A Hater's Guide to Levi's Stadium

Sep 03 at 12pm

Two years after construction started, the 49ers new Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara is ready to go for the 2014–15 NFL season. Excitement from 49ers fans has been met with equal skepticism, largely because well … the San Francisco 49ers aren't based out of San Francisco anymore! But money talks and Bay Area fans are going to have to get used to trips down to Silicon Valley for football games.

So far the stadium has hosted two preseason games and some Major League Soccer. While you'd expect nothing but elation from the faithful fan base for a brand new stadium, right off the bat a slew of valid critiques and shortcomings have been called out. So let's cut the fluff and get right down to the nitty-gritty of why Levi's Stadium isn't a desirable destination for a football game … yet.

It's a Sponsorship and Advertising Frenzy

"Did you come through in the Intel Gate or the Dignity Health Gate?" a stadium worker asked me when I was down there. With a straight face. I could barely contain myself. Levi's Stadium has incorporated an unprecedented amount of blatant sponsorships. What happened to the days when it didn't seem like we were being advertised and marketed to at every turn? The 49ers Museum is "Presented by Sony." The box office is the "Visa Box Office." The stadium's adjacent avenue is dubbed "The Faithful Mile presented by Safeway." The organization even sold a sponsorship for a street! Levi's paid $220 million for a 20-year naming rights deal. And if you're looking to throw around some sponsorship bucks, Gate E is still unsponsored (but it leads into the Brocade Club, Levi's 501 Club, BNY Mellon Club, and Citrix Owners Club … ugh). It just feels a little shameless and it sets the stage for a theme at Levi's Stadium: It's not cheap and it's super corporate.

Access via Public Transportation Is a Pain in the Ass and Takes Forever

Want to get to the stadium from San Francisco via public transportation? Here's how it's done: (deep breath) Take a bus or a Lyft to the nearest Caltrain station (either 22nd & Potrero or 4th & King), hop on Caltrain for a little over an hour and then transfer to the VTA light rail at the Mountain View station where you'll board another 26-minute train, finally arriving at Levi's Stadium! (exhale)

You get all that? Just make sure your VTA ticket is prepurchased or you have a Clipper card, because the purchasing stations at the Mountain View station will NOT issue tickets on game days (according to this highly articulate video that touts VTA as "Your ticket to all the action!"). I’m setting the over/under on fans without Clipper cards or pre-purchased tickets at 1,000 on game days.

Driving to the Stadium Has Issues of Its Own

According the stadium’s website, directions from San Francisco indicate a 47-minute trip, which is bearable. But once you exit on Great America Parkway, it's a long line to get into the limited parking lots. A trip to the Earthquakes vs. Sounders game saw a nearly 30-minute wait in a line of cars for a game where the stadium was capped at 40,000 capacity (as opposed to the 68,500 for 49ers game days). Granted it took twice this long to get into the Candlestick parking lot, so you could see this as a wash. But you'd think with a brand new, state-of-the-art stadium, a tedious entrance to the parking lot would be a problem of the past.

Insufficient Parking Results in Great America Being Closed on Game Days

Apparently a $1.3 billion dollar stadium doesn't include all of the necessary parking. The solution? Strike a $12.5 million deal with Great America theme park to use its lot on game days. About 30% of the stadium's 19,000 spots come from the Great America lot, so it's essential to the operation. There are other ramifications at play, though. Namely, that the city of Santa Clara gets a share of revenue from the park and it has city officials looking for answers as to where the Sunday money will be made up. And that dream of doing a Niner game AND Great America on the same day? Crushed.

Pregame Bars Are Virtually Nonexistent

Let's get one thing straight: This is not an AT&T park-like atmosphere. If you drive, your best bet is to tailgate; if you take public transport, you can drink on Caltrain, but after that your options are essentially limited to the sterile/corporate/fabricated Red Zone Rally in the Great America Pavilion. Red Zone Rally is $90 and Ticketmaster currently has tickets for all games marked as "Not many left," but it includes food and drink and you can ride the Flight Deck roller coaster if you’d like [blank stare]. A better alternative would've been something like Washington DC's Bullpen at Nationals Park, where you play cornhole, buy food and drinks, and bask in the sunshine while excitable pop cover bands play in the foreground.

Prices Are Through the Roof

Welp, here's the big one. Where to start? The cheapest beer in the park is $10.25 for a Bud or Bud Light. No disrespect to the King of Beers and his lighter cousin, but that's a pretty penny. Way above the average NFL beer price of $7.05. I got a killer torta when I was there, but it was $12. Parking is a whopping $50, and according to the San Jose Mercury News, "the cost for two face-valued nosebleed seats, a couple of beers, and a pair of hot dogs at Levi's will cost $243, up from $88.50 at Candlestick." You better have been at your tech startup before it IPO'd to afford this trip. 

Nobody Knows Where They're Going

My walk through the concourse at Levi's Stadium was greeted with more "stop and look arounds" in the middle of a crowd than a group of tourists in Times Square. Stadium attendants gave me wrong directions three times to my seats in Section 245. It's gonna take a solid year for people to figure out the lay of the land once inside. Also, concession stands were slow as employees got used to new high-tech point-of-sale systems.

Your Cellphone Battery Won't Make It Through the Day

If you purchase your Caltrain ticket with your phone, use it during the commute, then use it to purchase concessions AND have free Wi-Fi throughout the game, your phone will never get out alive.

Michael Mina Is Everywhere!

One of the finest chefs in the world, Michael Mina has a Bourbon Steak restaurant at the park (where you can even get a $75 beer) and hosts a members-only Michael Mina Tailgate during the games. Look, I like Michael Mina's cooking as much as the next SFer, but how many tailgates at Candlestick did he ever attend? He strikes me as the type of guy who brings a microplane grater and a block of Reggiano for the burgers at his tailgate BBQ. I much prefer my pregame tailgate grub cooked by a guy named Chuck with a beard and a bunch of tattoos and a secret family BBQ sauce for his beef ribs that he's been serving up at Candlestick since the '70s. Now THAT'S #faithful. It simply raises the question of, "What the heck does Michael Mina have to do with football?" And it leads us to our final gripe:

A Lack of a Football Identity

Now this is the part that will take time to develop. It's a massive stadium with advertising everywhere, it costs more money to attend than any other sporting facility in the Bay Area, and it’s ultimately restrictive to large pockets of the fan base. Levi's Stadium is going to take time to become home for Niners fans. There are so many nuances involved with getting there and navigating the high-tech approach once you're inside that perhaps the inaugural season is best left for the bigwigs and corporate crowd. It's hard to understand how a blue-collared family of four from San Jose or San Francisco can afford to attend a handful of games. We're witnessing the increasingly corporate nature of sports at its new pinnacle. Between ordering food on your phone, two-hour trips from the city, and ads everywhere to look at, who's going to have time to watch any football? 

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