First Santa Clara 49ers game reviews: Great food, try not to die from heat

I’m on wonky internet in an undisclosed location, but here are the top headlines from Sunday’s first-ever San Francisco 49ers game at their new stadium in Santa Clara:

So, new 49ers stadium overall report: Great place to eat and go to the bathroom, not impossible to get to if you leave enough time, don’t stay in your seats to watch the game on a sunny day or you’ll maybe die. I think in headlinese that qualifies as “mixed reviews.”

 

49ers open new stadium, unleash traffic nightmare

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.”

That’s good!

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.

That’s actually pretty awful!

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…

 

Goodell floats Raiders move to Santa Clara, but 49ers fans’ PSL rights could be stumbling block

The San Francisco 49ers‘ new Santa Clara stadium had its ribbon-cutting yesterday, and according to Levi’s CEO Chip Bergh, whose company bought the naming rights to the place, it is “the most amazing stadium on the face of the planet.” Though, according to SF Gate’s Ann Killion, all NFL stadiums “are big, impersonal, infrequently used and tend to be the same, depending on what era they were built in,” so maybe Bergh is grading on a curve here.

In any event, the stadium opening was slightly overshadowed by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s suggestion that the Oakland Raiders might want to consider moving in there as well if stadium talks in Oakland go poorly:

“They have to make that determination, whether they’re in a new stadium in Oakland or whether they feel that it’s best to join this stadium,” Goodell said, according to the Bay Area Sports Guy, who tweeted the commissioner’s remarks. “We’re working on that, and that’s one of the decisions they’ll have to make.”

Rattling move-threat sabers is, needless to say, Goodell’s job. And the 49ers owners have been open to renting to the Raiders if need be. Yet as the San Jose Mercury News’ Tim Kawakami points out, there could be a major stumbling block to the Raiders and 49ers sharing digs: the stadium builders licenses (aka personal seat licenses) that the 49ers sold, for anywhere from $2,000 to $80,000 per seat, to raise $500 million toward construction.

Part of the agreement is that SBL-holders have first dibs on most other events at the stadium…. There is no way the Raiders would agree to 49ers SBL-holders getting first look at their tickets.

Even if they did, the 49ers wouldn’t want to share any % of their precious SBL cash with the Raiders.

That’s a problem on two counts. First off, since SBLs have already been sold, the Raiders would be missing out on a source of cash that the team could otherwise collect at its own new stadium. On top of that, though, if the Raiders then sold tickets without requiring their own PSL purchases, 49ers seat license holders could scream bloody murder about being forced to put up tens of thousands of dollars for seats while Raiders fans paid nothing, and even potentially file lawsuits over the inequity. Kawakami says NFL sources have “muttered” about this problem previously, and that “nobody has a good answer for it, not practically.”

Kawakami doesn’t mention it, but this is a potential stumbling block with any proposed move of the A’s to San Francisco’s AT&T Park, which the Giants similarly sold PSLs, though only on the 15,000 priciest seats. Giants “charter seat license” holders likewise have dibs on buying tickets to other events at the stadium, which could cause major problems in the event of an A’s move. Not that the A’s are likely to move, or the Giants to okay it without usurious lease terms, but it’s an important reminder that there’s more to relocating a team than just saying, “Hey, look, that stadium is empty part of the time, let’s set up there!”

UPDATE: A 49ers SBL holder has posted language that seems to indicate that the 49ers accounted for this problem by omitting “other NFL games” from SBL rights — see comments.

