Levi’s Stadium will host Super Bowl 50 on Feb. 7. Paul Kitagaki Jr. pkitagaki@sacbee.com
Levi’s Stadium will host Super Bowl 50 on Feb. 7. Paul Kitagaki Jr. pkitagaki@sacbee.com

National

Super Bowl 50 tour shows off high-tech wizardry at Levi’s Stadium

By Sam McManis

smcmanis@sacbee.com

January 19, 2016 12:26 PM

SANTA CLARA

Face it, you’ll have to take out a second mortgage or convince your teenager that cosmetology school is just as prestigious as Stanford if you want to score feloniously expensive tickets to Super Bowl 50 next month at Levi’s Stadium.

May I suggest a more frugal alternative, something that’ll set you back only 50 bucks or so?

Take the daily Levi’s Stadium “Super Bowl 50” tour, a 90-minute romp from the bowels of the stadium, where the locker rooms are housed and a vast refrigerated cache of beer is stored, to the roof, where an environmentally lauded solar terrace and native garden dwells, and everywhere in between. You’ll take the tour while the stadium is empty, of course, which, given the 49ers’ hapless play this season, is something of a blessing. (I’ll try to make that my last cheap joke at the 49ers’ expense, since it’s cruel to mock a team that’ll have to pay if it wants to experience Super Bowl 50, same as the rest of us schmoes.)

Really, this tour is better than actually attending a Super Bowl. I’ve been to several in my misspent youth as a sportswriter and, to be honest, the experience is bombastic, over-the-top, saturated with fake excitement and fat-cat NFL insiders in the seats. Basically, it’s kind of a hassle all around.

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Better to stay at home and watch. And, if you take the tour in advance, you can impress your friends gathered for Super Bowl viewing parties with salient nuggets of information about this heralded high-tech edifice that last February was named Sports Facility of the Year by industry mouthpiece Sports Business Daily.

Things such as:

▪ This gridiron is “grid-neutral,” meaning the solar panels pump out 500,000 kilowatt hours of energy, enough to power ever 49ers home game, though perhaps not enough to power the Niners’ sputtering offense (Sorry, too tempting to take a cheap shot.)

▪ There is free Wi-Fi with 12,000 access points, meaning a seat holder won’t be duking it out for high-speed access with the drunken dude behind him trying to upload a selfie to his Instagram account.

▪ You can buy food from stadium vendors remotely, say, from your living room, and have it delivered to the seat of someone actually attending the game, provided you know that person’s cellphone and seat number. (Wouldn’t it be cool, on the big day, to prank-order 50 orders of nachos to be sent to Roger Goodell?)

▪ To gain entrance to the home locker room, equipped with such luxuries as an underwater treadmill and a personal barber shop, you need pass through a fingerprint scanner. (Sorry, Mr. Kaepernick, your thumb print is no longer valid, move along, please.)

▪ Unless you’re on Forbes’ list of richest Americans, don’t even think of reserving one of Levi’s ultra-plush suites for the big game. Word is, you’ll have to lay down low six figures even for the small suites up high. If you have to ask the price to gain access to the club suites on the field level, where all food and adult beverages are included, then your name’s not Warren Buffet.

▪ There are 700 pieces of “art” at the stadium, most football-related. (That’s fair warning to those who break out in hives just at the mention of Leroy Neiman.)

Actually, the tour is a fun way to spend an afternoon and see the stadium from the inside out without the hue and cry of the crowds – mostly crying, these days. Less than two years old, it still has that new-stadium smell (despite the 49ers’ best efforts to stink up the joint most Sundays).

If you can swing it, get Kevin Lang as your tour guide. He’s just the kind of young-ish, hip-ish, tech-savvy-ish guy Levi’s Stadium wants to attract. For sure, he toes the company line and spouts the many splendors of the structure and its multifarious innovations. But he leavens it with a sly sense of humor, and he even made a few jokes at the 49ers’ expense. That went over well with many members of our group, which included those pledging allegiance to the Houston Texans, New England Patriots, Florida State Seminoles and one brave couple from Walnut Creek who admitted to being Raiders fans. (Lang: “And they let you through security?”)

