It’s the kind of publicity nobody wants, particularly not the NFL and particularly not right now. Consider the headlines:
“NFL Boots Kids from Local Soccer Park for Super Bowl 50”
“Super Bowl 50: Tempers Flare Over NFL Taking Local Soccer Park”
“Soccer Park Advocates Sue to Halt NFL's Super Bowl Takeover”
As the date for the Super Bowl creeps closer, Santa Clara, California, is abuzz with preparations. And right now, according to the San Jose Mercury News, those include the teardown of the Santa Clara Youth Soccer Park in order to create an enormous media village, as workers begin yanking out fences, tearing out dugouts and plopping down wooden platforms for about 6,000 members of the media to work in the shadow of Levi’s Stadium.
The demolition has the Santa Clara Youth Soccer League scrambling to find enough fields for the 250 games on its schedule over the next two months, and has set off another bout of infighting on the City Council over just what the city promised when it agreed to turn over its coveted soccer park and other nearby properties to the NFL to host to the big game.
The NFL will occupy the soccer park from now through March 2, with the three weeks after the Super Bowl to be spent on cleaning up and repairing the field. And while the city has offered another sports complex to soccer players during those two months, youth soccer officials say it's too small, unavailable on weekends and can't host tournaments or games. They also worry about the playability of the Santa Clara facility once it is resurfaced, and say it may well be out of commission for an extended time.
The media village went up, despite a last-ditch lawsuit from the sports league, alleging a lack of due process. Some council members say they were left in the dark about the last minute switch-up that allowed the NFL to transform the field into the media center. "This is a world-class soccer facility and they're going to destroy it," said Councilwoman Lisa Gillmor, who is also a soccer mom. "I'm appalled at this behavior. It reeks of stinky backroom deals and I'm sick of it."
Santa Clara's Youth Soccer Park, which the 49ers unsuccessfully tried to use for stadium parking, was originally slated to be a staging area for the Super Bowl half-time show, all part of an agreement signed years ago by the city that let the NFL use city-owned facilities near Levi's Stadium for staffing, security and other preparations for the massive sporting event.
The Daily Democrat News noted that the 49ers had voluntarily partnered with the NFL to replace two grass fields at the soccer park after the Super Bowl at no cost to the city. They said the use of the surrounding properties was part of the city's 2013 bid to host the Super Bowl.
"Had those commitments not been made, the ability to bring the Super Bowl to the region would have been greatly compromised," said Bob Lange, vice president of communications for the San Francisco 49ers.
Soccer teams and park advocates were less than impressed with that point; however, it’s a tale that is repeated in many major cities that win contracts to host major sporting events: inconvenience to residents, brought on by promises made at higher levels.
2015 will be remembered as the year when cities, including Boston, Massachusetts, and Hamburg, Germany, stepped away from the negotiating table for the 2024 Olympics. The reason: backlash from constituents. In Boston, there was continuing negative sentiment from city residents who feared problems such as lands being seized by eminent domain and cost overruns that would result in a taxpayer bailout. In Hamburg, a public referendum allowed voters to decide on the city’s ability to bid for the Olympics, and their decision, to the disappointment of officials, was no. Earlier, Munich, Germany's, hope of bidding on the 2022 Games was also defeated by a referendum. But such decisions are still the exception, rather than the rule.
Even if Santa Clara’s is the best media village ever built, there are ramifications to the negative publicity. The Bay Area News noted that the political brouhaha may well leave a bad taste in the NFL's mouth, jeopardizing the region's ability to land another Super Bowl in the future.
"The Super Bowl has gone from a single game to the whole Bay Area being involved -- and the economic impact is significant," said George Foster, a professor of business management at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, who has published multiple books on sports business management.
"Barring a lot of political infighting, the Bay Area could be put on a rotating cycle for future Super Bowls," he continued. "But many cities are bidding for the Super Bowl, and anytime you have a lawsuit or fighting close to an event, it's viewed as a negative by the NFL."
And at a time when the NFL is already suffering an image problem following a class-action lawsuit over its handling of concussions, not to mention a major motion picture portraying league officials as world-class villains in disregarding evidence of head trauma, being viewed as the bad guy in a hostile takeover of a kids’ soccerplex isn’t what it’s looking for.