The Santa Clara City Council was presented with its first detailed view of the stadium design for the San Francisco 49ers this week. The $985 million venue will includes 68,500 seats, solar panels, a green roof (California native plants) and plans to have more than a quarter of fans arrive on public transportation, according to the San Jose Mercury News.
The city's voters will decide next year whether to use $114 in public money for the project. If approved (and some say it's a big "if"), the stadium is planned to open in 2014.
Full disclosure: I grew up in the South Bay Area and am a nutso Niners fan. I felt personally insulted when Candlestick Park sold out in 1995 to become 3Comm Park for seven miserable years then did it again with Monster Cable from 2004-08. And I fear change. OK, back to the blog.
Part of the debate here is will the move hurt the Niners fan base? Speaking from personal experience, I can say I doubt that will have a long term effect. The team's fans tend to extend from San Francisco and southward -- toward Santa Clara -- and many people ride the train up from the South Bay for games at The Stick. Factor in the better drive and more public transportation options, and those fans from the south ought to be pleased.
That said, from points north of the Bay Area (i.e. Napa Valley) the Niners/Raiders fans are split about even. A fair number of fan buses make the trip from Napa to San Francisco for games and it takes about 90 minutes for the trip (including traffic). I doubt those fans would be willing to make that a two-plus hour trip to get to Santa Clara (just north of San Jose).
But where you lose fans from points north, you'll pick them up from points south.
Another point that needs to be made here is that, as much as I love Candlestick, it's a dump. It's cold, windy (OK, that's also San Francisco for you), out-of-date and many of the views are nothing to write home about. As the Niners hopefully before this decade ends, emerge from their dismalness, they need a new stadium to go along with that. And as far as stadium plans go, the one unveiled this week shows a top-notch facility on the cutting edge of stadium design. And -- so very California -- it promises to be the greenest sporting facility of its kind.
But here's a question that hasn't been addressed at great length: what will the move, if approved, do to the Niners brand? We're not talking about a technicality -- like the fact that the Washington Redskins play a few miles away in Landover, Md. We're talking about a move to a city 45 minutes south from the city by the bay.
Sure, you could point to the New York Giants and Jets who play in New Jersey. But they also play in a part of New Jersey that practically considers itself New York anyway -- Santa Clara has a different culture and a different flavor than San Francisco all together.
There's also a strong feeling of history and nostalgia amongst Niner fans, much as there is among Oriole fans here in Baltimore. Would O's fans still feel connected to their team if it played 45 minutes away in Frederick? I think not.
And that connection is an intangible -- you can try and measure it with surveys and research all you want but the only way to find out what's going to happen is to let it happen. Fans deserve a new stadium, it's a smart move (figuratively). But will literally uprooting the team provide too much backlash?
Will the San Francisco 49ers of Santa Clara (ugh, can you imagine?) produce branding difficulties that could damage the team's history and tradition?