Calif. Sports Teams Migrating to the Burbs

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San Francisco and Oakland may soon lose their storied sports teams. Football's San Francisco 49ers and baseball's Oakland Athletics have announced plans to relocate to suburbs in Silicon Valley. Fans and city officials are crying foul, but some experts say the moves make sense. Richard Gonzales reports.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

California Silicon Valley is known world wide as a center of cutting edge technology. Soon, it may also be known as a major center for professional sports teams. Two teams, the San Francisco 49ers and the Oakland A's recently announced they're moving to the Silicon Valley suburbs. And as you might imagine, the hometown fans are not too pleased.

Here is NPR's Richard Gonzalez.

RICHARD GONZALES: Crooner Tony Bennett may have left his heart in San Francisco but now; it's the city that's getting its heart broken. That's if John York gets his way. He's the owner of the five time Super Bowl winning 49ers and he says he has to leave town.

Mr. JOHN YORK (Owner, San Francisco 49ers): The San Francisco 49ers have the oldest, un-remodeled stadium in the NFL and we need to get a new stadium in the San Francisco Bay area by the year 2012.

GONZALES: York's announcement blind-sided San Francisco officials who are depending on the construction of a new stadium inside the city to bolster their bid to host the 2016 Olympics. York wants to take his team about 30 miles south to the Silicon Valley suburb of Santa Clara and he wants to take the team name with him too.

Mr. YORK: We are the San Francisco 49ers and expect to be the San Francisco 49ers. We have fans throughout the Bay area.

GONZALES: Not so fast, say San Francisco officials. They claim the team name belongs to the city and they have threatened lawsuits. Even, California Senator Diane Feinstein, herself, a former San Francisco mayor, has weighed in.

Senator DIANNE FEINSTEIN (Democrat, California): Forty Niner is the tradition of the city. San Francisco is the city of the gold rush. You can't move to Santa Clara and call yourself a 49er. You're not. And you, certainly, can't call yourself the San Francisco 49ers. You're not.

GONZALES: But, legal experts say there's already lots of sports teams that have moved to the suburbs and kept the name of their former host city. Matt Mitten directs a National Sports Law Institute at Marquette University.

Mr. MATT MITTEN (Director, National Sports Law Institute): I don't think that the city can claim any exclusive rights to use the name San Francisco or 49ers. The club has acquired rights to call itself the San Francisco 49ers by virtue of long time usage.

GONZALES: Silicon Valley officials say there are plenty of good reasons why sports franchises would want to relocate there. The region has strong population growth projections, not to mention that's where the high tech money is. Dean Monroe is executive director of the San Jose Sports Authority.

Mr. DEAN MONROE (Executive Director, San Jose Sports Authority): So, you've got this incredible base of companies that not only can do sponsorships and underwriting of naming rights but also companies that can spend money on executive suites as well as on season tickets. So, that's a huge bonus to a team moving here.

GONZALES: Case in point - the Oakland A's baseball team. They've announced plans to move to the Silicon Valley suburb of Freemont and get a brand new park named for Cisco Systems. Stanford Economist Roger Noll says Freemont may see that new stadium as a good investment but he says that's rarely the case.

Dr. ROGER NOLL (Professor, Stanford University): The point of a modern stadium is to eliminate any spill over benefit from the stadium to the community in terms of restaurants or bars or anything by becoming little miniature shopping centers and that requires assembling more land.

GONZALES: But land is something Silicon Valley has plenty of along with money and lots of good weather. And the region hopes it is on the verge of being recognized as the economic epicenter of northern California, but no one is calling it the San Jose Bay area just yet.

Richard Gonzales, NPR News, San Francisco.

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