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Levi’s Stadium: Cost of cops at NFL games has more than doubled in past decade

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SANTA CLARA — The cost of security for Levi’s Stadium and the tens of thousands of fans who show up on Sundays to cheer for the San Francisco 49ers has more than doubled since the Silicon Valley venue’s grand opening in 2014.

The rising costs have long been a point of contention between the team and the city of Santa Clara, which have quarreled intensely over who should foot the bill. Tensions hit a flashpoint in 2019 when the 49ers sued the city over the disagreement. Finally, in late May, a deal was reached and the 49ers agreed to pay a larger share.

In the past decade, the price tag for public safety for NFL games at Levi’s Stadium has risen sharply from $2.45 million for the Niners’ inaugural season in Santa Clara to $5.7 million for the 2022-23 season when the team petered out one game away from Super Bowl LVII.

The city cites a slew of reasons for the dramatic increase, including the need for additional officer staffing in response to a 2018 safety audit, as well as incidents that required more police intervention. A 2021 agreement between the city and the Santa Clara Police Officers’ Association that will run through 2025 is also a factor, the city said, as it pays officers overtime at a rate of time-and-a-half for non-NFL events at the stadium, but double time for NFL events.

Jeremy Schmidt, president of the officers’ association, defended the double-time pay, contending the department is “understaffed and officers work a considerable amount of overtime providing service to the community first.”

“Working the games exposes the officers to excess danger from large crowds, decreased personal rest and increases time away from family,” he said. “That’s why double time is fair compensation. In many cases officers have been mandated, or forced, to work the events.”

The original deal the city struck with the 49ers more than a decade ago required the team to pay up to $170,000 in public safety costs per game. Anything above that threshold would be reimbursed by the Stadium Authority, a governing body created by the city, via payments from a discretionary fund or in the form of a rent credit.

But from the very start, the threshold, which was supposed to increase 4% annually, didn’t come close to covering the full costs. On Aug. 17, 2014, the 49ers played their first-ever game at Levi’s Stadium against the Denver Broncos. Public safety costs for the preseason game were $199,424 — nearly $30,000 over the threshold, according to city documents. The most expensive game for public safety that season was a Dec. 20 game against the then-San Diego Chargers with a bill of $268,150.

The cost of security for Levi’s Stadium in its inaugural season was $2.4 million. And since then, the numbers have grown with the biggest spike between the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons when the costs jumped from $2.99 million to $5.4 million. Even without fans during the COVID-19 pandemic, public safety still ran up a $887,617 bill in 2020-21.

Under the new deal, the 49ers will now pay up to $360,000 in public safety costs per game. Costs ranged from $433,660 to $570,314 per game for the first nine home games of the 2023-24 season.

Jihad Beauchman, executive vice president and general counsel for the 49ers, said at a recent City Council meeting that they’ve heard the complaints from the city that not enough revenue from the stadium has gone to Santa Clara.

“This system that’s being put in place now is very thoughtfully crafted in a way that achieves that goal,” Beauchman said. “It actually frees up more dollars to go to performance rent by allowing dollars that would have gone to paying for public safety costs to then go from this fund to that so more dollars can go out to the city.”

At $360,000 a game, Beauchman said the 49ers will be doling out more for public safety than any other team in the NFL.

Santa Clara Police officers arrest a New York Giants fan during the fourth quarter of their NFL game at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., on Sunday, Nov. 12, 2017. A woman who was with the fan was also arrested when she interfered with police. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group) 

To offset the remaining cost of public safety, the agreement adds a $4 per ticket surcharge to non-NFL events.

Robert Baumann, an economics professor at The College of the Holy Cross who has studied Levi’s Stadium, called it a “minor win” for the city but said that the cost of policing at NFL games is now being passed to people going to concerts or other events at the stadium.

“There’s this third party that wasn’t at the table and that’s the public,” Baumann said of the negotiations.

After reviewing the settlement agreement, Baumann said he was struck by how much the city missed more than a decade ago during original talks and questioned why cities feel they have so little bargaining power with professional sports teams.

“The original sin here is the financing deal, how it was signed 10 plus years ago,” Baumann said.

City Manager Jovan Grogan, for his part, seems to agree. At a recent council meeting, he said it “would be great” if the 49ers agreed to pay the full cost for public safety.

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