll sell, just as suites are selling. Even so, don’t worry about whether they sell or not – the NFL doesn’t count club seats against its minimum ticket sales requirements for games.
I’ll put the stadium financing dilemma in the most basic terms. Let’s say you’re buying a $1 million house. You have 15% down, or $150k. You need a loan of $850k over 30 years. Your credit isn’t the best, so your interest rate is 8.5%. That puts your monthly mortgage payment at more than $6,000. Every month. Now add three zeroes to that payment and convert it into an annual payment. That’s more than $72 million per year.
Now let’s take the attendance the 49ers can expect every season. The Santa Clara stadium will have a capacity of 68,500. They’ll play eight regular season games and two preseason games, or 9+1 if the league ever gets around to moving to an 18-game regular season. That means that every year the team needs to 685,000 tickets to pay for that $72 million mortgage. Broken down per ticket, that’s $106.42 baked into the cost of every ticket. That’s 27.4% higher than the entire current ticket price.
Of course, the 49ers won’t be adding $106.42 to each ticket to cover the cost of the stadium. They’ll make it a more progressive payoff. The premium seats and suites will carry much of the burden. Sponsorships, naming rights, pouring rights, and other revenue sources will cover a piece. When I wrote an analysis in 2009 trying to suss out how the place would be paid for, the financing was fairly well separated, the public burden lower ($330 million then vs. $850 million now). Perhaps fans in some of the cheaper sections will only be stuck with $15-20 per ticket of stadium building costs. The truly interesting part hasn’t begun yet, as the team hasn’t announced prices for its lesser club and non-club seats, many of which will also have seat licenses attached. If those don’t sell, we may see a return of the dreaded OFMA. Of course, the Giants sold their seat licenses without much difficulty and a secondary market even thrived for a long period, so there are success stories to be found.
I still remain skeptical as to how to everything will be paid for, at least by the 49ers themselves. Having the Raiders onboard would help an enormous amount. Yet even if the Raiders had signed on at the outset, it’s unlikely that the 49ers’ seat license prices would be much different. They’d probably just pay down the debt earlier or plow the money into the team at different points. Without the Raiders, I wonder if it’s more sensible to have a domed stadium in Santa Clara despite the good weather. At least with a dome, it’s a more flexible venue that can hold all sorts of other events, including multiple Super Bowls and the NCAA Final Four. Then again, the Marion County (Indianapolis) Capital Improvement Board is expected to lose money at this year’s Super Bowl. Nevermind on the dome idea.