Wednesday, October 17, 2012

49ers, A's Different Embraces of South Bay

Yesterday, it was announced that San Francisco has been selected as a finalist to host a future Super Bowl in early 2016/2017. The funny thing is there won't be a team playing inside the city limits at that point in time. The namesake 49ers will have long since decamped for Santa Clara some 40 miles south.

This issue was addressed in an article by John Diaz in this past Sunday's San Francisco Chronicle. From that piece:

"San Francisco is our home," 49ers CEO Jed York said in a phone interview Friday. "If and when we win a Super Bowl, the parade will be on Market Street."

Consider that downtown San Jose (using the San Jose Caltrain Station as a landmark) is just 6.2 miles up the road. Are the 49ers essentially saying, "There is no there there," with respect to San Jose? At the very least, York could have said that one of the team's parades would be in San Francisco in addition to the geographically convenient San Jose.

Today, Santa Clara mayor Jamie Matthews tried to walk back York's comment:

"If our 49ers win the Super Bowl, I think there will be a parade in lots of cities, not the least of which will be San Francisco and Santa Clara," Santa Clara Mayor Jamie Matthews said. "You can never have too many parades."

An aside: Should Oakland expect a parade as well?

Brand Value

Unlike the A's, the 49ers have several key branding advantages. One is that the team can easily shift to saying that "San Francisco" references the San Francisco Bay Area as opposed to the city itself. The other is that they are not, as part of their negotiating principles with Santa Clara, bound to insert "Santa Clara" into their name.

The A's can't really extend "Oakland" -- which aside from part of a bridge and an estuary -- is really just the city itself. Also, and with all due apologies for those that care about the city, Oakland is simply not as strong a national and international brand as San Francisco.

The A's are also bound by their negotiating principals with San Jose to include that city's name in their moniker should they move there.

Regional Darlings

The 49ers seem to be able to have their cake and eat it too. They can build in a place that offers fewer construction hurdles and offers lower operating costs while tapping into the prestige, resources and brand value of San Francisco. It is a tremendous piece of marketing ju-jitsu.

Can you imagine the Raiders or the A's parading down Market Street in San Francisco? Surely not, and yet they are closer to that spot than the 49ers will be once they move south.

An A's Move Would be Different

In 2006 when the idea of the A's moving to Fremont was still alive, Managing Partner Lew Wolff suggested that the team might adopt either the name "Fremont A's" or "Silicon Valley A's." The phrase "of Fremont" was also thought to be on the table. However, did anyone really think that "Oakland A's of Fremont" would have been chosen ahead of "San Jose A's of Fremont" when you consider Wolff's strong ties in business and politics to San Jose?

Bearing in mind York's comments, would the A's if they won the World Series celebrate down Broadway in Oakland after they had packed up and headed down to San Jose? Would they still think of Oakland as their home.

No.

If the A's decamp for the South Bay and win it all, confetti would surely fly in downtown San Jose. Oakland, it would seem based on ownership's statements, would be lucky to have the trophy make a guest appearance at city hall for an afternoon.

In 2007 with a Fremont move still alive, Wolff framed the move away from the team's California roots this was:

"We're still here, folks," he said. "We're not moving to Timbuktu. We're just moving down the street."

The thing is, an A's move to San Jose wouldn't be that simple. Unlike the 49ers, the A's are actively trying to rebrand from the "Oakland" portion of their name.

A name is inconsequential to the wins and losses a team amasses, but it is paramount for fans who embrace the game not from an economic and rational standpoint, but rather from a tribal and emotional one.

If the A's remove Oakland from their name, it will no doubt hurt many fans. They can only envy the have-it-both ways situation the 49ers are enjoying.

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