The smart stadium was supposed to be an economic boon. Back in 2010, when residents of Santa Clara, a small city of 120,000 just northwest of San Jose, voted to support its construction, boosters promised it would create “thousands of desperately needed new jobs,” providing a lifeline to the very people “bearing the brunt of the recession.” Pro-stadium signs reading “Yes on Jobs!” blanketed the city, part of a campaign paid for by the 49ers, who plowed more than $4 million into the effort. … The stadium has indeed provided a few thousand jobs—about 4,500 people work each event, serving hot dogs, directing traffic, mopping up spilled beer, and securing the grounds. … Many of the stadium workers I spoke with told me they earn $11 or $12 an hour. That would be about $1,900 a month if it were full-time work, but it’s not. … That’s what the NFL usually does: Twenty-nine of the 31 NFL stadiums have received public funds. The stadium for the Indianapolis Colts was made possible with a $620 million subsidy; the Minnesota Vikings are set to receive $678 million from taxpayers to help build their new one. St. Louis, which recently lost the Rams to Los Angeles, built the team a stadium in 1995 with $280 million in taxpayer money—and will be paying off the debt on those bonds, team or not, through at least 2021.
Judith Grant Long, an associate professor of sport management at the University of Michigan, studied all 31 NFL stadiums in use during the 2010 season, and calculated that taxpayers shelled out an average of $374 million each. The 49ers got a good deal with Levi’s Stadium, too. Santa Clara used $114 million in public funds, and, with the help of Goldman Sachs, created a public authority that borrowed $679 million to fund the remainder of the construction, all of which would be paid off with revenue generated by the stadium over the next 25 years. Or so the authority—whose board comprises Santa Clara’s mayor and city council—claimed. The original plan called for the 49ers and the NFL to chip in another $493 million, but during lengthy negotiations between the stadium authority and the team, that figure was later cut nearly in half. In the end, Goldman Sachs earned $75 million in interest and fees and the 49ers’ net worth jumped 69 percent in one year, to $2.7 billion.