Super Bowl 50 was supposed to be a chance to show off Levi's Stadium. Instead, Super Bowl attendees will walk into a two-year-old stadium that is widely hated by San Francisco 49ers fans, while NFL, stadium and city planners grit their teeth and hope for the best.
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It wasn't supposed to be this way. Back in the heady days of 2012, it was pitched as AT&T Park to the south, a dazzling new theater to showcase all that's best about the Bay Area. It hasn't worked out that way.
There are caveats, of course. Anything would feel corporate and sterile after damp, windy, beer-soaked, championship-bedecked Candlestick. The 49ers are far from the first team to move to the suburbs. And Levi's does have a lot of state-of-the-art amenities: wifi, good food. If your benchmark for judging a stadium is whether it's better than the old one, then Levi's Stadium largely succeeds.
But man, what a disappointment. Shall we count the ways?
There's the screwed-up turf. There's the fact that half the $1.3 billion stadium is positioned such that anyone sitting there stands a good chance of being baked to death beneath the Santa Clara sun. There's the humdrum reality of having a stadium an hour's drive south of the city its team is named for. There's the traffic -- oh, the traffic -- that turns 101 and 280 into parking lots. There's the fact that the actual parking lots around the stadium are somehow worse, fewer and more expensive than Candlestick's to the point that the stadium had to buy overflow parking spots from the neighboring Great America. The scoreboards blind pilots flying into San Jose International.
"I am never going to be able to please everyone in this room, much less the 70,000 people in the stadium," the 49ers' vice president of stadium operations and security said during a 2014 town hall. "I may never be able to please you, and for that I am sorry."
At times, 49ers CEO Jed York and the rest of the Niners' leadership have seemed almost pathologically committed to alienating fans. This week, Levi's Stadium made some non-Super Bowl news: the stadium canceled an upcoming Girl Scouts sleepover to hold a more profitable concert instead. From the San Jose Mercury News:
The Niners previously had signed a contract to host Girl Scouts from across Northern California as a reward for the girls who sell the most cookies during the fundraising sales season that began this week. The girls would be able to run through the stadium tunnel and burst through a banner like the players, hang out with 49ers cheerleaders, the mascot and the team band, watch movies and eat pizza on the 50 yard line and see their names on the Levi's Stadium big screen in May.
Instead, the 49ers canceled on the Girl Scouts -- on the Girl Scouts, who were there to celebrate selling cookies -- in favor of the not-yet-announced concert, which "would allow the team to sell thousands of tickets, parking permits and concessions." It's not even the first PR head-scratcher of 2016: in January, the team was sued by a disabled man who was kicked out of the stadium with his service dog in November. A local youth soccer league is also suing after its fields were seized by the NFL for Super Bowl broadcasts.
Then there are the fan incidents, which have solidified an image of Levi's Stadium as an unpleasant, if not outright dangerous, place to watch football. The 2015 season began with a Vikings fan being beaten in the parking lot while a group of Niners fans looked on. In 2014, another fan was beaten in a men's room, leaving him with severe brain damage.
And it hasn't helped that the 49ers -- back-to-back-to-back division champs the first time they took the field at Levi's and seemingly on the cusp of a new dynasty -- imploded. Jim Harbaugh was fired, Colin Kaepernick regressed to the mean and most everybody else left. San Francisco fans, so happily accustomed to ticker tape championship parades these days, spent this year watching a grim 5-11 season unfold, and they have been something markedly less than optimistic about the hiring of Chip Kelly.
That burial ground they considered building a parking lot on top of? Totally inconsequential. Definitely.
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