Right now, the opposition is in its infancy. It’s still just a skeleton of American steel and modular concrete that 600 people working double shifts are raising toward the sky in Silicon Valley. But when it is done, this 1.85 million-square-foot behemoth will be the new home for the San Francisco 49ers.
It will cost approximately $1.2 billion. It will seat 68,500 fans. It will house 165 private suites. It will be surrounded by 25,000 parking spaces and be within 100 yards of two light transit rail lines.
Forty-Niners CEO Jed York says this stadium, the culmination of six years of work in Santa Clara and a club effort that began in 1997, wasn’t meant to be the biggest or most expensive in the NFL.
“Instead,” York said, “we wanted to build the smartest stadium in the NFL.”
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And by the time it opens in 2014, this facility might be the major reason South Florida is again left out of the Super Bowl hosting business it once dominated.
The new stadium rising here will be the centerpiece of Santa Clara’s April bid to host Super Bowl 50 in 2016. South Florida is the only other finalist in the running for that Golden Anniversary Bowl. But it’s clear this new stadium and all it promises tilts the field against South Florida.
“When you look at the most recent Super Bowls that have been awarded, they’ve either gone to new stadiums or recently renovated stadiums,” York said. “It’s a very competitive process when you’re talking about hosting a Super Bowl. Obviously, it’s the No. 1 sporting event in America. It’s something all eyes are going to be on and you’re going to have the entire NFL along with all of their partners in town for a week leading up to the game.
“I think it’s important that you have a newer stadium. But if you don’t have a newer stadium, it’s important you’re continuing to invest in your stadium to make sure it’s always fresh, always new, so it always feels like a good innovative place to host the game.”
South Florida doesn’t have that today. We have great weather. We have ample hotel space. We have experience hosting the game. The NFL loves the region.
But Sun Life Stadium, open since in 1987, simply does not compare with new facilities like the one in Santa Clara, the one proposed in Atlanta or the ones already built in Indianapolis, Houston, Dallas and New Jersey.
Everyone in the NFL knows it.
‘A great chance’
“I think Miami has a great chance,” York said of South Florida’s chances to beat out his new building. “They’ve hosted 10 Super Bowls to date. So Miami is great at being a site. I think it’s going to be a great competition between the two communities.
“But if you look at recent history, it’s important to the NFL that people are investing in their stadium and continuing to upgrade. When you look at New Orleans this year, I don’t know what the numbers are off the top of my head, but the state of Louisiana put in multiple hundreds of millions of dollars to renovate the Superdome. And if you look at the other buildings that have hosted — the Cowboys, the Giants next year, Arizona the year after — those are all new buildings or stadiums recently renovated like New Orleans. That’s what you need.”
On Saturday, the eve of the Dolphins game against the San Francisco 49ers, Dolphins CEO Mike Dee and senior vice president Nat Moore toured the burgeoning Santa Clara site. They spent two hours at the preview center and construction site and departed knowing that the competition is stiff.
“It’s impressive and formidable,” Dee said. “They have an amazing facility that is well-thought, reflects the high-technology nature of this region and will be a host to big events for the next 30 years on a recurring basis.
“You can’t walk away without thinking this is a challenge for us to compete against this kind of facility. How do we put our best foot forward? It’s definitely not easy.”
This stadium will have all the modern amenities. It will have two LED scoreboards. It will house the 49ers Hall of Fame, and 49ers team store, and the 49ers Bar and Grill Lounge. It will also house a state of the art radio and television broadcast facility.
But because this is Silicon Valley and tech is king, this stadium promises all the goodies Apple, Google and Facebook could deliver. The place will be a connectivity nerd’s paradise.
“We’re making sure that it’s a software-driven stadium as opposed to a hardware-driven stadium,” York said. “So you don’t want to spend all your big-ticket item dollars on a huge scoreboard that’s going to be obsolete in five or 10 years down the road.
“What we wanted to make sure we did was build out a technology stack that allowed our fans to use their tablets, their smart phones, those type of things that continue to get updated and upgraded every 12 to 18 months. We want to make sure you can plug right into our building as soon as you walk in the door — to have a ticketless, cashless building, to make sure you can watch all the replays and get inside the game better than at home.”
Suites have tablets mounted to the wall that allow fans to order drinks and food from one of the applications. The tablet also controls lighting and the multiple high-definition TVs in the suite.
The seats will be set on rails (not bolt-ins) to give the stadium capacity flexibility. It’s referred to as elastic capacity, meaning capacity can grow for events such as the Super Bowl. There will be clips on seats so fans can bring their tablets to the game and have the same connectivity they would have in a suite.
Sun Life Stadium, in its present form, cannot do this kind of thing. But the Dolphins are hoping to upgrade their facility through a public-private funding plan that would at least get the 25-year-old place in the game against buildings like Santa Clara.
The Dolphins’ proposal will be revealed in about a month. The last time the Dolphins tried such a measure it failed. This one will be different.
It will have a different approach to the canopy roof idea. It will close the 25-yard distance between the stands and the field. It will raise capacity closer to the field and lower it in the upper level. It will improve the lighting.
The upgrade price is not known, Last time it was $250 million. Like last time, Dolphins owner Stephen Ross could pay $150 million or more for the upgrades. And funding for the remainder of the project will not raise taxes for residents, Dee said.
Still, the fact the Marlins broke trust with the community recently has left many locals disliking the idea of public-private stadium ventures, and that could work against the Dolphins.
“We recognize the environment can be toxic because of other things that have taken place and the community has no appetite for anything that resembles what’s taken place in the last couple of years,” Dee said. “We have to be mindful of that and come forward with a plan that makes practical sense not only for Stephen Ross and the Dolphins but for the community.”
That’s what it’s going to take to overcome the opponent in Santa Clara.