Levi’s Stadium: A nice place where football happens to be played

Friday’s high school doubleheader was an opportunity to showcase Levi’s Stadium to the public with a much cheaper cost of admission. Tickets were $20 for adults, $5 for students. Plus you got two games for the price of one, the first matchup kicking off at 5. I got to the stadium at 4. Temperature was 70 degrees in the stadium, with the sun ready to set behind the suite tower. Somehow the weekend avoided the “roasting” temperatures felt during earlier games, which is too bad. I was looking forward to experiencing it, seriously.

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The tour on Wednesday didn’t allow me to traverse the big seating bowl opposite the suite tower. The games on Friday did, though not without their own limitations. Seats were sold as General Admission, which meant that fans could sit in any section that was open. Initially, that meant sections 110-119 along the east sideline, which includes club section at midfield (although the clubs themselves weren’t open). Stairs to the second seating deck were roped off. The entire southern concourse after section 120 was barricaded, which meant that fans entered through Gates A & F on the north side. That’s not really a problem considering the expected turnout at the event, which was at most 12,000. Eventually additional sections were opened towards the north end zone.

Ironically, although the lower concourse is the widest and most open of any in the NFL, the stadium is not set up for fans to walk around completely around the concourse, since every public space on the west side suite tower is some sort of limited access or VIP area.

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Still, the lower concourse is enormous, as much as 150′ wide in some spots. It serves both “halves” of what the 49ers call the lower bowl, which is just a marketing gimmick. The 49ers call the first two decks the largest “lower bowl” in the NFL with over 45,000 seats. Only in the NFL can this go unchecked. I suppose they can get away with this because along the non-tower bowl, there is no publicly-accessible mezzanine concourse, only a level of suites. It’s a cheat, and only someone pedantic about such things (like me) will notice. It’s a cheat nonetheless.

The concourse is split in two, similar to the layout at Columbus’ AAA Huntington Park, except doubled in size. There’s the drink rail standing and wheelchair row area, then 60 feet of mostly unobstructed, walkable concourse, then another 60 feet of concessions and restroom facilities, and then another 30 feet of concourse on the exterior of the stadium. Concession stands are on both sides, while entrances to the restrooms are mostly in the alleys. It would all be a nightmare in terms of missing huge portions of the game, if it wasn’t for the 49ers placing great faith in the ability for fans to order food with their smartphones and pick them up in 5 minutes at an express lane. There’s even a $5 delivery charge if you don’t want to walk up to the concourse. The service was available during the doubleheader, but I wasn’t going to try it because the stadium was charging full priced concessions for a high school game. Come on, Santa Clara and the 49ers. Give fans a break. When I went to Dodger Stadium for the LA baseball championships two years ago, they sold hot dogs and popcorn at a cut rate, basically at cost. You’re already making bank off the NFL games and numerous other events guy, no need to gouge for this one. This is a CIF event, not a NFL event.

As I walked back and forth along the concourse several times, something about the paint and textures and fonts struck me. I couldn’t put a finger on it at first, then I understood immediately what it was. Take a look at the picture below for a few seconds, and figure out what’s missing.


We see:

  • Bright red and stark white columns providing contrast
  • A well-lit, easy-to-read description of the stand’s offering with no branding
  • Wayfinding signs
  • A pleasant picture of a marina (South Beach?) on the upper wall
  • A small Verizon logo in the distance

What’s missing? A 49ers logo. The only thing in this picture that might lead someone to believe that this is the home of the 49ers is the gold in the way finding sign, itself distinctly labeled “Levi’s® Stadium.” There’s no SF or 49ers logo, no vinyl poster of a great past 49er, no electronic signage for the team or anything else. Sure, during the game some of the screens will show the game. Other signs along the concourse are emblazoned with the Levi’s Stadium logo. Some of the wayfinding signs point to the locations of the 49ers Team Store, but that’s it. It feels like the 49ers’ branding is being suppressed in favor of Levi’s, which is strange. It’s not like there’s a Levi’s Outlet store in the stadium. Levi’s and the 49ers aren’t competing for anything, they’re partners. Yet the naming rights sponsor is definitely getting the higher profile. Perhaps the idea is to separate the branding between on-field and off-field, but even then it’s somewhat skimpy. I counted five 49ers logos – two in opposite corners along the field walls, one flag each in the north and south ends above the stadium, and one large logo at midfield below the east bank of lights. That midfield logo is in line with the rest of the non-Levi’s founding sponsors for the stadium, including Brocade, Yahoo! and United Airlines. That’s it. That nice marina graphic is matched by pictures of redwoods, SF row houses, the signature Bay Area bridges, and the Lone Cypress along 17 Mile Drive. It’s all very nice and pan-NorCal, as if people really cared much about being pan-NorCal. Celebrating the team and its previous exploits is for those who visit the museum, a relative rarity among NFL stadia. While the museum can be appreciated, it’s not necessary to create this weird church-and-state separation. The vast majority of major events that will be held at Levi’s will be 49er games. No need to hide it.


