Super Bowl

San Francisco Politicians Don't Like the Deal They Made to Host the Super Bowl and Want to Blame the NFL

Politicians who voted to bring the Super Bowl to the Bay Area now want the NFL to pay for it.


Matthew Almon Roth/flickr

San Francisco will be hosting Super Bowl 50 on February 7. More accurately, Santa Clara, where the San Francisco 49ers play at Levi's Stadium, will host the game, and San Francisco will host three related, official events in the nine days prior. The National Football League (NFL) chose the Bay Area over South Florida (Miami) back in 2013 after accepting bids from both places.

The bid for the 49ers to host the Super Bowl was actually part of the 2012 deal that let the team move out of Candlestick Park in San Francisco and to Santa Clara in 2014 in the first place. That deal promised that a "Super Bowl bid committee will be formed and jointly led by the City and the Forty Niners to work with the NFL to bring a Super Bowl to the Bay Area as early as 2016," as well as nearly $5.3 million in payments for the early lease termination.

Now, less than a month before the Super Bowl, some members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors (their city council) are drawing attention to how much "hosting" the Super Bowl will cost San Francisco—$4.8 million. They are led by John Avalos, who was also on the board in 2012 that voted unanimously in favor of a deal that let the 49ers leave the city in exchange for nearly $5.3 million in payments and help getting the Super Bowl to the Bay Area.

Avalos requested the city budget analyst review the costs associated with hosting the Super Bowl after stonewalling from the mayor, whose limited numbers were ballooning. That report (PDF) estimates the cost to the city by department, with the municipal transit authority at nearly $2.4 million and the police at exactly $1.5 million, and recommended the city seek reimbursement of those costs from the NFL.

That report points to the agreement Santa Clara arrived at with the bidding committee, which mandated the committee pay a number of the associated municipal costs of hosting the Super Bowl. That agreement also waived parking fees and ticket surcharges for the game, and the hotel tax for NFL employees. This fact, however, was not in the report released by the San Francisco budget analyst, and no such exemptions by San Francisco were in the report.

The city of San Francisco, the report notes, did not make any agreements with the NFL, only with the bidding committee the city helped put together. The report concedes the city did sign letters of assurances that promised not to seek reimbursement from the NFL for police, fire, or emergency services.

The report and the supervisors who asked for it also mentions that the NFL has a larger revenue ($9.2 billion) than the city ($8.9 billion) a number of times. More importantly, only the fire department and the department of emergency management included Super Bowl associated costs in their budgets. Other departments, according to the report, were told to find the money, and did a "non-disclosure" the report calls a "disservice" to the city council. The city is facing a $100 million shortfall in the coming fiscal year, which is also mentioned a number of times by the report.

Now city supervisors are finding a convenient scapegoat. "I've said it from the beginning and this report confirms my fears: taxpayers are being sacked to pay for a party for billionaires and special interests," Supervisor Jane Kim offered in a statement. "The NFL is a multi-billion dollar corporation and can pay for its own marketing and should absolutely reimburse San Franciscans for every single cent."

Like Avalos, Jane Kim was also on the board in 2012 when it voted to get the NFL to bring the Super Bowl to the Bay area. There had been 46 Super Bowls to that point. The event hasn't transformed radically in the years since the board of supervisors approved a deal that included trying to get San Francisco to host a Super Bowl. 

And how did Santa Clara avoid falling in the same trap of politicians seeking the glory of hosting "international events" (as Mayor Ed Lee "gushed" when the Bay Area was announced as the host of the 2016 Super Bowl) and then seeking to disassociate themselves from the additional costs they agree to take on when they spend taxpayer money? Voters in Santa Clara passed Measure J in 2010, which approved construction of the new 49ers stadium under several conditions, including that the city would not spend money from its general fund on stadium-related activities. Voters can demand such measures to prohibit politicians from interfering in sports without even having to approve spending on money-losing stadiums in the process. Some might say that's just the purpose of city charters, and all constitutions.

Watch Reason TV on why no smart city would want the NFL:

The kicker to our story: When San Francisco won over Miami to host the 2016 Super Bowl, the decision was credited in large part to the Florida legislature refusing to commit to public funding for a new stadium for the Dolphins.