SBD/August 18, 2014/Facilities

Levi's Stadium NFL Debut Goes Smoothly, But Wrinkles Need Ironing

49ers execs estimated 60,000 of the 68,500 ticketholders were inside just prior to kickoff
Levi's Stadium hosted its first NFL game yesterday with Broncos-49ers, and it "appeared to earn a solid passing grade," as traffic and train lines heading into the venue "were mostly smooth before and after the game," according to a front-page piece by Mike Rosenberg of the SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS. Most fans headed to the exits "starting at halftime," and said that their waits to board postgame trains "lasted just 15 to 30 minutes compared to up to 90 minutes two weeks ago," when Levi's hosted an MLS match. Broncos QB Peyton Manning said, "It was nicer than nice. I'd heard a lot about it. It was a beautiful setting. Great sight lines for the quarterback on the field. I was very impressed." Rosenberg notes technology and food, two "other main components of the stadium, were disaster-free but not without problems." The stadium "peaked at 20,000 devices connected to the stadium's Wi-Fi at once ... but some fans said they couldn't get on or that the Internet crawled along." While some food and beer lines on the outer concourses had "barely any customers all game, inside the main concourse, some stands selling unique specialty items such as ice cream and barbecue attracted lines more than a dozen people long" (SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS, 8/18). In San Jose, Mark Purdy writes the game "confirmed that, strictly as a place to view the nation's favorite spectator sport, Levi's works magnificently." The sightlines "are great," and the scoreboards "are high-definition grabbers." Vehicles yesterday "moved more smoothly into most of the parking lots" than they did for the MLS match. 49ers VP/Stadium Operations & Security Jim Mercurio said that 60,000 of the 68,500 ticketholders "were inside" just prior to the game's 1:08pm PT start. 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick: "We'll have a lot more noise here than at Candlestick, from the way it sounded like today" (SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS, 8/18).

WORKING OUT THE KINKS: CBSSPORTS.com's John Breech writes there are "definitely some kinks to work out," but overall, the stadium "opened with a splash." The "biggest problem ... was a food problem." The stadium "sold out of several products by the second quarter," including bay shrimp rolls and house-cured salmon sandwiches. Also, three ice cream concession stands "had at least 40-minute waits," and the 49ers' pro shop had "long lines." Meanwhile, there were "a few alcohol concessions with long lines, but if you were willing to walk around, you could easily find a beer line with only one of two people in it" (CBSSPORTS.c8om, 8/1). The Mercury News' Jon Wilner on Twitter noted the fan experience "depends partly" on whether a stadium employee knows the answer to fans' question or "merely thinks they know." Although, there were few traffic concerns, fans "started leaving" in the third quarter, and the regular season will be a "much bigger test" (TWITTER.com, 8/17). In Sacramento, Matt Barrows notes the audio for the National Anthem also "was spotty and the grass on the field hasn't fully taken root" (SACRAMENTO BEE, 8/18). 49ers CEO Jed York said that the 1:00pm start was to make sure that "we can get the operations right” and that the priority was “getting fans in (with) traffic (and) getting the light rail system to work right. We know it's not going to be perfect the first couple games. We want to make sure we get the kinks worked out and we’ll get there. We definitely want to make sure (if) fans have questions, complaints, let us know so we can starting working on it and make sure we get to the absolute perfect experience" (“Broncos-49ers,” NFL Network, 8/17).