Seats on rails, padded seats for the more privileged

How’s the stadium as a football venue? Pretty darned good. I ended up sitting in Row 4 near the 25 yard line, thanks to the Santa Clara High School band vacating their bank of seats. With only one-sixth of the stadium open there was no opportunity to walk up to the upper deck and check out the very last row to see what it was like compared to Mt. Davis. From my calculations the highest seat up there is 295′ by line-of-sight to midfield at the near sideline, compared to 334′ at Mt. Davis. Either is much further than the top of 317 at the Coliseum. The seating bowl is extremely swept back, with little in the way of overhangs. That makes the bowl less vertical than some others, about 20 feet better than in Cincinnati, Baltimore, or Philadelphia, whose multiple suite levels contribute to a greater overall viewing distance. Sweeping the bowl back so far helps create the massive concourse area. The approach wouldn’t be practical in a domed stadium, where architects usually try to conserve on overall footprint to reduce construction cost and keep operating expenses like air conditioning in check.

I was right next to the midfield club seats, which were served by one of the two BNY Mellon clubs. The club seats were nicely padded and high backed, my seat was not. Like AT&T Stadium in Dallas, the seats were mounted on rails, which allows the team to add and remove seats at their discretion. The system was devised by Camatic of Australia, the seat surfaces built in Hayward.

The place doesn’t feel cheap. It feels very precise. As the sun set and the stadium lights took over, I was astonished at how bright the place was. Without having any measurements, it looked much brighter and intense than the ‘Stick, Coliseum, or Stanford. The reflections off the skyboxes lent the suite tower a shiny, jewel-like appearance. Few suite holders were on hand to watch the festivities. Only a handful of people sat near the field on that side, making the SAP Tower look like an exclusive mall that was closed to the poor plebes. Go to a 49er game or the upcoming Cal-Oregon matchup to experience that.

Every column is double and triple supported by I-beams and diagonal tubes, playing up the “erector set” look.

We get it, it's earthquake country

We get it, it’s earthquake country

The scoreboards are labeled Sony, but we know that they come from South Dakota’s Daktronics, as Sony has vacated the LED display and scoreboard market since pioneering the CRT-based Jumbotron decades ago. They work as advertised, providing live feeds and replays, a huge sponsor panel on the left (the event the sponsor was Black Bear Diner), and a minimalistic score panel on the right. That panel showed score and time, but not down and distance. If you wanted to see that you had to look at the ribbon board at midfield, a constantly frustrating routine. Thankfully there’s only one ribbon board along the fascia of the upper part of the lower bowl (see how that falls apart?). There’s certainly potential for another ribbon board about the suites if the 49ers wanted to install one there.

The lack of another along the upper fascia highlights yet another omission: there’s no Ring of Honor. At the ‘Stick the Ring of Honor was painted under the vestigial roof rimming the upper deck. It didn’t carry over. The old roof rim wasn’t the most ideal place to put such a feature, but they did it and it worked. Now there’s nothing. I expect that the team will introduce something over time, having a great ceremony for each unveiling over then next few years. Yet again it’s another example of the 49ers’ brand being strangely muted or suppressed. It makes little sense. As someone from another team once said, “We’re not selling jeans here.” Oh, I guess we are.

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With the crowd expected to be only a fraction of a pro football crowd, there were no special trains running to the stadium. Tasman Drive north of the stadium was not closed off. All in all it seemed like a typical Friday afternoon near Great America, with a good deal of the usual commute traffic but little gridlock except for the arteries leading away from the stadium before the game. The parking charge was $15 in only the nearest lots to the stadium. It would’ve been easy to scope out free parking if I was interested. I took light rail with a $4, 8-hour pass. Understandably, this is not comparable to the gameday problems many have experienced at games. However, the second game involved two teams from the Sacramento area – Jesuit of Carmichael and Elk Grove. I asked fans of both teams about their experiences coming driving to Santa Clara on a Friday night. All of them said that traffic was not an issue, the trip took about two hours, and for those who were also 49er fans, generally better than the area traffic for 49er games. I noticed that the same bag restrictions employed for NFL games were in effect for the doubleheader. That strikes me as a venue policy, not just an event policy. We weren’t allowed backpacks during the tour either.

