A Stadium Builders License (SBL) is a license initially sold by the Santa Clara Stadium Authority to help fund the construction of Levi’s® Stadium. All seats in Levi’s® Stadium will be sold through a Stadium Builder’s License (SBL). (Source)
Growing up just two hours from Candlestick Park was a curse and a blessing. Every football season, I’d ask if we’d get to go to a 49ers game. And for many years, the answer was ‘no’.
One fall Turlock day in 1991, my dad came home with an envelope.
“Coach Tornell gave us two tickets to the November 17 game against Phoenix.”
Turlock always had a number of 49ers season ticket holders, and Mr. Tornell held the distinction of holding tickets since 1948.
It was a bit of a status symbol for teachers, car salesmen, Realtors and business owners, especially because the rumored wait to get a season ticket offer from the 49ers was four or five years.
Years later, my wife surprised me with season tickets in 2010. Never in my life did I ever think I’d have season tickets the 49ers, and it’s the best gift I’ve ever been given.
When Levi’s Stadium was nearly complete, a 49ers ticket executive shared my ticket package for the new venue. I’d be in a similar section, and the ticket price had gone from $75 per ticket to $100 per ticket. That I expected.
But, what hit me like a steel fist to the liver was the Stadium Builders License (SBL).
One did not simply buy season tickets. No, ma’am. First, you had to buy a seat license.
You, Lucky Fan, get to help pay off the construction cost!
In 2012, two tickets in Section 206 were $100 each, and an SBL would cost $10,000. Now, you could pay the SBL outright or in parts. If you broke up the payments, you could finance a loan through the Stadium Authority at 8.5% APR.
I did not have this kind of money, and when I asked to downgrade, the ticket executive said he could, “put me on a list for a $400 fee” and I “might have a chance to get season tickets.”
For the first time in 32 years, I knew exactly what it was like to be a Dallas Cowboys fan.
Flash forward to just a few days ago.
My phone rang one evening, and it was a 49ers ticket agent. During our initial 45 minute call, the agent let me know the organization released about 2,000 seats for season ticket sales.
The pitch? “We have a new coach and general manager.”
The cost did not increase or decrease: Two seats in Section 206 were $100 per ticket and $10,000 total for the SBL. The payment options differed slightly: pay it all up front, pay half now and the remainder next March or financed through the Authority at 8.5% APR.
I said I’d think about it.
My fan side wanted to immediately say yes. My rational side sat down and tried in vain to do some basic math.
Season tickets would be $2000 for 10 games.
The SBL cost was still a brutal $10,000. If I finance these seats through the Authority, I’m going to pay an additional $4,390.45 in interest over the life of the loan – that’s more than double the of the tickets alone.
So, just for one year of season tickets, plus the total cost of the SBL and interest would be $16,390.45. This does not include the cost to gas up the car, park, buy a hot dog, a cold Anchor Steam or a souvenir.
That staggering amount is 21.8-percent of the household budget for a family with a yearly income of $75,000.
In comparison, a health insurance plan for this family of four is $698 per month or about $8376 per year; a yearly grocery bill averages $4,800 for the family.
During the final call on Monday, I told the executive that I am fundamentally opposed to SBLs and how those have put season ticket prices out of reach for families. It’s not the fan’s job to repay the loan of the original investors.
The executive countered quickly: “SBL costs pay for upkeep and improvements to the stadium. It doesn’t go back into Jed’s pocket.”
Considering Levi’s Stadium has a net income of $22.2 million in the operating budget, (Source; page 9), SBL money is certainly flowing somewhere into a Scrooge McDuck-sized vault.
According to a September 30, 2016 financial status report, the “total principal value of current active SBLs is $536.8 million and, as of September 30, 2016, over 73% of the total principal value of all SBLs sold (i.e. $392.5 million) had been collected.” The report went on to state that a little over half the value sold was financed at 8.5% annual interest. (Source; page 10)
A March 2016 report found the Stadium Authority amassed $20.9 million from license holders who financed their SBLs. (Source; page 7)
Short version: The San Francisco 49ers have taken nearly a half-billion dollars from fans to repay a construction loan.
I thought about Mr. Tornell when I looked at the cost of owning season tickets. I thought about other families in Turlock and here in Boise who probably did the arithmetic and said, “The 49ers just priced us out of the market.”
There is another obvious side to the coin, however: everything costs money. Even if the 49ers were to play in a refurbished Kezar, they’d still need to generate dollars to pay for stadium operation. And that money comes from sponsors, suite owners and yes, fans like you and me.
But in this instance, it hurts to have a team treat fans like some kind of living monetary resource. The ticket executive called an SBL purchase a “long-term investment.” Sure, it’s an investment, but it’s an investment I cannot control.
So, when I tucked my tail between my legs and told the ticket executive, “I can’t bring myself to invest this kind of money,” I shouldn’t get shamed for being honest.
My passion for a professional sports team should not be measured by an SBL. I want to watch the 49ers; I don’t want the rights to buy tickets to a monster truck rally or super cross, and there isn’t enough money in the world to get me to see Coldplay.
Why can’t I just have football?