The San Francisco 49ers‘ new stadium in Santa Clara had its soft opening on Saturday with a San Jose Earthquakes-Seattle Sounders soccer match, and things went anywhere from pretty okay to terrible, depending on who you ask:
“I never had a feeling of pride in my stadium, but I went to Candlestick because that’s how I was raised,” said Alexis Marina Kershner, 34, of San Francisco. “I learned how to tailgate by the time I was 6, out in the parking lot, where it was cold and it was windy and my hot dogs blew away.
“But coming here? This is like a whole new level. This makes me proud.”
The VTA’s 5:54 p.m. train headed north from San Jose’s Tamien station was 10 minutes late. And then the power went off near the stadium stop — killing the air-conditioning. With panic levels rising, the cry went up to open emergency windows. A police officer on the platform raced up and slammed one window in a woman’s face; he later apologized. One pregnant woman nearly passed out.
That’s a lot less good! But hopefully the trains won’t break down every time.
With a goal of arriving 90 to 120 minutes before the 7:30 game (actual kickoff was at 7:53 p.m.), I followed the instructions on my parking pass, optimistically turning onto Tasman, the road that leads to the stadium, a little before 6 p.m. and hit gridlock. Complete and total, Candlestick-esque stopped traffic. It took a full hour to go one mile. But at least I was able to get one of the last parking spots when I finally got to my lot – which those behind me in the jam weren’t able to do. They were turned away and sought street parking in neighborhoods miles from the stadium, exactly the scenario many Santa Clara residents were concerned about…
The wireless crashed in the press box, just as it used to regularly do at Candlestick, and the TVs went out for a long stretch. Some ticket buyers who had tried to use the Levi’s Stadium phone app to buy parking passes before the game were unsuccessful. The sound system was muddied and roundly panned.
The will-call windows and security lines were jammed before game time. Many unhappy women didn’t realize they couldn’t bring their purses in – an NFL rule but not an MLS rule – and had to turn around and go back to their cars. Some security screening was lax and some elevators weren’t working. The women’s bathrooms, in at least one location, ran out of toilet paper.
Now, the whole point of a soft opening is to discover and fix problems like these, and some (“Buy more toilet paper!”) are easily enough fixed. A muddy sound system at what’s supposed to be a state-of-the-art stadium isn’t good, though, and traffic gridlock and insufficient parking — this at a game that only had about two-thirds as many fans as will be present for a 49ers game — isn’t promising at all. At worst, it sounds like 49ers fans will have traded a painful drive to a 50-year-old stadium for a painful drive to a brand-new one, and even if the concessions are now crazy expensive (“Are they paying for this place with beer?” one fan asked aloud on Saturday), at least they won’t be paying for it with tax dollars, only with PSLs. Which might be something they can look at as an investment, partly, maybe.
Meanwhile, no word that I’ve seen on how the app to tell you the shortest bathroom lines is working out. I am honestly stunned that, in Silicon Valley, this wasn’t the headline, but maybe all the tech reporters are still stuck in traffic…