In the effort to attract as many diverse types of events as possible, it feels that the image of the 49ers has been subsumed at Levi’s Stadium. It doesn’t need to be all rah-rah, gag-me-with-legacy tributes like many ballparks, but it shouldn’t be barely evident. The 49ers and Levi’s have time to achieve that better balance. Perhaps that will happen after Super Bowl 50, which isn’t scheduled for another 16 months. The NFL has a tendency to exercise tight control over potential Super Bowl venues. Personally, I’m much more a Levi’s fan than a 49ers fan and this is out of whack. Levi’s Stadium is the home of the 49ers, now and into the foreseeable future. It should act like it’s the home of the 49ers, not merely a place where 49er games are occasionally played.

37 thoughts on “Levi’s Stadium: A nice place where football happens to be played

  1. I was hoping for something akin to the Great Hall in new Yankee Stadium; something impressive yet understated about the team’s legacy.

  2. The more I see of Levis Stadium the less impressed I am with what the Niners got on their investment. Sure it’s not a bad venue, but it just seems so damned sterile outside the confines of that suite tower. No Niners branding, no color, no architectural touches. It’s just a giant white erector set. The rail seats don’t do anything dissuade that feeling either. The whole place looks like you could just pack it up and ship it somewhere else in a few weeks. Even for a football stadium it just seems so bland. Particularly when the Niners just left one of the most character filled (if flawed) stadiums in the league. Not saying it’s not a huge improvement for the Niners, and far better than what the Raiders are stuck with, but it sure feels like the Niners should have got more for their and Santa Clara’s dime than they did. I mean take a look at what the Quakes are getting just down the road, and it sure looks like someone got a good return on investment down in San Jose by comparison and the place isn’t even complete yet.

    I said it in the last thread and I’ll say it again here. I’ve been to a few NFL venues, less than I have MLB to be sure, but of the ones I’ve been to Centurylink Field is head and shoulders above the others. It feels like it was built with even little things paid attention to, not all the touches put in a giant office building on the west side like Levis appears to have been. I’m actually very interested to compare all the west coast NFL venues with the Patriots’ Gillette Stadium when I go there in December.

    • NFL stadiums rarely have any architectural elements of any real note. This is a league that came of age during some of the worst times for architecture in the US.

      • When thinking back to the times when many NFL teams played in old baseball stadiums, or old college stadiums, visually it looked cool on TV: The Bears in Wrigley, Eagles at Franklin stadium, the home of Penn, Giants at the old pre-remodel Yankee Stadium. Then the old AFL had the Patriots playing at Fenway, and Broncos at the pre-expanded Mile High, home of the minor league Denver Bears. The building of the doughnuts in the late 60’s and 70’s, so that both football and baseball could be played, ushered in “ugly” regarding stadiums. At least the retro baseball parks look something like old baseball stadiums, but the new football stadiums are just plain ugly, with no character whatsoever.

    • Stadiums are places to watch games for a few hours. All anyone needs is a seat and some concessions to buy food and drink. Fancy stadiums are just a waste of money, and suites just cowtowing to the rich. And it galls me that the 49ers even went to the South Bay (a 49ers museum in Santa Clara? Really?), because if a new stadium was oh, so wanted by the Yorks, then Bay Meadows was available as a venue in 2007 when the race track closed, and it would have been perfect, as in right in the middle of the San Francisco Peninsula and half way between San Jose and San Francisco.
      Regarding Candlestick, there really wasn’t anything wrong with it. The weather for football season was good until late November and December when it gets colder. Parking and access was tough, but that would be expected at all ball parks, especially since football is a “tailgate” sport, which baseball isn’t. Still, I never understood why Cal Train wasn’t advertised as a way to get to the park, like the Giants advertise it for AT&T, with most people taking Cal Train and not driving to Giants games. The walk to and from is about the same distance for both parks, with a walk over the freeway bridge to get to Candlestick.
      Rehabilitating Candlestick would not have cost $1,000,000,00.00. If only Eddie De Bartolo hadn’t gotten in trouble, there’d have been either an upgraded, rehabilitated Candlestick, or a new stadium out on Hunter’s Point.