Another positive: The tour is not solely catered to the hardcore football fan. Architecture buffs, the tech-obsessed and climate-change tree-huggers will find much to like. It seems especially impressive to out-of-towners, so if Aunt Marge from Kenosha happens to visit you, this is a place to take her as an alternative to Fisherman’s Wharf.

The couple from Texas on the tour was especially taken with the high-tech nature of the stadium, but seemed a little geographically confused.

“So, where exactly is Silicon Valley?” the husband asked. “Are we in it?”

Lang flashed a smile wide enough to expose molars.

“Yes!” he said. “This is the most technologically advanced stadium in the league. We have all these tech companies right next door, so we try to leverage our incredible technological base and use technology to improve your in-game experience.

“See those white boxes pointing down at us (from an awning near 40-yard-line seats)? Don’t worry. They aren’t radioactive. They aren’t X-rays. These are cellphone signal boosters (serving) all four major carriers. What’s another amenity people expect these days when they come to an event? There is Wi-Fi Internet, provided by Comcast Infinity. Hop on our network, no password needed.”

At times, Lang put on the hard sell, as when he talked about Levi’s Stadium app, which includes a “way-finder function” so that you don’t need ushers to find your seat. In fact, you rarely have to leave your seat or take your eyes off your screen because there are replays available of most plays. All that’s missing is outsourcing cheering to Mumbai and maybe the addition of built-in, high-tech commodes at your seat.

Following Lang’s gee-whiz, high-tech spiel through the various stadium levels, I got the impression that the game itself is something of an afterthought. This was especially evident at the “Yahoo Fantasy Football Lounge,” where, via touch-screen technology and an armada of flat-screen monitors that present a stock-ticker-like stream of fantasy statistics, you can keep track of how your fantasy team is doing. (Probably better than the 49ers, actually.)

It’s telling that a decent number of seats in the suites, which can run up to $20,000 per game (for 20 people), depending on the opponent, face away from the field toward a wet bar and a flat-screen monitor. Which raises the question of why you’d bother to come to the stadium simply to watch the TV feed.

Still, the suites are sweet cribs, each with a kitchen much nicer than at your (or, at least, my) house.

“I heard through the grapevine that a standard suite for Super Bowl 50 will be in the range of six figures,” Lang said. “But don’t call up the 49er office and say, ‘Hey, Kevin told me it was only $100,000 and now you’re charging me $120,000.’ 

Oh, yes, the Super Bowl. The actual game. Lang gave our group a brief history of the game’s evolution, complete with props from “Four Super Bowls that made it the mega-event we know it is today.” In front of giant posters shaped like Super Bowl tickets, he pointed to a poster commemorating Michael Jackson’s 1993 halftime performance , which was presented as just a historic as Joe Namath’s 1969 “I guarantee it” boast before Super Bowl III. (One couple had no idea of Joe Namath’s identity, not so with the “King of Pop.”)

Those seeking 49er-specific Super Bowl fodder won’t leave disappointed, either. The team won five Super Bowls and each is given more than its due, including, Lang enthused, “never-seen before photos of the 49ers in their locker room before Super Bowl XXIII, from the private collection of team photographer Michael Zagaris.” The photos were football’s version of Richard Avedon – somber and pensive portraits, including one of Joe Montana on the floor, legs spread, head bowed, as if about to nod off.

Ah, the good old days, when the 49ers won championships. And, amazingly, did it while playing home games at perhaps the most low-tech, decrepit and miserable stadium (Candlestick Park) imaginable. I’ll let you decide if there’s a correlation.

Levi’s Stadium Tours

Where: Levi’s Stadium, 4900 Marie P. DeBartolo Way, Santa Clara

Hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays; 10 a.m.-5 p.m Sundays:

Cost: $50 general; $45 ages 5 to 12, ages 65-plus, and military)

More information: www.levisstadium.com/tours