Yesterday saw the 49ers' very first game at their new home, Levi's Stadium, and if you had to pick one quote from a fan to summarize the tens of thousands of opinions out there, it'd be the one the Chronicle got from one season-ticket holder: "I live in San Francisco, so it's a little far. But this is really nice."
The real star of the preseason game was the shiny new Santa Clara stadium, touted as one of the most connected in the world, replete with the "NiNerds," a team of bowtie-clad tech experts to help fans navigate the dedicated mobile app that handles everything from ticketing to streaming video to concessions.
That last part is very, very cool. It gives fans the option of paying for food and drinks and having them delivered directly to their seats—for a fee. For the cost-conscious, it can tell you in realtime the length of the lines at nearby concession stands, and even let you place your order so it's ready when you get there. Here's what it looked like in action:
This is glorious—in theory. In realty, no new or newly large-scale tech immediately performs as expected. Aside from the travel time from the northern part of the Bay Area, the biggest complaint about Levi's Stadium was the occasional failure of the stadium wi-fi.
The team said the wireless network peaked at 20,000 simultaneously connected devices, which is damn good if that number is accurate and sustainable. (Here's a good review of the stadium experience that skews technical.) But many fans said they had big problems connecting to the internet, and staying on once connected. That led to some horror stories like this fan's:
Keep in mind that this happened at a lightly attended preseason game, a blowout loss in which many fans cleared out at halftime. There are more than a few kinks to work out before the big debut, a Sunday night game in Week 2.
But it's clear that connectivity is the future of American stadiums, especially for football, where teams are desperate to recreate the superior aspects of the home-viewing experience. That's essentially what the Levi's Stadium app is intended to capture: the ease of getting food without missing the action, the option to see highlights of other games being played around the league, the ability to keep up with fantasy rosters.
Without making any sort of value judgment, contrast that with the scene at PSV Eindhoven's season opener on Saturday. Supporters protested what they considered management's plans to "gentrify" the stadium for casual fans more interested in the matchday experience than the match action itself. Among the signs hoisted was one reading "Fuck Wi-Fi, Support The Team."