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Local fans sack 49ers broadcasts for featuring shots of San Francisco instead of Silicon Valley

Sweeping views of the Golden Gate bridge, Alcatraz Island and San Francisco’s skyline have dominated aerial shots for 49ers television broadcasts for years — after all, it’s the team’s namesake.

But it’s been nearly a decade since the NFL team played in the City by the Bay after its 2014 relocation roughly 40 miles south from Candlestick Park to Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, and national broadcasts still pan San Francisco’s cityscape before and after commercial breaks.

Many South Bay Niners fans have had enough, taking to social media in recent weeks to bemoan the lack of Santa Clara aerial footage, particularly following comments made by sportscaster Al Michaels during a Sept. 21 Thursday Night Football game between the 49ers and the New York Giants on Prime Video.

“Have you ever noticed we come here and all of our aerials are from 44 miles away?” Michaels said.

The longtime play-by-play announcer called San Francisco “beautiful” before questioning what landmarks they could use for Santa Clara and its neighboring cities.

“We’d like to bring the aerials from nearby here, but what are we supposed to do?” he said. “The salt evaporator flats? San Jose Airport?”

South Bay sports fans immediately took umbrage, flooding social media that night to express their long held frustrations that the networks have long ignored the Mission City, along with its neighbor, and the largest city in the Bay Area, San Jose.

The complaints must have been heard, because during Sunday night’s game between the 49ers and the Dallas Cowboys, NBC highlighted Mission Santa Clara de Asís — one of 21 California missions — on Santa Clara University’s campus. Even so, San Francisco still got most of the air time going in and out of commercial breaks.

Mission Santa Clara de Asis at Santa Clara University, one of 21 Calfironia Missions, was highlighted during Sunday’s televised 49ers’ game (Gary Reyes/ Staff) 

Former Mercury News sports columnist Mark Purdy said when outsiders — in this case, those who work for the networks — think about the Bay Area, their first thoughts are usually San Francisco and the Golden Gate or Bay bridges.

“I really think it comes down to the disconnect to the way the outside world looks at the Bay Area and the way the Bay Area looks at the Bay Area,” Purdy said.

The 49ers, though, have some power over what is shown during broadcasts, he added.

“If the 49ers wanted to, their president, Al Guido, could walk in and say ‘it’s great you show the bridge, but there’s a lot of things you can show here,’” he said.

Purdy, who became the first journalist inducted into the San Jose Sports Hall of Fame in 2021, posted last week on social media his own list of South Bay landmarks that NBC could have used during last Sunday’s 49ers vs. Cowboys game.

His list included the Mission Santa Clara de Asís, Lick Observatory, the Pat Tillman Memorial in San Jose and the Great America Star Tower, where he noted team CEO Jed York took NFL Commission Roger Goodell to convince him Santa Clara was a good location to build a new stadium.

Other South Bay fans suggested San Jose City Hall, the Rose Garden, the Winchester Mystery House or the Olympic Black Power Statue of Tommie Smith and John Carlos on San Jose State University’s campus.

When asked about the nearly decade-long debate, the 49ers declined to pick sides of what the network should show.

“As the oldest professional sports team in the Bay Area, we are proud of our roots in San Francisco and our home in the South Bay,” 49ers Chief Marketing Officer Alex Chang said in a statement. “Above all, we feel motivated to succeed because of the support of the 49ers Faithful across the region and the globe.”

Santa Clara officials, however, are hoping to change their image — or lack thereof — when it comes to the team.

Discover Santa Clara CEO Christine Lawson said that the tourism group has already discussed putting together video packages for the networks that help showcase the city.

“I think that it’s understandable,” she said of the San Francisco aerial footage. “They’re the San Francisco 49ers. There’s a lot of beautiful things to show in San Francisco, but they are playing here in Santa Clara, and we really do have a rich and vibrant city and there’s a lot of passion for the 49ers that extend beyond the city that they’re tied to.”

Santa Clara Councilmember Anthony Becker likened the situation to other NFL teams that play in different cities than their team’s namesake.

The Dallas Cowboys play roughly 20 miles away in Arlington, and both the Los Angeles Rams and Los Angeles Chargers play 12 miles south in Inglewood. The New York Giants and New York Jets even cross state lines, playing across the Hudson River at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

While Santa Clara itself may not get a lot of airtime outside of Levi’s Stadium, Becker said that sports commentators regularly point out that the games are being played in Santa Clara. He likes to think of it as “the San Francisco 49ers of Santa Clara.”

San Francisco 49ers' George Kittle (85) prepares to spike the ball after scoring a touchdown last season against Arizona Cardinals at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)
San Francisco 49ers’ George Kittle (85) prepares to spike the ball after scoring a touchdown last season against Arizona Cardinals at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group) 

“When they just say our city, I think that’s really a huge benefit not only for our city but our entire region,” Becker said.

 

The reignited debate over whether Santa Clara should be featured more prominently during NFL broadcasts comes at a time when the city is preparing for Super Bowl LX in 2026.

In 2016, Levi’s Stadium hosted Super Bowl 50, which raked in a $240 million boost to the Bay Area’s economy, according to the host committee. But only a small cut of that went to the South Bay.

San Francisco hosted most of the events during the weeklong celebration and put up many fans in its hotels, ensuring the city benefitted from 57 percent of Super Bowl economic activity. Meanwhile, the South Bay in its entirety snagged only 20 percent of the economic activity.

The 2019 College Football Playoff national championship game saw similar issues. Although Santa Clara saw a boom in its hotel reservations and restaurant bookings, many of the game-related events took place in neighboring San Jose.

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