Look ahead to new 49ers stadium: Farewell to terrible cheap seats?

San Jose Mercury News columnist Mark Purdy said farewell to the San Francisco 49ers‘ Candlestick Park yesterday, and while he doesn’t hide his feelings for the old place (“The best of riddance, you old hunk of concrete garbage”), he does try to evaluate what the fan experience will be like at the team’s new home in Santa Clara next year. And after discussing such line items as the concourses (“43 feet wider”) and restrooms (“28 percent more plumbing fixtures”), he goes what he calls “architectural-geeky” and brings up the new stadium’s feature that will have the most impact on actually watching the game:

The vast majority of luxury boxes are located in an eight-level tower — essentially, a 12-story building — on the west side of the field. That means two things: One, there are no upper decks on the west side, just the lower bowl and the tower. And two, the east side upper decks can be closer to the ground — because it does not sit atop multiple levels of luxury boxes.

That second item isn’t trivial, as one of the hallmarks of most modern stadiums is that they have terrible upper-deck seats, thanks to those luxury suites having to be wedged in beneath them. Avoiding this by stacking all the suites on one side has been done before, though — the Atlanta Hawks‘ Philips Arena, Red Bull New York’s Red Bull Arena, and the Detroit Lions‘ Ford Field all come to mind. And as you can see from Ford Field, this makes for a somewhat unusual view facing you across the field:

Still, having to stare at a wall of glass is a reasonable tradeoff for having a better view of the game, in my opinion anyway. (Red Bull Arena is admittedly the only one of these three I’ve personally seen a game at.) Levi’s Stadium construction co-director Robert Rayborn speculates to Purdy that this layout will also make for a louder stadium, since sound will bounce off the suite wall and echo around the place; it’s hard to tell from the Ford Field example since hardly anyone has ever made noise at a Lions game, but there’s some evidence that it might be possible, anyway.

27 comments on “Look ahead to new 49ers stadium: Farewell to terrible cheap seats?

  1. Check out today’s USA Today editorial/opinion page on how college bowl games, the NFL, the PGA, etc are treated as non-profit tax exempt, but only 2% goes to charity. Their Friday sports section centerfold of 50 wishes for the New Year included no public money for billionaire team owner’s stadiums. Also, today’s front page article about how colleges eat the costs on bowl game tickets.

  2. UCF Arena (or whatever they call it now) is the same way. The design makes it a great venue from a spectator’s point of view, since even the uppermost row of the upper deck feels close to the action on the floor.

  3. Maybe it’s coincidence, but the wall-o-boxes stadiums are regarded as among the most tepid environments in their respective leagues. I believe that a fan’s visual experience contributes a lot to how passionate they get. If a fan is staring at empty seats or a bunch of glass windows, it deadens the atmosphere.

    I only went to Candlestick Park once, but I thought it was great. I get why the media people would hate it. For fans the seats were close and the restrooms, concessions and concourse (at least the upper, where I was) were adequate or better. The only big complaint was how slow the busses were leaving the game.

  4. Yeah it does seem to improve the overall view for upper deck fans to have an arrangement like this even if visually it just seem… off. It would be interesting to see what a baseball equivalent of one of these “tower” stadiums would look like. Closest I think we’ve got so far is still Jacob’s Field from the mid-90’s with it’s second deck being deleted in favor of a wall of suites on the 3rd base line. But nothing where part of the upper deck was removed to make for a better overall upper deck.

  5. Dan,

    In baseball it’s tougher. In football & basketball most people consider the best seats to be along the sidelines. In baseball the best seats are between the dugouts. There’s only one stretch between the dugouts and two sidelines. Having two primo areas allows a stadium to split the boxes and seats.

  6. Neil, I attended a game at Red Bull Arena last summer, and I have to say that while it was comfortable and modern, the atmosphere was unimpressive. There’s no way that devoting an entire flank of a stadium to luxury boxes and the press section (which takes up two primo sections field side) can do anything but mute the atmosphere. It’s possible that the story is different with football, but the crowd dynamics between the two sports are very different (crucially, there’s no amplified music during soccer games).

