I was astonished today to find myself at the opening Niners game in their new Levi’s Stadium. I like football and the Niners. I once spent a day at their Santa Clara, CA office practice facility attending a coaching clinic led by Bill Walsh. I also spent time with Walsh when he coached at Stanford and when he and I were speakers at various coaching clinics and when I was researching my Football Clock Management book. http:www.johntreed.com/FCM.html That Niners office/practice facility where I spent the day is now a stone’s throw from the new stadium.

Only when a friend offers me a ticket

But Niners tickets are so expensive and such a hassle to get that I probably have not been to a game in ten or fifteen years. In this case, one of my wife’s co-workers had season tickets and could not go to this game. $125 each for me and my youngest son Mike plus a $40 parking pass. After the game, a TV sports commenter said the crowd was subdued but they weren’t the real ticket holders. They were the friends of the ticket holders.

No soul

Basically, the stadium was brand new, but had no soul or even any gimmicks like the Dallas Cowboys monster TV or the Buccaneers’ pirate ship or the Giant’s Coke bottle/monster glove/home runs that land in the Bay. Indeed, it is a Pepsi stadium to the consternation of my son and me. Our whole family are Coke folks. All it is is another 66,000 seat football stadium.

They got the rest rooms right. No lines.

EZ in, EZ out

The stadium is located such that you can approach from 360 degrees, in contrast to Candlestick Park which was in a bad neighborhood on a peninsula jutting into San Francisco Bay. So traffic arriving at Levi wasn’t so bad. Plus you can get there by car, light rail, Amtrak, and bus. With Candlestick, just car and bus. But our parking lot was a golf course like at the Rose Bowl. Fine in dry weather like our current drought, but it won’t be much fun during the fall and winter rainy season. They need to pay the parking fee collectors by the number they get in prior to half hour before game time. They were apparently paid by the hour instead and there were only two for our vast parking area meaning cars were backed for a mile or so trying to get in.

Real grass!?

The turf is real grass! How novel. Same comment about the rainy season. The field had no crown (elevated in the middle and sloped down toward the sidelines) like real grass fields always did in the past. So I assume it must have the world’s greatest drainage. We’ll see.

Lousy food and lousy service

The concessions were a disaster. 20-minute or more waits everywhere. The cashiers were too few. Mine had two for a five-cash-register stand. They did not understand that after the cashier takes one order, they take the next. They don’t stop and wait to get the food and hand it to the customer. And they need to be paid piece rates, not by the game or hour.

The food, which was ballyhooed, was generic. No Doggie Diner hot dogs like at AT&T Park or Nathan’s hot dogs or Vienna beef hot dogs, just “frankfurters” and “all beef hot dogs,” the former being a skinny foot long in a six-inch bun and the latter being a fat five-inch in a six-inch bun? The Bavarian pretzel was good, but everything else was institutional, non-brand name including all the exotic, foreign food they bragged about. The signage looked like an architect’s rendering with signs saying “franks” and “burgers” and “paninis.” The only brand names were on beverages, candy, ice cream, and chips.

In contrast, stadiums like Camden Yards and AT&T Park have long-time family concession stands like Boog’s Barbecue, brand-name meats, local brand names like “It’s It” in San Francisco. In soul-less Levi stadium, the food was the most soul-less thing there.

No one took any pride in manufacturing, preparing, or serving any of it. Or more likely, the York Family that owns the Niners refused to let anyone take credit for or charge an earned premium for any products containing pride. The result is lousy food, lousy service, and, one presumes, high profit margins for the Yorks. The only zeal I saw was in the screeners making sure you did not bring a Coke or other black market food in.

Eat at your tailgate party. If you must, buy food from the walk-around vendors. No wait, but they only have some snacks and a few drinks. This is fixable—if the Yorks will let fans pry some of their profit margin from their clenched fists in return for some “slightly less profitable to the Yorks” quality products, preparation, and service.

The only lines longer than the concession stands was the store that sold Niners stuff. It looked like you had to stand in line 40 minutes or so to give the Yorks more of your money for Niners clothing and other items. It was like a 7-11 next to a middle school with a sign saying only five teenagers at a tine allowed in store, with a guard to enforce it. Andt here was another guard when you tried to leave the store to make sure you didn’t shop lift. Really!

