When my father in law was growing up in San Francisco in the 1960s, he had his promotional bat stolen from beneath him as he was enjoying bat day at Candlestick Park. Of course this upset him—as a child, he didn’t understand the socioeconomic implications of the stadium’s Bayview-Hunters Point location, or that his precious bat was likely a toy denied to the neighborhood boy who grabbed it from beneath the bleachers—
Today, I’m not certain that we 49ers fans understand the impact that Candlestick Park has had on Bayview-Hunters Point, or the effect of the 49ers 2014 move to the 68,500-seat Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara. Most often, we hear about this move as a good thing. We hear that the 49ers fan base has moved south to the heart of Silicon Valley. We hear that San Francisco didn’t really fight to keep the 49ers— that former mayor Gavin Newsom offered them an EPA Superfund toxic dump site on the Hunters Point Shipyard, which was an embarrassment the team didn’t even want to acknowledge. We know that Candlestick Park acts its age, that it harbors intense winds and once performed a power outage for a Monday Night Football audience. The stadium hasn’t been renovated for a long time. My father-in-law’s beloved Giants left well over a decade ago.
Another implication: we can finally gentrify Bayview-Hunters Point. Now that blacks are fleeing San Francisco at record rates, Bayview-Hunters Point is one of the last black strongholds, and one that is filled with extreme poverty and crime. Candlestick’s neighbors have tried to make it clear that they don’t necessarily mind the 49ers white, wealthy fan base visiting their neighborhood, but they do mind them ignoring that people are murdering each other right outside of the stadium.
The neighborhood itself doesn’t seem to have benefitted much from ticket sales or stadium jobs, but we can’t know the total positive impact until those jobs and ticket sales have moved south. Also, it could be argued that San Francisco’s plan for the neighborhood isn’t focused on keeping its current residents as much as pricing them out. Officials broke ground on Lennar Urban’s $8 billion project, which will bring retail space, residential units, and parkland to the former shipping yards.
When Candlestick implodes in 2014, it is also slated to become a shopping center. Though Lennar’s deal came with promises for affordable housing and jobs for the neighborhood’s black residents, the Aboriginal Blackman United (ABU) has staged protests that have drawn attention to the lack of jobs actually created. Lennar Urban may be rebuilding a housing project, but that hardly acknowledges the needs of the surrounding community.
Though now Lennar Urban doesn’t seem concerned about the needs of the community around Candlestick, the 49ers and the City of San Francisco have been guilty of this for a long time. Not only have the desires of the team halted previous attempts to revitalize this neighborhood, but the neighborhood has long been priced out of attending games at the stadium.
The franchise may hold ticket-winning essay contests in public schools, but how will Candlestick Point’s winners make it to Santa Clara if they are to win? Fans from Santa Clara can afford NFL prices plus the car to drive them to San Francisco. Levi’s Stadium will be impressively accessible by public transportation, which will benefit all fans, but can all fans afford to attend the games?
The last time I attended a sporting event, I could only afford to go because my wife’s family purchased my ticket. I couldn’t help but notice the lack of diversity in the stands. I can’t help but ask if it’s the NFL’s responsibility to notice the repercussions of its response to its demographic shift—yes, the fans who can afford to attend games live in Santa Clara, not Candlestick Point—beyond lip service or throwing trickle down funds at poverty.
What would a responsible relocation look like, not just on part of the 49ers, but on the part of San Francisco and Lennar Urban? Just like many devoted fans, I don’t know, but I think it’s time that we ask.
Sean Lords spent three years teaching English in Seoul, South Korea. Since returning to the US, he advises and offers insight for those considering tesol certification in San Francisco, all while raising a family and working on his Master of Education.