    I think luxury boxes are the bane of modern stadia, but you’re already tilting at pretty big windmills on this site so I can understand your willingness to accept them.

  7. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I think that suites do horrible things to stadium and arena design priorities. (And are largely a creation of tax policy, which could easily be reversed.) But if you’re going to have them, I marginally prefer having to look at them to having to look over them. Red Bull may not be the best soccer arena, but it would be even worse if the entire upper deck were 30 feet higher.

    I don’t know how you’d translate it to baseball, though. Putting all the suites on the third-base side, say, with no upper deck there, would be beyond ugly.

  8. Closest analogue I can think of in baseball is Mt Davis (since the top of it has never really been part of the “baseball park”). And it’s beyond ugly and is often used alone as justification of why the A’s need a new park.

  9. @Ben Miller – The wall of boxes actually makes the Boca Juniors’ La Bombonera stadium one of the better stadiums in Argentine football.

    Granted the wall of boxes was put in due to space concerns more than trying to figure out how to put luxury boxes in. It can be done though without impacting the stadium.

  10. Yeah Mexican Liga MX soccer teams are getting in on the wall of suites thing too. Estadio Caliente in Tijuana features a growing wall of suites on one side. Though unlike the emerging American idea of putting them on one side and the rest of us on the other, they’re just putting suites on both sides and the peons in the end line areas (where they prefer to be anyway to intimidate opposing goalies).


  11. Granted, a “Wall of Suites” may be a good investment and good idea, but not so in a earthquake prone area. Worst yet, a earthquake could end up hitting the Santa Clara area hard and the western wall could topple. Everybody remembers what happened in Anaheim during the 1994 Northridge quake, and that was severe damage on the outfield side of the stadium.

  12. Its Funny everyone calls Candlestick a Dump, I’ve never been inside just drove around it but when the non suite fans se the new rules and prices,of a new stadium they will bewishing they still had the stick. I can attest being i live in Nj and have dealt with New NYY and Met Life give me the old ones back anyday!!!!

  13. Shawn, as someone who went to the Stick several times a year… it was a dump. An unsafe dump. Jessy is talking about collapsing stadiums, Candlestick likely would have collapsed in the next big one. Levis on the other hand is engineered to ride out an earthquake like all new construction in CA.

  14. The Stick was a Solid Concrete Fortress, that withstood the 1989 Earthquake during the World Series! And how Mark Purdy, at the San Jose Mercury News can compare a 53 year old Stadium (Candlestick), to a brand new Stadium Levi’s), is beyond me. Purdy’s bias against all things San Francisco shows more, & more, year in & year out! Aren’t Journalist supposed to remain neutral in all issues???….Smh.

  15. Seconded, as someone who watched a decent amount of Giants and 49ers games there, it was a dump on the inside.

  16. Truth, Candlestick survived a 6.9 Earthquake that had its epicenter over 60 miles away… just barely. As it is big chunks of concrete the size of basketballs broke off the then not so old girl and large separations opened up between at least two different sections. The damage was bad enough that they contemplated moving Game 3 of the World Series back across the Bay to Oakland and the Coliseum. And that was 25 years ago. If a big one ever hit near the city today I question whether the old girl would still be standing.

    And it’s natural for Purdy to be making comparisons between Candlestick and Levis. They’re both home to the Niners. When new parks open invariably the local media compare the two venues pluses and minuses. They did the same thing with Candlestick itself when the Giants moved out 13 years ago. Also if you think the press have ever been neutral I don’t know what to tell you…

  17. Dan, I’ve never heard a convincing anwser to why Santa Clara had to step up and solve the 49ers stadium problem. Candlestick may have been an “old girl” but at least it wasn’t costing SF any, or much, money. You can bet Purdy’s Mercury will be weighing pro and cons of both venues without looking at the larger financial impact to the cities.

