I took my daughter to Levi’s Stadium yesterday to watch the 49ers for her Christmas gift. She had been impressed by Levi’s on TV and she thought it would be fun to see a game in person. So I took her to watch the 2-13 49ers, whose head coach and GM had been unofficially fired before the game. Good thing she doesn’t care about that stuff. We had a great time because we were together and we like watching sports. Simple enough.
However, the stadium…I love the Niners and have previously voiced my thoughts about Levi’s. Beautiful stadium, but missing key elements for a great football experience. As I wrote before last year’s Super Bowl:
…I hate the bells and whistles that take away from attention on the game. I took my Communication and Sport class on a tour of Levi’s in Fall 2014. Our tour guide took us through the suite tower while telling us about all the lounges: “And this is our Yahoo! Fantasy Football Lounge…so let’s say you’re at the game and you’re wondering how your fantasy football team is doing. You can come in here and watch all the other games and check out the ticker.” Why? Why would I pay $300 bucks for tickets and $50 for parking and $25 for a vegan BBQ jackfruit quinoa burger and then not watch the game? When you cater to those types of fans, you get a poor stadium experience for all the other fans and the home team.
So there’s that: the catering towards non-diehards, which should bring in more cash but doesn’t really help gameday atmosphere at all. I get it. Many stadiums do that. Levi’s took it to an extreme.
There’s something else though: the 49ers owners seem to be in the stadium business and not the football business. Case in point: when you buy an overpriced souvenir soda for $8, you get a “Levi’s Stadium” cup. Not a 49ers cup, not a 49ers-at-Levi’s-Stadium cup. A cup about the stadium.
Maybe this is just easier. They have so many events going on at the stadium that switching out 49ers cups for every concert, soccer match, and monster truck rally could be too much work.
But I think it’s symptomatic of the larger issue, which is that the Yorks looks at themselves as stadium proprietors who own a football team rather than football team owners who run a stadium.
The Niners stink right now. Would they be better if they were still playing at The Stick? I have no idea. What I do know is that the atmosphere would be better for a home football team, as well as most fans. More football-centric and less stadium-centric. I don’t think Jim Harbaugh was forced out because of Levi’s, but I think the mentality that built Levi’s as it is today is the same mentality that forced him out. Stadium first, football second.
Lest I sound like I am complaining too much, I am a stadium lover and I personally like having a Levi’s Stadium souvenir cup. Didn’t like paying 8 bucks for it, but I like items with a sense of place, and this is one of them. And I like that they have tried to add fun bells and whistles.
But I have to say that there should be more focus on the simple fan experience. This where you have to start when thinking about a stadium. First, can I get to the game easily, meaning is it affordable and are their good public transit options? Second, can I watch the game comfortably? Third, is it easy to get food, use the restroom, and generally get around?
The Yorks did not start here. Thoughts on this tomorrow.