What profoundly incompetent owners! This is what happens when the patriarch who actually knew how to run a business—shopping center developer Edward J. DeBartolo, Sr.—dies (1994) and leaves his money to people whose only success has been in the inheritance business.

Eddie Junior knew how to put a winning team together. But he was forced out of ownership because he got in trouble involving Louisiana gambling and corruption. So his sister, who married a doctor named York, ended up in charge of the 49ers. And her 33-year-old son Jed is now the main guy.

Too hot

Today, it was 80º at Levi Stadium and 66º at Candlestick. And the wind-chill at Candlestick was probably such that the temperature felt like 52º. What a miserable weather spot that was! So few will probably complain about Levi. But I must say we were in the sun the entire game, sweating, and trying to avoid sun burn. I had to take a shower when I got home, which is something I do not recall ever doing after any other spectating. I tried to buy a Pepsi out of concern for heat stroke. Lines were too long. I finally managed to get a lemonade from a walking vendor. TV guys said many fans were watching from the concession area to get some shade. I know, it was hard to get back to the stairway because of them. Think about that. They pay $125 or more per brand new stadium seat, yet they are acting like they bought standing-room-only tickets to get out of the sun.

It’ll probably take the fans a few games to figure out it after freezing at Candlestick for 53 years, but Levi stadium ain’t the Goldilocks weather spot. The Stick was too cold. Levi, at least in August, was too hot.

You non-Northern Californians may say, “Everywhere is hot in August.” Not here. For example, the Oakland Coliseum where the Raiders and A’s play rarely has such weather. And there are many other places in the Bay Area where they need neither air-conditioning nor much heat. Our house in Moraga, CA had no air-conditioning and we did not need it except for about five days a year.

A Star-Spangled Banner in which the word ‘free’ only had one syllable

The Star-Spangled Banner was sung by a girl named Melissa, a former Miss Santa Clara. I said to my son, now let’s see how many syllables it takes her to sing the word “free.”

One! I couldn’t believe it! Finally, an anthem singer who recognizes the song is about the country, not her night-club career! She also got the words right and didn’t forget any! Great retro move there Niners, but shouldn’t the team have been wearing 1946 throw-back uniforms to go with it?

Otherwise, the “music” was mostly overly loud hip hop. The Niners band was all drums and their style could be described as trash talking with drums, but it was kind of cool. In fact, that band was about the only thing that had soul in the whole operation.

Was there any soul at the old Candlestick Park? Yeah. Ten-year old black boys asking you for $10 to watch you car while you were in the game.

World class cheerleaders

There may be an obesity epidemic in America, but the Niners cheerleaders—about 30 of them, don’t have a pound of excess fat combined among them.

Oh, and there was a football game, allegedly

What about the game? The Nines should have used Blue Emu, the commercials for which always end with the words “And you won’t stink.” Seemed like they were in a pass-dropping contest, and blew their man-to-man pass coverage at least twice so badly that it looked like they had recruited their DBs from pre-game tailgate party goers. They treated the ball as if it were a promotional give-away and that they hoped the Broncos would be grateful for getting so many balls handed to them that they would come back often.
San Francisco has soul. Santa Clara, none. Levi stadium, zilch. After Nixon resigned, it was said of their staff, “They met a payroll.” The equivalent ‘compliment” regarding the York family’s new $1.3 billion stadium, “It has no rest room lines.”

Levi’s Stadium is in Santa Clara in the heart of Silicon Valley. Those of you who have never been to Silicon Valley may wonder what it looks like physically. Large, box-shaped, mid-rise, office buildings distinguishable from non-Silicon Valley office buildings only by the IPO-buzzy high tech names on the upper side of the buildings. We passed Solyndra’s old headquarters (now a Tesla building I think), Tivo and Elextronix on the way to the game. If you explore in more detail, you’ll find a lot of Starbucks and trendy little politically-correct restaurants, so don’t bother.

2016 Super Bowl will be in San Francisco—except for the actual game

The 2016 Super Bowl is scheduled for Levi’s Stadium. I predict the out-of-towers who attend it will spend all their time, and money, in San Francisco, Napa, and Carmel/Monterey and as little as possible in Santa Clara, San Jose (adjacent to Santa Clara), and Levi’s Stadium.

It’s all about soul.

Best wishes,
John T. Reed