Building 49ers stadium creating “stadium effect,” say people who want more things built

And let’s see what’s in the papers today … hello, Oakland Tribune:

‘Stadium effect’ expected to spur office, retail, hotel development

That’s today’s headline about the new San Francisco 49ers stadium in Santa Clara, and is surprising, to say the least, given that pretty much any economist could tell you that an NFL stadium that’s dark 355 [EDIT: or 345 or 350 or whatever; see comments below] days a year is not going to encourage anyone to build much of anything nearby. (Or as the University of Chicago’s Allen Sanderson memorably put it, “There are only two things you do not want on a valuable piece of real estate. One is a cemetery, and the other is a football stadium.”) But the Tribune reports that “roughly $3 billion worth of office buildings, retail centers, hotels and residences are under construction or on the drawing boards in the vicinity of the stadium,” and that can only be because—

To be sure, some of that development would have occurred anyway because of the technology boom that has been underway for the past three years.

Okay, but really it’s because of the stadium, according to—

developers, realty executives and analysts say a considerable amount of the new activity is due to what they call the “stadium effect.”

“Developers and realty executives,” huh? What do economists, planning officials, or really anyone without a vested interest have to say about the cause of the planned developments? Reading the article all the way through … nothing. Oakland Tribune? Are you there? Are your emailing fingers broken? Hello?

Latest 49ers threat: Send parking, or we’ll kill Joe Montana’s hotel

The San Francisco 49ers‘ under-construction stadium in Santa Clara has been a reasonable deal for the public in some ways, but the whole bit about football fans needing a place to park their cars hasn’t worked out quite as smoothly. And now it may be setting some kind of record for roughness, as the Niners’ parking needs are threatening to put the kibosh on a hotel/retail/office complex being developed by, seriously, Joe Montana:

Under terms of the 2012 stadium deal, the 49ers are entitled to 789 parking spots on land where Montana’s company intends to build a hotel, stores and office space. The site is just across the street from the stadium.

“Their position has been that unless we find other parking acceptable to them, they may not allow the project to go forward,” said City Manager Julio Fuentes.

Just sharing parking spaces with the development won’t do, the team says. Niners President Larry MacNeil told city officials in a letter Feb. 10 that if Montana’s $400 million project goes ahead, Santa Clara needs to come up with 8.5 acres of replacement parking free of charge.

So far, the team has rejected most of 4,000 spaces that the city has proposed as too distant, too waterlogged or beset by other problems.

This is all part of the game of chicken the 49ers are playing with Santa Clara over parking, and will probably get worked out in the end. Still, even the prospect of a 49ers stadium not only not spurring local development, but actually preventing development being pursued by the team’s greatest player ever, stretches irony to the breaking point.

49ers renege on youth soccer field promise unless they get more parking

The Santa Clara stadium for the San Francisco 49ers may be going well in most respects, but at least there’s something for residents to be legitimately upset about:

After the San Francisco 49ers rallied support for their new stadium by promising to pay for new youth soccer fields, the NFL team isn’t following through with its part of the deal — and taxpayers will be left footing the multimillion dollar bill…

Jed York, owner of the 49ers, told the soccer league in a letter two years ago that the team would fund replacement fields. But the team’s front office shocked the soccer league last week by telling them the Niners had abandoned those plans.

“You feel betrayed or lied to,” said Matt Heintz, president of the 1,500-member Santa Clara Youth Soccer League, which had supported the new stadium that voters approved public financing for in 2010. “It sounds like they got what they wanted, they got the stadium built — and pushed us aside, brushed us under the rug.”

The current youth soccer fields won’t be usable during football season because of 49ers fan traffic, and the cost of just studying how to build new fields is estimated to be about $2 million. (The cost of actually acquiring and building the fields is unknown.) Mayor Jamie Matthews claims that the project won’t use general fund money, but it’s tough to say how he knows this, since he doesn’t even know how much it will cost, let alone how it will be paid for.
I was puzzling over why the 49ers are suddenly drawing a line in a sand over this issue — even if the cost turns out to be several million dollars, that’s a rounding error on a billion-dollar-plus project — until I got to the last paragraph of the Mercury News article:

But last week one of York’s vice presidents in the front office said in a letter to the soccer league that the local school fields they had looked into upgrading are “no longer available.” It said now the 49ers would only fund replacement fields if the soccer league was willing to give up its prized soccer park to the Niners to use for VIP stadium parking.

