Revenge of the .1%

Jed York is, lately, not a popular guy in the Bay Area.

His press conference earlier this week, in which he discussed the firing of 49ers head coach Jim Tomsula and–somewhat vaguely–the plans for the team moving forward, was greeted with a combination of skepticism and contempt. York is increasingly seen as the problem with the Niners: the clueless CEO who has meddled his franchise into mediocrity. You’d think there’s been enough criticism to make anyone a little humbler, a little more willing to see himself as the issue and take steps to amend that problem.

And your thinking would be wrong. Jed York doesn’t really care what people in the press or regular folks on Twitter have to say about him–because he doesn’t have to care. That’s what money can buy you.

The DFR: FootballYork has a lot of things going for him. He was a senior class president in high school and baseball team captain in high school. He graduated from Notre Dame with a degree in finance and history, and spent roughly a year working for the high-powered financial firm Guggenheim Partners in New York. Oh, yes, and what he has going for him most of all is the fact that he was born to wildly wealthy parents who happen to be the owners of an NFL franchise, thus giving them the ability to appoint their son as president of the team after a few years working in the front office.

That’s a mighty thin resume for being named the point man of a multi-billion dollar enterprise, and perhaps the chaos of the 49ers’ last two years results from that lack of life experience. Then again, it may simply follow from the fact that, despite his title, running the 49ers is a secondary concern for York. His real life’s work, the thing that will keep him securely in his position for most likely the rest of his life, has already been done: he helped get Levi’s Stadium built, and with that cash cow in place–regardless of criticisms about it as a football facility–the York family can probably spend the next 50 years living the life, regardless of how many games the 49ers win or lose.

Here we see one of the darkest dark sides of sports as an industry: … your fandom can be used as a weapon against you.

Credit must be given where it’s due: the Bay Area’s best sports radio guy, Damon Bruce on 95.7 The Game, has been making this point for a while now: what happens on autumn Sundays at “Turkey on the 50 yard line” Stadium–Bruce’s great characterization after last season’s Thanksgiving debacle–is only a small part of the entertainment enterprise that the York family now owns. Forty-Niner games may get a lot of ink, but it’s the Taylor Swift concerts and other stadium extravaganzas that bring in the bulk of the revenue now.

We discussed this state of affairs early last year in a report about the Wrestlemania event that was held at Levi’s. That story was typical of the events–soccer matches, a series of concerts, college football games (including the National Championship Game in 2019)–that have and will be held in Levi’s Stadium: a year-round calendar of events that produce an enormous revenue stream, thanks to the wild prices charged for everything from concessions to parking to god knows what else can be used to siphon money out of the pockets of the people who attend these events. And the Yorks–or, if you prefer, the 49ers–get a taste of all of that money.

Given that state of affairs, how much can the team really be hurt when they go 5-11 rather than 11-5? That hold true especially considering that, for the most part, the game tickets are already sold, and those dollars are being collected on top of the personal seat licenses–they’re called “Stadium Builder Licenses” at Levi’s–that the organization already collects before anyone even buys a ticket. Talk about a cup runneth over.

All that’s the product of getting that new stadium built. And when the money starts to pile up that high, it takes on insulating qualities that can turn any amount of shrieking criticisms into distant, highly ignorable whispers. If Jed York has to lose a little public face over treating the 49ers as an object of his whims, well, so be it. He can retreat to his yacht and sail off to calmer waters if he so desires.

Many of the fans who have raised their voices in anger over the circus that the 49ers have so quickly become may threaten to stop buying tickets to the games, but that doesn’t really matter thanks to those revenue streams mentioned above, most of which are independent of ticket sales–and thus largely unaffected by team performance. Don’t want to buy those Niners tickets anymore? That’s fine for the Yorks; someone else will buy them, and even if no one will, well, Beyoncé’s about due to go out on another concert tour isn’t she? You can bet those tickets will sell.

And, of course, if you are a 49ers fan and you decide you’ve had enough of Jed and his foolishness, that you will no longer buy the tickets, and the jerseys, and pay the parking fees, etc., etc.–who are you really punishing? The Yorks won’t feel it. You’ll just be denying yourself one of the few pleasures that your less-than-plutocratic life affords you.

Here we see one of the darkest dark sides of sports as an industry: the emotional attachment between fans and teams that is the foundation of any sports enterprise means that your fandom can be used as a weapon against you. Any amount of abuse can be heaped upon the “faithful” fans, and the money will just keep coming in, because turning away completely is a step most sports fans are simply unwilling to take–or are incapable of taking.

This is also an example of how heavily rigged in the favor of the wealthy our society is. A man of minimal accomplishment, like Jed York, can be placed into a life of wealth, comfort, luxury, and ease, and be given responsibilities that are apparently way over his head, and the consequences of that situation will be…that he’ll get richer. Because when you’ve got that kind of money, and more coming in, it hardly matters at all who coaches your football team. Win or lose, you still win. It’s good to be part of the .1%. Just ask Jed.


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