  18. I’m sure Fortune 500 execs are constantly comparing their new 28yr old trophy wife with their 58yr old ex too. It doesn’t actually mean anything… other than that old assets are valued less in today’s society than newer ones.

    Like every stadium or building of any kind, Candlestick was built to the standard of it’s day (and believe it or not, it was way better than the facility the Giants left behind). That it is no longer “current” should not be a surprise. It may not survive another 6.9 earthquake, but then, a number of it’s contemporaries (buildings, not stadia) didn’t survive even one.

    It appears as though the building of the new facility will not negatively impact Santa Clara finances (which was a major risk when the deal was announced) in any significant way, so really everyone should be happy (ish).

    But that could never happen…

  19. Dan, first those words were not mine, they belong to our local CBS Affiliate KPIX, who did a piece on the Stick, called Bye, Bye Baby
    Secondly, the Stick was originally built for Baseball, and is the “only” all Concrete Stadium in existence. It was built to withstand an Earthquake, in SF.
    And yeah, you can compare the Stick with Levi’s, but its really apples & oranges…There is NO comparisons with a 53 year old Stadium built initially for Baseball…
    And Purdy is nothing but a Brown Nose for the 49er organization, disguised as a Journalist.

  20. Neil; I’m wondering why you say the upper deck seats in modern stadia are “terrible”?

    I know that wedging in suites does move the upper deck higher, but surely that’s an issue mainly for those who would have been in the first 8-10 rows only? I actually like to be a little higher up to get a better angle on the field when watching football or soccer… and the low angle camera positions in many newer stadia drive me nuts when watching on tv… you can’t see the plays develop because they put the camera spots too low…

    That aside, Isn’t it modern building and fire safety standards that have essentially forced designers to include more ‘unused’ space (and the fact that people are just bigger than they used to be) in modern stadia that has made the most difference?

  21. It’s an issue for anyone in the upper deck — if the people in the first ten rows are pushed back, then the people who would have been in rows 11-20 are displaced as well. And it’s even worse if there’s a gap left so that people on the concessions concourses can see the field (or some sliver of it) while buying hot dogs.

    As for modern building and fire safety standards, I’d say that’s almost entirely not the problem. Stadiums like PNC Park in Pittsburgh, with minimal luxury seating, have perfectly acceptable upper decks. It’s wedging in all the suites, and then refusing to cantilever the upper decks over them because OH MY GOD THE RICH PEOPLE MIGHT BE IN SHADOW, that is the main cause of sports architecture bloat.

  22. Ok… I didn’t realize that they weren’t cantilevering the upper decks much anymore. That would definitely put you further away (not just higher). I do know that happened with new Comiskey in Chicago and people were upset….

    Why do rich people not want to be out of the rain?

    As for the knock on effect of suites, though, a person who used to sit in row 15 of the upper deck could just spend more to get to row 5 and have approximately the same view… just not for the same money.

    We’ll have to agree to disagree on the building standards changes… it’s my view that a much higher percentage of overall stadium space is taken up with stairwells, escape routes and the like than used to be the case.

  23. Ok… I didn’t realize that they weren’t cantilevering the upper decks much anymore.

    In general they aren’t but there’s always exceptions. PETCO Park in San Diego is one I can think of off hand. She has some major cantilevering putting about 2/5ths first deck under the second deck, which itself is about 1/3rd under the upper deck. All of the suites are thus very much in the shade (other than the ones on the light towers and in the Western Metal Building.) But to do so they had to really over-engineer the place. The support structures holding up the upper decks are some of the beefiest I’ve ever seen at a stadium. Other similar aged ballparks I’ve been to in ATL and SF seem positively spindly by comparison.

  24. Dan:

    That is probably because you see “all” the supports when cantilevering is included (IE: one, in the extreme, support holds up an entire section). When cantilevering is not heavily employed, there are generally more support columns/apparatus in use, many of which may not be immediately obvious or visible to the spectator.

    I can’t tell you that the UD supports in PETCO aren’t over engineered (never been there), but the fact that the visible ones are larger than those in other stadia isn’t necessarily proof that they are understressed.