When the 49ers rolled out the final cost estimate on their Santa Clara stadium, many including yours truly were incredulous. We thought that the 49ers would need help to pay it off, probably from a partnership with the Raiders. With a $80 million per year mortgage to pay off, the challenge to bring in enough events to properly service the debt should bring the 49ers and Raiders together. Yet there’s plenty of reason to think that the two sides may have a difficult time making that pact.
It all started when the 49ers negotiated with the City of Santa Clara to control full rights to seek a second tenant. The 49ers can control the terms of the lease, covering rent payments and details, revenue sharing at the stadium, and coverage of costs to hold games at the stadium. The lease can go in any number of directions, making it difficult to determine what the lease might look like. If the Raiders had gotten in on the ground floor and committed to Santa Clara early, they might have been able to shape the discussion. However, they also might have been asked to shoulder half of that $80 million mortgage. Given the difficulty the team has in selling tickets and PSLs, that’s a huge gamble.
Instead, if the Raiders ask to be a tenant in Santa Clara, they could pay a flat rate per game or per season. Right now they only pay $1.5 million in rent at the Coliseum, but that masks the millions of dollars it costs to operate the stadium. The 49ers’ stadium lease has language that requires an additional $1 million annual payment if the Raiders move in. There are costs for utilities, insurance, hundreds of personnel for concessions, parking, and security, plus emergency services. It’s common for total operating expenses for a full season of NFL games to run in the $10 million range or more. So those costs could be factored into the rent payment, or they could be left for the Raiders to pay separately on top of a rent payment. Knowing that, $11 million should be the baseline for an all-inclusive lease for the Raiders.
Of course, we know that the 49ers aren’t going to allow the Raiders to merely cover operating costs. They need to pull their own weight. The Raiders may have to pay $20 million per year to play in Santa Clara, or alternately, $1 million per game while surrendering concessions revenue. If that were to happen, the Raiders could find themselves somewhat stifled in terms of maximizing revenue generation. Still, that could prove a better proposition than a brand new stadium in which the Raiders would have to cover all of the costs themselves.
Then there’s the issue of stadium capacity. With 68,500 seats, the Santa Clara stadium will sit in the middle of the pack among NFL stadia, and 1,500 seats less than Candlestick Park. The Raiders have been operating at the 63,000-seat Coliseum since they came back in 1995. Last week they decided to tarp 10,000 seats to create their own artificial scarcity. If the Raiders come to Santa Clara, they could artificially reduce capacity by adding their own tarps or move forward with 68,500. If they do the latter, it’ll be a tough sell given the team’s history of underwhelming ticket sales. It’s not a make-or-break scenario, but it wouldn’t look good if the Raiders had to immediately tarp sections of a new stadium once they moved in.
The Raiders are looking to hire a new executive, perhaps to assist Amy Trask and Mark Davis on what will surely be difficult review of the team’s future stadium options.