      • The walk from the Bayshore Caltrain Station to the outer edge of the Candlestick Parking lot is 1.1 miles. The walk from the 4th and King Caltrain Station to the actual gates of AT&T Park is 0.2 miles.

        You can’t just say things that are blatantly and objectively incorrect and expect to not get called out.

  3. re: Here’s the takeaway the #ColiseumCity news: If they are depending on a hedge fund to be the savior, the project is on its last legs. …Please elaborate, ML

  4. It’s interesting. I am thinking back to when I went to see Auburn play Clemson in the Georgia Dome. I don’t really remember a lot of Falcons propaganda spread throughout the joint.

    I do recall that the Cowboys Death Star in Arlington was chock full of the stuff. Cowboys, not Falcons. Is this more common than we would think? The under branding of the team? Who has been to enough NFL stadiums to comment? Not I for sure. I’ve been to 4 (only 3 for NFL games).

    • @jeff – Domes are a different animal due to their multipurpose nature. Outdoor stadia tend to have lots of tributes, save for MetLife. Heinz Field is great. Browns/FirstEnergy is good. CenturyLink is also good.

  5. yeah as much as i make fun of the midgets over-celebrating their history seems like the niners AND a’s under celebrate their history.

  6. I’ve only been to 7 NFL stadiums (AT&T Stadium, Metlife, Soldier Field, Fed Ex Field, O.Com, Candlestick, and Giant Stadium). Metlife was by the the most disappointing stadium of all of them. Its bland, overpriced, and the traffic was horrendous getting out of the stadium. Candlestick I am glad its gone, I hated that place and I hated the traffic even more.

    Fed Ex Field, has enough Skin gear throughout the stadium. I never found the stadium museum but I’ve always enjoyed my trips there. its more like a college game than an NFL game. DS is cheap when it comes to spending money on his parking lot. If it rains or snow expect to trudge thru mud to your vehicle. It does has one of the best highways systems around a sports venue that I have seen.

    Since I am a Cowboy fan I like Cowboy Stadium and yes you see enough Cowboy propaganda to know who’s stadium it is. The only negative things I have to say about Cowboy Stadium is the fact that other teams fans seem to be louder than Cowboy fans and the stripper poles need to go. Steelers and Bears crown noise come to mind since I have seen that first hand. JJ needs to flash some 12 Man signs to get the crowd pumped up during the game instead of using the jumbotron as one giant selfie.

    Chicago its great place to watch games in the fall, winter not so much with lake effect weather coming off Lake Michigan. O.Com lets just say when I do go every other year its in and out and I take the Bart to avoid the traffic. The only thing that makes it a great place to watch any game there (baseball or football) is the fans. I really can’t comment on Levi Stadium until December 28 when I see the Niners play the Cardinals.

  7. This stadium is ugly and has no character. It’s too bad that the 49ers didn’t invest money into rehabilitating Candlestick Park. Also, it’s just another stadium built on the dime of the taxpaying public. The Giants built their own stadium with their own money. And since this is a site about the A’s created by an obvious Giants hater, who thinks there’s going to be two new stadiums, one for the Raiders and one for the A’s, and that the Warriors aren’t going to move back to San Francisco, I have one sentence: dream on! People in Oakland are not going to want to pay for stadiums for more wealthy people from Danville to enjoy. That’s number one. Number two, the A’s would be smart to pack up and leave the area, as there’s a minor league ball park in Salt Lake City that could be expanded and it would be perfect for the A’s. They’d have no competition like they do now. Regarding the Raiders, LA is waiting for them to go back there, and why not? Heck, even Portland has petitioned for the Raiders to move there.
    In the end, Oakland, with no more than some 400,00 people, is going to get no major league teams, and rightly so. They are going to get payback with the Warriors moving back to the City, because they stole them from San Francisco in the first place in 1971, forcing them to drop San Francisco for Golden State (and I don’t recall that San Francisco forced the Raiders to change their name to San Francisco in 1960 and 1961 when they played at Kezar and Candlestick!). They are going to get payback for stealing the A’s from Kansas City. And when there are no more teams in Oakland, I, as a San Francisco fan, will be very happy.
    Wolf and Fisher can spend their own millions on getting a stadium built if they really wanted a new one!

    • At no point has ML ever indicated he believes that there will be 2 new stadiums and the Warriors will stay in Oakland. You’re just completely and totally making that up.

