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Vague Non-NFL Event Audit Pushes Stadium Authority Board Buttons

A lackluster audit report nearly divided the Santa Clara Stadium Authority Board, causing it to halt further efforts, before a last-minute amendment managed to gain consensus.

Tuesday night, New York-headquartered JS Held presented the Board with findings from another forensic audit of non-NFL events at Levi’s Stadium. The firm previously conducted an audit for fiscal years 2015 through 2018, which it presented to the Board in 2020. The most recent report examined the years 2018 through 2020.

However, Tim Gillihan, a forensic accountant with the firm, told the Board that Forty Niners Stadium Management Company (ManCo) failed to provide sufficient records to make the audit report as substantive as he would have liked.

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“When it came to the documentation, we found that the documents that were provided were not sufficient to rely upon to be able to determine if the financial results were in fact reported accurately,” he said. “That does not mean the financial results were not reported accurately. But it does mean that documentation would not rise to the level of being, what I would consider, what in accounting parlance we call, source records and documentation.”

Although JS Held was able to obtain some source documentation from third parties such as Ticketmaster, it was unable to reconcile the bookkeeping due to many documents secured from ManCo being unsubstantiated, Gilliham said.

When examining the six years from 2015 to 2020, Gilliham offered six reasons non-NFL events at the stadium are underperforming, assuming the information from ManCo is correct.

These reasons include the decrease in both concerts and special events such as corporate parties and weddings, diminished profits from soccer games caused by a decrease in revenue and an increase in costs, a decrease in net revenue from special events and a lack of alternative events such as hockey and wrestling.

Despite having a good working relationship with ManCo during the audit for the first three years, Gilliham told the Board that ManCo started freezing his firm out beginning in September 2020. After a letter from ManCo’s lawyer accused the firm of being a “Trojan horse” designed to garner information for Santa Clara regarding lawsuits the two are embroiled in, he said communication halted.

Board Member Anthony Becker initially moved that the Board accept the report but declined to continue the audit for the years 2020 to 2023, saying the Board is “putting money down the drain” and that it is likely to have “a rerun of this in three years.”

Although David Noce, the Stadium Authority Board’s audit manager, said he didn’t have an exact figure for what the Authority paid JS Held, he estimated it was around $135,000.

Board Member Karen Hardy agreed, seconding the motion, saying the report “looks simple” and that she “could have done it.”

Chair Lisa Gillmor and political ally Board Member Kathy Watanabe laid the blame solely at ManCo’s feet for failing to provide adequate documentation.

“We should all be very concerned by that, and our public should be very concerned about that,” Gillmor said. “This is a publicly owned stadium, and when you have your managers not giving source documents to the owners of the stadium and making them transparent to the public: what are they hiding? This motion lets them off the hook to not provide any source documents.”

Meanwhile, Board Members Suds Jain and Raj Chahal as well as Vice Chair Kevin Park favored continuing the audit but understood concerns surrounding a lack of concrete information in the report.

Stadium Authority Board Executive Director Jovan Grogan told the Board that with a new accounting system in place and a recent change in the upper-level management at ManCo, he anticipated a greater degree of cooperation.

In the end, the Board split the motion into two. The first was to accept the report, which passed 4-3 with Park, Watanabe and Gillmor voting “no.” The second, amended motion, was to have City employees return with a clear scope of work for years 2020 through 2023 and a better understanding of ManCo’s willingness to provide the needed documents for all years studied.

That motion passed 5-2, with Gillmor and Watanabe voting “no.”

Former Audit’s Public Safety Costs Confirmed

A report from a scathing audit of stadium management shows that the construction fund paid for police and fire costs. The issue was delved into at the recommendation of a divisive audit by San Francisco-based Harvey Rose Associates.

The audit pointed to, among other things, payment of public safety costs from the general fund, which was in turn reimbursed from the construction fund as possibly suspicious. An audit conducted by JS Held confirmed that finding, but discussion around the topic proved to be less revelatory than anticipated.

Santa Clara City Manager Jovan Grogan told the Board that City employees understood that payment to be the rightful action since the costs were incurred prior to the stadium having an operational fund, which it would typically use to pay for police and fire. Further, he said, the bond holders clearly found the scenario acceptable when they reviewed it.

The nearly $1 million in training occurred prior to any events being held at Levi’s Stadium.

Chahal was confused as to what a viable alternative would have been and questioned whether the result would have been different.

Informational Reports Shed Light on Events at Levi’s

The Board also heard informational reports on past and future events at Levi’s Stadium.

The first was an accounting assessment of the revenues and expenses for the College Football Playoff in 2019. The Board previously indemnified itself against the event’s losses ahead of the game by assigning responsibility for it to the Bay Area Host Committee.

Kenn Lee, Stadium Authority treasurer, confirmed that the Stadium Authority collected the $4 per ticket surcharge and was reimbursed for public safety costs for the money-losing event, as per the agreement’s stipulations.

A $4.2 million contribution from the 49ers allowed the game to break even.

The Board also heard an informational report for Levi’s Stadium’s hosting of Super Bowl LX in February 2026. Grogan laid out the organizational structure for scheduling events leading up to the big game and told the Board that the Stadium Authority does not intend to schedule large-scale events that lose the City money.

Further, he detailed many contracts — and what the City has learned from them — from Super Bowl 50 to illustrate how the City is better prepared to deal with the game. The event will count as an NFL event for the stadium, so the City’s right to documentation regarding the game differs from a non-NFL event.

Finally, Grogan gave an informational report for the FIFA World Cup, also in 2026. Just as with Super Bowl LX, the City will work with the Bay Area Host Committee.

The Board has previously made waves about having documents pertaining to the soccer match. Grogan told the Board that although the Stadium Authority still does not have all the necessary documents, those it does have indicate that the 49ers have made “significant commitments” regarding the game on the City’s behalf. Those commitments were made prior to the leadership change within ManCo last year.

“While we have concerns about those commitments, it is our focus, unless directed otherwise, to move forward to understand the full extent of those commitments and negotiate resolutions to those that fully protect the City, the Stadium Authority and ensure that the World Cup games that are set to occur here will be a success for the larger community,” he said.

The next regularly scheduled meeting is Tuesday, Oct. 10 in the Council Chambers at City Hall, 1500 Warburton Ave. in Santa Clara.

Members of the public can participate in the Santa Clara City Council meetings on Zoom at https://santaclaraca.zoom.us/j/99706759306; Meeting ID: 997-0675-9306 or call 1(669) 900-6833, via the City’s eComment (available during the meeting) or by email to PublicComment@santaclaraca.gov.

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3 Comments
  1. Buchser 2 8 months ago
    Reply

    I agree with Board Member, Karen Hardy: What the JS Held firm offer was nothing more than a simplistic report that provided absolutely no information and one she could have written up herself and saved the City the cost of $135,000. Charge this up as another expense and reason for replacing Deanna Santana with a much better City Manager, Jovan Grogan.

  2. Buchser Alum 8 months ago
    Reply

    The headline should be “Forty Niners refuse to allow thorough audit of their stadium management.”

    We own the stadium. The Forty Niners management of the stadium has not given us a profit from non NFL events for years.

    Why?

    We do not know because we cannot audit the books. We just have to trust them.

    • Buchser 2 8 months ago
      Reply

      Strongly supporting your views are Lady Gillmor and Kathy Watanabe. On the other side are our other remaining Council Members and our new City Manager. They appear to have no strong objections to the “slow” progress in resolving the ongoing litigation. So, my suggestion is to simply “hold your horses”, and give it time. We’re in good hands.

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