So from the sound of it, this is less the 49ers owners inexplicably backing away from a commitment, and more them suddenly demanding a land swap in exchange because as we know, they’re desperate for parking. Which is still backing out of a promise, but at least it’s explicable.

49ers PSLs nearing sellout, everybody can breathe easier about stadium debt

You can upgrade the San Francisco 49ers‘ seat-license sales count from “most of them” to “pretty much all of them“:

The team disclosed late Friday it has sold more than 95 percent of the seat licenses at the nearly 70,000-capacity Levi’s Stadium — up from 75 percent a year ago and 50 percent a year and a half ago. The seat licenses, which are new for the 49ers, cost $2,000 to $80,000 apiece and give fans the right to buy season tickets.

The total value of the purchased seats is believed to be roughly half a billion dollars, which Santa Clara uses to help pay for the $1.3 billion stadium, though most of the cash will be paid over time in installments.

As we’ve covered before, the healthy PSL sales mean that pretty much everyone is going to come out looking okay from the 49ers stadium deal: Santa Clara doesn’t have to worry about repaying its stadium debt, while the 49ers are reportedly set to make money hand over fist. (Federal taxpayers have to take the hit from that $120 million tax subsidy for the PSLs, but that’s the IRS’s problem for not closing that loophole. Or Congress’s, I guess.) We finally have a model for a successful stadium project, then: Build it in a market where you have a fan base rabid and rich enough that they’re willing to pay anything for a chance to buy tickets, and where naming-rights fees run into the eight digits, and you’re all set. Too bad everybody can’t play in the Bay Area

49ers agree to share parking boodle with local lot owners, may avoid MNF ban

Remember how the San Francisco 49ers weren’t going to be able to play any weeknight home games because they didn’t have enough parking? Problem solved, says the San Jose Mercury News:

The Niners now are close to locking down 31,500 total parking spots within walking distance of 69,000-seat Levi’s Stadium by the time it opens in August. That’s a 50 percent jump from the plan voters approved years ago and a 66 percent increase over infamously jam-packed Candlestick Park.

That “close to” is a tad worrisome — it looks like the only source for this claim is the 49ers themselves — but if it can be believed, it sounds like the 49ers threw enough parking money around that local business owners (and a city-owned but privately operated golf course) decided it would be worth their while to set aside spots for football fans. So yay, capitalism works in this case, and the NFL schedule makers don’t have to jump through hoops. And 49ers fans only have to pay $40 for parking, which is I guess what football fans pay for parking these days? I’m starting to understand why they’d rather stay home and watch on TV.

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.

49ers forgot that people drive to work on weekdays, can’t accommodate any Monday Night Football

That $1.3 billion San Francisco 49ers stadium has a small problem, it turns out:

The Niners have always counted on neighboring businesses and other outfits to provide 21,000 parking spaces on game days for fans at Levi’s Stadium.

That will work fine on Sundays, when no one’s toiling away at those businesses. It will be a different story, however, if 68,500 fans converge for a 5:30 p.m. kickoff and all those lots are full of employees’ cars.

The upshot: No Monday night (or Thursday night) football for the team’s inaugural season in Santa Clara next year, and maybe not after that, either.

“It’s a busy area. We are still formulating all of our parking,” said Santa Clara City Councilwoman Lisa Gillmor, who also sits on the stadium authority.

“Formulating” here seems to mean “begging local employers to rent them more spots, and so far coming up empty.” It’s not a disaster for the 49ers if they’re shut out of MNF — ESPN’s TV rights money goes into the general league pool, so the 49ers don’t see any direct loss of revenue from not being able to play on Monday nights. Still, it’s a loss of marketing ability, not to mention kind of an embarrassment to the team and the league not to be able to showcase its newest stadium and its groundbreaking wifi network. Something’s going to have to give here eventually, but it’s not clear yet what it’ll be.