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Super Bowl 50: How Bay Area Sports Were Gentrified 

Wednesday, Jan 27 2016

Quentin Kopp wanted his Super Bowl. For years, the then-San Francisco supervisor had been negotiating between the NFL and the Bay Area's various sports arenas, trying to find the best venue for the big game. Oakland Coliseum was too small; Candlestick Park was too small and it was falling apart. The only place that fit the bill was Stanford Stadium, roomy enough to jam 86,000 spectators together. But the deal snagged on the NFL's worry about how comfortable those 172,000 butt cheeks would be in the no-frills environs of wooden benches and antique accoutrements.

"Isn't that the stadium with the hand-crank phone system and the Morse Code press room?" asked Chris Dufresne in the Los Angeles Times. "Why this stadium?"

Completely renovating the stadium for a one-time event wasn't an option, and Kopp'd be damned if his city was going to lose the estimated $100 million Super Bowl boost into the local economy, so the Bay Area Super Bowl Task Force — an amalgamation of local and state government and business leaders that had been trying to land the game in the Bay for years — decided to gussy up the joint with small tweaks paid for by $2.3 million in private donations. They put state-of-the-art communications in the press box, refurbished all the locker rooms, and bulked up the ticket offices and concessions stands. But there was one area that still needed dire attention: Those precious asses.

The stadium's iconic wooden seats, installed in 1921, had been slowly chipping and splintering off into fans' derrières. Completely swapping out the seats was infeasible, so the Task Force sought a sponsor. They approached an up-and-coming tech maven and sold him on the publicity, as well as the projected goodwill that'd come with protecting the hindquarters of the populace. He OK'ed the deal.

Which is why, on Jan. 20, 1985, more than 86,000 fans watched the San Francisco 49ers destroy the Miami Dolphins while perched on plush white cushions, on top of which was the tech maven's logo: A giant rainbow-colored apple.

Without getting too local news trivial on you, when the Bay Area last hosted the Super Bowl, Roman-ly numbered "XIX," a single ticket cost $60. Adjusted for inflation, that's roughly $132 in today's money. But to get these tickets back then, at that price, required some luck.

Because the 49ers were the "host team," and also hometown heroes since Joe Montana and Ronnie Lott led that year's squad to the promised land in their own backyards, the team held claim to 20,000 of the stadium's 86,000 seats. Some lucky Candlestick Park season ticket holders were chosen to sit on Steve Jobs's apples through a randomized computer drawing; the unlucky were left to either plead their fan bona-fides on TV in the hopes that some generous soul would show mercy, or else crawl through the minefield of the secondary market, where legit but pricey tickets mingled with fakes (at least 500 floated around, according to cops investigating a counterfeit ring at the time) and stolen property (a block of 50 tickets was taken from the Golden Gateway Holiday Inn on Van Ness at gunpoint and resold, leaving innocent buyers out of luck). But even with those dangers, fans had at least a shot of going to the game.

Flash-forward 31 years, to this year's game, dumbed down to the Arabic numerals "50," because "Super Bowl L" sends the wrong message. While it won't garner the local interest XIX drummed up for the simple reason that this year's 49ers were a steaming tire fire and Raiders fans are too busy celebrating the "victory" of another year sentenced to penury in the Coliseum, the home crowd may be entirely shut out from attending, despite many of these fans literally funding the stadium in which it's being played.

Nearly half of Levi's Stadium's $1.3 billion price tag was funded through the diabolical "personal seat licenses" model, whereby fans fork over ridiculous chunks of change — between $2,000 and $80,000, depending, presumably, on the proximity to toilets — for the ability to purchase season tickets. In addition to seeing the (dreaded) on-field product, fans were supposed to be given first dibs on other events to be held at the stadium. The final few Grateful Dead concerts, say. Or WrestleMania. But, evidently, that offer doesn't extend to the biggest event Santa Clara has ever seen.

As Mike Rosenberg reported in the San Jose Mercury News, the Niners claimed 3,000 of the 75,000 tickets, a near 5 percent portion that's become the new standard for "host city" claims. But rather than parcel out those 3,000 tickets to deserving fans, or to the lucky winners of random lotteries, they're being handed out to "VIPs, sponsors, 49ers employees, and high-rollers," Rosenberg reported. This means everyone who wants in must deal with the secondary market. That requires significant wealth: As of mid-January, the lowest price on StubHub, way in the nosebleeds, is $3,628 for a single ticket; by Tuesday, prices were soaring above $4,000.

The ticketing debacle is further evidence that the Super Bowl is not for you. Maybe it never really was, sure, but the past few years of Bay Area sports machinations have shown that — unless you're one of the aforementioned "high-rollers" reading this atop a mound of silicon chips and disposed human souls — none of it's about the common fan anymore.

Sports have been gentrified. Fans have been priced out. Not out of our literal seats, and definitely not out of the ability to watch games from afar on television (oh, the commercials!). But our emotional investment in the "local" pro sports team — strong as ever — is being exploited by the NFL, the owners, the city. Our roles have insidiously been shifted from spiritual participant to fiscal pawn.

Mayor Ed Lee is very excited about the Golden State Warriors!

Don't take my word for it, though. Check out the Twitter avatar of the 43rd mayor of "the Innovation Capital of the World!": A grinning Lee stands in front of City Hall, flashing a thumbs up while in the background, hanging from the mayor's office's Beaux Arts balcony, is a blue-and-white-and-gold banner proclaiming this governmental seat as "Warriors Ground."


About The Author

Rick Paulas


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