    • funny i didn’t know other bay area teams like the warriors and midgets were established here and not STOLEN from another city in these united states. wonder what fans from cities like nyc and phi had as their mlb and nab teams back pre 1960?

      the only teams that were “born” here locally from the very start of their existence were the niners, raiders, and sharks.

      also when hasn’t wolff said he would want public money to build his own park?

      seems like in your anti oakland and anti wolff tirade you forget facts and post crap that fits your own narrative.

      • correction wolff hasn’t said from what i’ve read over the years that he wants the public to pay for any sports venue he’s wants to build.

        did any public money go into building the earthquakes new soccer stadium which supposedly cost around 70 million to construct and will open next year.

        also the thought of the niners spending any money in “rehabbing” the stick is a joke. if the niners had stayed at the candlestick location they probably would’ve built levi’s stadium there instead of in santa clara.

      • @letsgoas: very typical of many Giants fans (the Giants owners 100% definitely) are very factually challenged.

    • Doesn’t the ENA expire tomorrow on Coliseum City?

    • Even though Kroenke (the Rams owners) is a Missouri native – they could be the front runners to LA – that team appears to be drawing poorly at St. Louis.

      Davis – one would believe – would be the only candidate for the AEG deal (what team would want to do that?) All the other possible teams, St. Louis, San Diego, Jacksonville – appear to be loaded with cash and would have no interested in the AEG deal. San Diego is likely better off staying at Qualcomm than moving to Farmers Field anyhow.

    • I am not sold on the Hollywood Park location at all. It’s not close to highways or rail (even once the Crenshaw/LAX Metro line is done).

      • When has that ever stopped LA from building a stadium?

      • It wasn’t an issue that was even on the radar last time a stadium was built in the Los Angeles area. That’s not the case today.

      • @SMG – It’s only an issue if it prevents an EIR from being certified.

      • I guess. Building a stadium (and presumably ancillary development) at the Hollywood Park site would still create the worst traffic mess any stadium has ever seen. But if they’re willing to deal with that, more power to them.

      • Hey not caring about traffic concerns worked for the Niners. It can work for an LA team too.

      • The transit conditions around Hollywood Park aren’t even comparable to those around Levi’s. In the former, you’re looking at no rail and over a mile to the nearest highway.

        Candlestick was comparably terrible for transit, but again, that all started in the 70s (for football) and transit planning was still severely lacking, to say the least.

        I’m not saying that the Hollywood Park option is dead because of poor access, just that any competent planner has serious issues to address regarding access to it.

      • Yeah, it’s always been a mess getting to the Forum. Quadrupling the amount of fans should make it really fun.

  8. I attended 49er game vrs Rams yesterday. I was disappointed by how tight the seats were. Several people in the section I was in were complaining about this. I am almost 6’4″. There also was not enough legroom to be comfortable.

    Why would the 49ers build a stadium with the same legroom as the older stadiums? One of the attendants told me that the distance between rows was different at the 50 yard line seats. If this is true, the 49ers are sending a bad message. I do not think you have to invest $80,000 in order to have a comfortable seat.The haves vrs the have not sections are really apparent.

    What is the average legroom between rows in stadiums and arenas? How did they conclude that was the optimal distance between rows? Does anybody know of newer stadiums or arenas where additional legroom is provided for all seats?

    Are the seats at Levis Stadium 19 or 20 inches? are there venues where the seats are larger than 20 inches?

    • @Randy – As I mentioned in the old thread – The standard used to be 30-33 inches per row. Now you’re more likely to see a 36-inch deep row. 19 or 20-inch wide seats are still the standard, though club seats are usually a few inches wider. The 49ers’ lower deck is 36 inches deep for most seats, not sure how much deeper the club seats are.

      • I was in section 301. There are only 8 rows in this section. It seemed to be tight. If 36 inches is now the industry standard, it is confusing to me to have any seat, in a new stadium, with less than 36 inches. Where do you get information on Levi Stadium that describes the row depth?

      • @Randy – I haven’t been to the upper levels so I can’t speak to that. I measured the depth of the risers on the lower level. The seats are different from other stadia in that they are on rails, so they are individually mounted, though I doubt that has any impact on comfort.

      • Thanks for the clarification. I would like to know what the dimensions are in the upper level. I hope when the A’s and the Raiders design their new stadiums, they will consider legroom and larger seats for ALL people who are in the seats. There is no reason to have people packed in like sardines.

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