49ers’ Olympian Gamble

The Olympic Games won’t be leaving its heart in San Francisco in summer 2016. And it’s likely that the NFL’s 49ers football team might end up leaving at least its name there well before that.

Sports fans in the city by the bay got a double whammy of bad news when 49ers owner John York abruptly called off talks with city officials about building a new stadium and declared the team, its name and its new home would be in Santa Clara.

The November 8th announcement had a ripple effect that hit the San Francisco 2016 organizing committee and Mayor Gavin Newsom so hard they jointly announced the city has dropped its bid to be an Olympics host.

Los Angeles and Chicago are now the only remaining U.S. cities in the running for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games.

The San Francisco 2016 committee had already spent about $350,000 to develop plans and received tens of millions of dollars in pledges on a bid that was entirely dependent on a partnership with the 49ers to build a new stadium on Candlestick Point.

But the 49ers soon learned that Newsom and the 2016 group weren’t the only ones they’d rubbed the wrong way. U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a former San Francisco mayor herself, called city and team representatives together and convinced them to at least reopen talks the following week.

It appears Feinstein, with a little help from Newsom, might have wielded a velvet hammer to coax the parties back to the table, though.

Feinstein told the San Francisco Chronicle that she’s exploring legislation to prevent the team from using either “San Francisco” or “49ers” in its name if it does move the 30 or so miles south to Santa Clara.

“When a team takes the name and in this case the heritage of a city, it causes great consternation,” the paper quoted her saying at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. “You can’t move to Santa Clara and call yourself the 49ers.”

Legal analysts contacted by the paper disagreed, saying a team can generally call itself whatever it wants.

Still, San Francisco officials are reportedly considering ways to tighten their grip on the team while it is still contractually bound to remain in Monster Park, including threatening to stop such city-provided amenities as parking control, extra public transit to the stadium and police overtime on game days should the team commit to Santa Clara.

“We are going to use all our legal leverage to make the 49ers think twice about leaving,” Newsom told the Chronicle.

Feinstein and Newsom also may get an assist from state Sen. Carol Migden, D-San Francisco, who told the paper she will introduce legislation to prohibit local governments or redevelopment agencies from raising taxes to entice a team from a nearby city to move.

The team said its decision to drop out of talks for a $600 million to $800 million stadium proposal for Candlestick Point and instead focus on a parking lot near the Great America amusement park in Santa Clara was based on infrastructure concerns.

York has said that even though talks are reopened, his heart remains in Santa Clara where the team’s general offices and practice facilities are located.