TAKE A SEAT: In S.F., Benny Evangelista noted the 49ers are "giving fans lots of reasons not to leave their seats." The team launched an app that "delivers food and drinks to fans and provides instant replays of all the action, so the fans don't need to crane their necks to see the Jumbotron." So fans "don't miss any snaps, the app will steer them to bathrooms and concessions with the shortest lines and the fastest routes out of parking lots." It is all a "strategy to bring the home-viewing experience to the stadium." 49ers COO Al Guido: "I can't put the fridge as close as you have in your home, but if I can get food to you quickly so you don't have to wait in line, then I've sort of matched that experience." Evangelista noted the team also "set up Wi-Fi access points within 10 feet of every seat and installed more than 200 phone-charging stations in the stadium." Developers will "tinker with the app throughout the season and potentially add features on top of its current offerings" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 8/17). York, on Wi-Fi adjustments late last week: “We’re just trying to make it better and better and we again, definitely want all of the feedback you can possibly give us so we can make it the best experience for you" (“Broncos-49ers,” NFL Network, 8/17). BROADCASTING & CABLE's George Winslow notes Sony was "chosen as the general contractor to design and install five major aspects of the new venue: the control room; the ITPV systems; the gigantic LED displays; the TVs and screens around the stadium; and security cameras." Sony National Sales Manager/Sports Venues Chris Sullivan said that this was a "multiyear project, with a number of developments, such as the full deployment of the IPTV system, the launch of 4K video feeds and enhancements to the second-screen experience still in the works" (BROADCASTING & CABLE, 8/18 issue). S.F.-based KPIX-CBS Sports Dir Dennis O’Donnell featured amenities available in Levi’s Stadium. In the first segment, a fan in the stands demonstrated the smartphone app that’s used to order food from the stadium’s concession stands. O’Donnell said, “I don’t have five minutes, I have 30 seconds. Buy some French Fries.” In a second segment, the Yahoo Fantasy Football Lounge, where scores and statistics from players in other games across the NFL are displayed, was briefly shown (“Broncos-49ers,” NFL Network, 8/17).

JED YORK STATE OF MIND: In S.F., Ann Killion profiled York, noting it took him "to realize what the 49ers had unsuccessfully sought for more than three decades: the construction of a state-of-the-art football stadium." Former 49ers Owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr. said, "I think my dad would be very proud of him." York said, "There are things we need to learn from and figure out how to keep getting better. We want to be up-front about the things that didn't go well." Killion noted York's "favorite place in the stadium is the green roof -- a garden and outdoor area atop the suite tower, with 49 solar panels that help power the stadium, 16 species of plants, and reclaimed redwood from nearby Moffett Field." York: "It's a very Northern California feel. A feel of being outdoors, being open, tech-friendly and environmentally friendly. I think that's going to be a very cool spot" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 8/17).

CATERING TO THE WINE & CHEESE CROWD: In S.F., Paolo Lucchesi noted the Centerplate-run concessions "make a point to broadcast the local and sustainable mantras that have become embedded in Bay Area food culture -- although reminders of the stadium's corporate partners like Pepsi and Budweiser are nonetheless ubiquitous." Still, Centerplate has "made a valiant effort to embrace local suppliers," getting 78% of the ingredients and products "from within 150 miles" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 8/17). The CHRONICLE's Sam Whiting noted the "only place to find the old San Francisco at the new Levi's Stadium is in the art on the walls." There are "500 vintage football pictures and 200 new artworks" at Levi's. These "make up the Art Collection," which "could appraise" at around $3M. The plan is to "grow and rotate the art, sell prints and offer paid tours to the public" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 8/17).

IN REVIEW: In S.F., Michael Cabanatuan notes most fans yesterday "seemed to be in awe." The problems from the MLS match "didn't vanish ... but they did seem much improved" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 8/18). THE MMQB's Peter King writes the stadium is "imaginative and cool." King: "I don't know if this is the future of stadiums. But walking around it Sunday morning, I certainly thought it should be" (MMQB.SI.com, 8/18). In California, Ron Agostini writes, "Levi's means business, for sure" (MODESTO BEE, 8/18). In San Jose, Cam Inman noted the stadium on the outside "resembles an iron skeleton, with only a few oversized posters covering its bones." On the inside, it is "like a red leather couch you've long sought for your living room and finally splurged to buy" (SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS, 8/17). In S.F., Ron Kroichick wrote a "sense of wide-eyed wonder engulfs those with Candlestick as their only measure of a football home." Levi's "lacks a glitzy, eye-catching design feature, such as the giant glass wall at the Cowboys' stadium, but it does present a clean look" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 8/17). Also in S.F., Peter Hartlaub wrote, "I worry that the new stadium might be too far away, too expensive and too unfamiliar." The 49ers "would be smart to overcompensate when it comes to satisfying longtime fans." Levi's "needs to make us forget the old park's shortcomings while somehow retaining its vibe." But fans "need to accept that you can't go back." The 49ers "need to find fun and imaginative ways to honor the fans whose loyalty remained strong during 43 years in the cold, windy, transportation-challenged location" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 8/17).
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