NFL

The name “49ers” perfectly suits the team in Santa Clara

49ers Jed York John York Denise Debartolo York Levi's Stadium groundbreaking

The annual list of the most valuable franchises, based on estimates and who knows what else, was spit out by Forbes yesterday, and look who’s tied for 10th with the Lakers at $2.7 billion. Yes, it’s that plucky team from Santa Clara, the 49ers. Complete with a picture of Ahmad Brooks representing them in the slide show, just because we all need a reminder that one of their highest-paid players was involved in the incident that got Ray McDonald run out of the league.

The NFL is insanely profitable, according to Forbes (and anyone with a brain, but Forbes supplied the following tidbits):

  1. The Cowboys, valued at $4 billion, became the most valuable franchise in the world this year, ahead of Real Madrid and Barcelona.
  2. Of the 50 most valuable franchises, 27 are NFL teams. The other five teams must feel so left out.
  3. The league generated $2.4 billion in profits last year.
  4. The average value of an NFL team is $2 billion.
  5. The 49ers are the 5th-most valuable team in the NFL, also behind New England, Washington and the N.Y. Giants.

The 49ers’ PERCEIVED value jumped 69% from last year. Which is really, really nice for the Yorks, but doesn’t soothe the pain felt by fans, who are left to wonder about this team’s main priority.

The term 49er, or forty-niner, refers to the opportunistic folks who flocked to California’s gold country. The movement started in 1848, but word didn’t really spread until a year later, when an estimated 90,000 people came to California (thanks, Wikipedia) looking to strike it rich.

Silicon Valley is this generation’s version of gold country, and the Yorks are profiting quite a bit. It was nearly three years ago that Tim Kawakami heard estimates of $100 million in annual profits for the 2014 season — the year Levi’s Stadium opened — thanks in large part to the personal seat licenses and luxury suite fees.

It would be the result of an enormous jump in annual revenues, from something in the $220M-range to something much closer to $400M, and if the 49ers get near $400M in annual revenues, they’ll be in the same rarefied neighborhood as Dallas and Washington, the two richest teams in the league.

And two of the most profitable franchises in all of sports.

Which changes everything for the 49ers, you could say. They still have to deal with the salary cap and still will make their decisions watching every penny, of course.

But they will have much more cash on hand,starting next year, and if they want to spend large amounts for whatever reason (extending Jim Harbaugh beyond 2015 as the No. 1-paid coach in the league? continuing to make the coaching staff a very well-compensated group? gigantic efforts in scouting/information gathering?), they will not exactly be going broke doing so.

Since that time they’ve let Harbaugh go and replaced him with a much cheaper coach in Jim Tomsula. They fired Tomsula and hired a more expensive coach in Chip Kelly, who makes almost twice what Tomsula does each year, but the Eagles are paying some of Kelly’s salary for the upcoming season. Still, the 49ers will be paying two coaches for the next three seasons (and perhaps even three coaches if the Kelly hire turns out to be a disaster, who knows).

What else have the 49ers been doing with their time and money?

  • They’ve been bickering with soccer parents and youth league officials over the fields adjacent to Levi’s for over a year.
  • They got smacked with the Bad PR crowbar when they postponed a Girl Scout event in May at Levi’s Stadium because they got a better offer in the form of a lucrative concert. (The team quickly realized their error after the story went viral just one day after Jed York tweeted out a picture of himself buying said cookies in San Francisco from a Girl Scout, and gave the Girl Scouts another night a week later while promising to underwrite the cost.)
  • They’ve brought in several non-football events that probably didn’t help the stadium’s flimsy natural grass surface.
  • They were sued by a season ticket holder who wasn’t happy with the team’s practice of prohibiting any ticket resales more than 72 hours before kickoff — unless the ticket holders and buyers use Ticketmaster, which charges exorbitant fees. This also means fans can’t give tickets to friends or family more than 72 hours before kickoff.
  • They charge season ticket holders to enter the museum located at Levi’s.
  • They filed for arbitration to get the rent for Levi’s Stadium dropped from $24.5 million to $19 million per year.

Sure, they have the right to do all of these things, but it’s bad look after bad look after bad look. But here’s the worst look of all.

$49,436,007

That’s the 49ers’ current cap space, according to the NFLPA. Next on the list is Cleveland (why are the 49ers always linked to the Browns???) at over $42M, then the Jaguars at a little less than $41M. The four teams ahead of the 49ers in the 2016 Forbes rankings have a total of $45,946,948 in cap space between them.

The other three teams in the NFC West? A combined $20,088,066 in cap space.

That’s our 49ers, striking gold and hording it for themselves while not possessing one above-average position group on the entire roster. When will they start pouring their vast resources into what the fans care about — actual football talent?

It seemed like the Yorks were too cheap to succeed throughout the mid-2000s, but that was when we could blame Candlestick. Then they ponied up for a real coach, quickly became relevant again, and moved into their new stadium a year earlier than originally planned. Sure, Levi’s wasn’t an architectural marvel like the new facilities in places like Dallas, Atlanta or Minnesota, or even that aesthetically pleasing from the outside (or the inside, if you’re staring at that suite tower that looks like an office building … that is, if you aren’t blinded by the sun). And yeah, a couple of lives were lost along the way.

But the 49ers would have the kind of cash flow that would give them an inherent advantage! At least, that’s what we were sold. Instead, the 49 on their helmets represents cap space, and the gold on their uniforms represents what’s in the Yorks’ pockets.

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