(By Daisy Barringer)
The problem with building a $1.3 billion stadium is that people then expect, well, a 1.3 billion dollar stadium. Levi's Stadium is, of course, just that, but as I quickly learned yesterday, unless you’re a pretty, pretty princess who’s willing to throw down piles of cash for access to all of the fancy-pants stuff, Levi’s Stadium is, well, just another NFL stadium.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s is an amazing state-of-the-art facility and an enormous improvement over Candlestick, but at the 49ers vs Broncos preseason game on Sunday, it was also quite clear that this is a stadium built for big money guys, not your average Joe or Daisy. And that realization was kind of a bummer. I mean, I thought I was a pretty, pretty princess, especially after forking over $12K for the rights to my seats, but my $12K is nothing compared to the kind of cash rich dudes are throwing around in order to get into the exclusive clubs and suites, where I imagine a good chunk of the $1.3 billion budget went.
Again: Levi’s Stadium is beautiful and a great experience. I love that they have things like solar panels that will collect enough energy to power the stadium for all ten home games. And a living roof. And walnut lockers for the Niners players. But those things aren’t tangible experiences for the person who is spending hundreds of dollars to attend a game. Those things aren’t what ensure an amazing game day for those of us who are just going for the pleasure of being there in person and rooting for our boys. Those things aren’t what will keep the most faithful amongst us — the ones who scream on defense and quietly pray on offense — coming back game after game.
Still, all-in-all, it’s pretty spectacular. I didn’t get to check out the museums (lines) or all of the levels (too hot), but here’s what I did experience.
GETTING THERE & PARKING
Getting to Levi’s Stadium from San Francisco was a breeze. My friend picked me up at 9:20 a.m. and we were in Red Lot 6 by 10:05 a.m. (She drives really fast.) I was definitely surprised to discover that Red Lot 6 was a golf course and that we were parking on grass, but it was actually really pretty. (As was the parking attendant. Kudos to whomever hired that guy.) I can only imagine if we’d left later, we would have run into problems, but clearly the key is to get there early. It will also be interesting to see what happens to that green grass parking lot when it rains, but luckily I have a pair of galoshes that I will use any excuse to wear. From the parking lot, it was just a short walk to the stadium during which we were permitted to drink our beer the entire time (cans only, no glass).
We didn’t tailgate (unless you count cracking open a beer at 10 a.m. tailgating) for several reasons. First, my parking lot does not allow open flames. (Not that I was going to start a fire and actually cook something, but worth noting.) At Candlestick, I always liked going to the Bud Light Plaza and getting a drink while watching the early games. Levi’s Stadium has tried to replicate this with an area called The Faithful Mile presented by Safeway. I didn’t go, but I checked it out from a distance. It looks like a long row of a parking lot that is lined by food trucks with a stage at one end. I’ll go in the future, but hanging out on asphalt in sweltering 80+ degree weather didn't seem too appealing.
Levi’s Stadium is gorgeous. It’s everything you’d expect in a stadium of the future. Shiny red plastic and exposed white steel are juxtaposed with an open, airy vibe and views of rolling hills. We were amongst the first few to walk in and in those moments, I thought it was absolutely perfect.
Then, everyone else arrived. Within an hour, the Main Concourse was so crowded, it was hard to walk without bumping into someone. There’s an exterior walkway, but it seemed no one was using it since most of the action (a.k.a. places to spend money) was on the inside. The crowds never died down and during the third quarter when I tried to follow someone through a long line (instead of walking all the way around it), a woman bumped me with her body, frustrated that she was the person being cut in front of. It seems like a silly thing to mention, sure, but there was almost no way to NOT cut through the line, which is something that needs to be considered.
The biggest flaw, it seems, is not having enough different areas for people to hang out. Also, there is almost nowhere for people to sit or lean, save for a ledge at the top of the stairs where fans can put down their food and drinks and also see the field. Of course, these ledges were taken the entire time. I couldn’t help but think of AT&T Park where there are places to go and take a load off when one is not in her seats. Levi’s would benefit greatly from having areas like this.
THE GAME EXPERIENCE
My only complaint about Candlestick was that there weren’t cup holders on the backs of the seats. (I know; I’m so laid back and easy to please.) Levi’s Stadium has those. Yay! My beer finally has a home! Also, the field is amazing and it truly seems like there’s not a bad seat in the house.
It was hard to tell what the noise level is going to be like because this was a pre-season game and it was pretty clear no one was actually there to watch football. It did get pretty loud early on when we were on defense, but I’m eager to hear it during a real game.
The sound from the speakers seemed just okay. That was actually another complaint I had at Candlestick (okay, so I lied) — it was hard to hear the announcer. Almost impossible sometimes. I expected a huge improvement at Levi’s, but the sound seemed crackly. Again, I’m holding judgment on this one until the regular season. It was almost too hot to hear anyway, if that’s a thing that can be a thing.
The scoreboards are amongst the largest in the world (48 feet tall and 200 feet wide) and are clearly a million times better than anything at the ‘Stick. A little confusing as to why they built a TV camera station (assuming that’s what it was) into the one above the north end zone.
It did seem like a LOT of planes were flying overhead before the game (the stadium is right by San Jose airport), but it seems like it slowed during the game. That will be an interesting thing to keep an eye on.
Oh, and the Niners looked terrible, but it’s preseason so who cares?
FOOD & DRINK
Sigh. I wanted to love it. I really, really wanted to love it. And I have faith that they can get it together, but overall, the food and beverage situation was a huge failure. First of all, the lines were incredibly long. Like we waited for 20 or 30 minutes to get food. It seemed like the staff was pretty flustered, so again, that’s something that will likely improve with time.
Sadly, once we did get our food, it was horrible. Like, almost inedible. I visited the stadium early on for a media tour of the food and everything I ate was delicious. I raved about it to everyone. Literally: everyone. The thing is, when it came down to it, I didn’t want lamb curry or a salad or a Peking duck steamed bun. I wanted football food. I ordered nachos, but unfortunately the chips were super stale. My friend got a brat and her bun was stale. We also got plain fries (garlic would have been a 10 minute wait and later they ran out of them entirely) and they were limp, soggy, and totally undercooked. At the end of the game we ordered a frozen yogurt to share. The guy in front of us had to return his because it wasn’t actually frozen. Ours was just totally meh. Almost all of our food went straight into the garbage. Pretty depressing.
The man behind me did use the (very-hyped) Levi’s Stadium app to have his beers and brats delivered directly to his seat for a $5 fee. They promised delivery in 20 minutes. It took 24. Not too bad. I was so impressed that I actually decided to try it out. Unfortunately, the app informed me that none of the stands in my section were taking orders.
Oh, and they have full bars. Which seems dangerous, but is still a plus, even if I was drinking Bud Light.
I mean, I’m a girl. I’m clearly going to report on the bathroom situation. The bathrooms were fine. The longest I waited in line was probably five minutes and that was during halftime, which is the worst time to go to the restroom. Though they seemed to run out of toilet paper and seat covers in a lot of the stalls by the third quarter, everything was clean and it was nice that there were paper towel dispensers by each sink (even if I was surprised they didn’t have Dyson hand dryers as an option). I will definitely visit the bathrooms again!
Even on the hottest days of the year, I never went to Candlestick without a bag full of layers. That is one thing that we clearly won’t need in Santa Clara. It was hot. Like really, really, really hot. So hot that my friend (who was wearing a t-shirt) bought a tank to change into. So hot that we were relieved it was just a preseason game so we could escape the sun and take cover in the shade on the concourse (another reason it was probably so crowded). I applied sunscreen before I left the house and again at the game, and I still ended up with a farmer’s tan so brutal I am going to have to avoid being seen naked for at least a month. (Not that doing so will be hard. Sigh.)
Seriously though, it was hot. My iPhone, which was in my bag, overheated and became unusable. I had sweat dripping down my back. My legs were basically stuck to my seat. (I know. This is all incredibly attractive.) I cannot even imagine what the people in jean’s or long-sleeved shirts were going through. I mean, I get it. I sound dramatic. But it was HOT. And water was $5.25 a pop. (They should have water stations where you can refill, like at the airport and music festivals.) All I can say is: thank god for beer.
Gotta give Levi’s Stadium props on this one (“props” is something the kids still say, right?). The technology was amazing. I mean, the Internet was literally faster than it is in my house. (What’s up with that, Comcast?) I was able to pull up and watch a video during the second quarter. (I couldn’t even get a text message to go through at Candlestick.) I also used paperless ticketing for my parking and my tickets with no issues. There were lots of flat screen TVs (though the general consensus was that there could either have been more or that they should have been in different locations), the scoreboards were huge and easy to see, and everything just felt really smooth and seamless. Sure, the in-seat delivery wasn’t working and I swear I was promised a feature that would tell me which bathroom lines were the shortest, but I was so blown away by the lightning quick Internet that none of that other stuff mattered.
Of note: I was also promised numerous “charging stations.” From what I could tell, those are just pillars with outlets in them. I’d imagined something fancier, somehow. Still, nice to have as my battery did drain more quickly than normal.
The stadium was pretty empty by the fourth quarter, so we probably wouldn’t have hit much traffic, but we decided to have a drink (well I did; my friend was driving) at Bourbon Steak & Pub (Michael Mina’s restaurant that is only open to “members” before the game, but lets the savages, I mean, general public, in after). Even Michael Mina had some issues, running out of several beers and having clearly a confused staff, but it was a nice spot to chill. I wish there were more things like it around the stadium.
The drive back to SF took a little longer than the drive to Santa Clara, but most of that was Bay Bridge traffic and pretty standard. I was also exhausted and just ready to get home to a cold shower, my PJs, and Karl the Fog, who I’ve never missed so much.
Overall? I’m stoked on the stadium. I think most of the things I whined about can be fixed and I know that they considered yesterday a test run. Hopefully by next Sunday they’ve figured out how to keep the sun from shining quite so intensely. Otherwise, I’m going to have to show up in my bikini. And no one wants to see that.
Daisy Barringer covers the San Francisco 49ers for SFist, giving us an insider perspective on live games. You can read all her previous columns here.