Behind The Scenes At The San Francisco 49ers’ New High Tech Stadium

Behind The Scenes At The San Francisco 49ers’ New High Tech Stadium

Candlestick’s out and Levi’s Stadium has been officially christened as the new home of the San Francisco 49ers. The brand-spanking-new site is all kinds of wired up and ready to receive upwards of 70,000 smartphone-wielding fans. I went behind the scenes to see how the tech has come together. Are you ready for some gridiron?

The “JeanHole” (thanks Deadspin) actually sits about 40 miles south of the city on the 101. It was designed by HNTB, and is surrounded by Great America‘s roller coasters, residential Santa Clara, and parking lots to accommodate the 68,500-person-capacity crowd. It’s all gleaming white from the outside, but even the briefest glimpse of the massive interior bowl reveals a sea of red seats waiting for a rowdy crew of superfans, surrounding a pitch of sprinkler-dotted green grass being prepped for a bunch of padded-up dudes to get physical.

When I visited the venue, representatives from the 49ers and everyone’s current favourite media monopoly, Comcast, were there to talk their corporate partnership and the technological innovations at Levi’s Stadium, which has, since its inception, been widely touted as one of the most advanced in the NFL.

The major buzzphrase of the day was: “fan experience”. Everyone talked about enhancing the fan experience. In broad terms, this meant acknowledging that modern folks who go to see sports live and in the flesh will still keep themselves busy checking in with what’s happening on their phone. They want quick internet access, and Levi’s Stadium has it — 40GB-per-second quick. Over 600 access points are situated under select seats around the bowl — that’s about one per hundred people — connected by over 400 miles of cabling (70 miles for WiFi alone).

So blasting real-time pics to your Instagram and Twitter pals is sorted. Checking fantasy scores is a go. But the main reason to be connected on-site just might be the stadium’s mobile app. It’s free to download for iOS and Android and could very well revolutionise the way games are enjoyed by cutting out the biggest bummer: getting up to navigate unholy concession lines. With a few swipes and taps the app would allow you to order and pay for food that is then delivered to your seat in 20 minutes or less. This is the plan, of course, and everything doesn’t always go according to plan, but if the kinks are eventually sorted then this ultimate lazy/efficient luxury would exponentially increase the collective amount of actual sports-watching time versus waiting-for-a-beer-and-a-hot-dog time. Plus, it also serves up tickets and parking passes, and streams exclusive footage from the seven control and five POV cameras.

Season ticket holders will already have gotten the heads up, but game-day staffers will be trying to convince as many wayward hungry humans as possible to download and try out the app, along with signage to give the heads up that it exists.

When I first entered the stadium, I walked through to a ground-level restaurant area outfitted in tasteful muted hues with screens made of metal footballs separating the area into different sections for drinking, dining, and enjoying the day. I looked around and saw through a set of glass doors that this dimly lit space was situated right smack dab on the 50-yard-line. I walked over and stepped into the light onto a small patio, and am not ashamed to say my heart started racing a little. It was genuinely beautiful, and absolutely the closest I have been — and likely will ever be — to standing on a professional field.

Even without any action at all, it was pretty incredible. It felt exciting. I was excited. Go niners.

Here’s more of what I saw.

“And YOU get a Wi-Fi access point! And YOU get a Wi-Fi access point!” These boxes are inconspicuously placed under about 600 seats in the stadium’s bowl, making proximity to one a given, which should take care of all your WiFi needs:

The master control room is where footage from the different on-site cameras is cut and programmed onto the big screens and internal broadcasts. Monitors have corresponding touchscreens and there is so much going on — even on this, a day with very little happening on-site — that I can’t imagine how nuts it gets when a game’s in play. Highlights and clips can also be fed from here to the team running the app for the small-screen (aka smartphone) experience. This room has its own small data center directly adjacent, but the main data center is separate.

Men at work:

This 4K-capable camera is one of the seven used at the stadium, in addition to five POV cameras capturing footage:

And here’s that data center. It was buzzing with a consistent hum and whirr, filled with rows of cabinets and fans keeping all this equipment cool:

Rows of cabinets full of lots and lots and lots of very neatly organised wires:

A view from an exterior walkway on the west side of the stadium shows the practice field and training center below:

And here’s to 200-foot-wide screen where the magic made in the control room will be beamed to fans. Speakers for the venue are hidden behind the left half, which is responsible for sending sound across almost the entire bowl and, ultimately, towards the less-residential surrounding area (some sonic dead zones, like directly to the right and left, and below, are filled in with smaller speakers).

Generally the speaker side would be covered by a scrim emblazoned with a sponsor’s name, but by lengthening the screen, ads can be shown next to clips from the game, or a wider shot can take up the whole space:

A 8230m² green roofs tops the west side of the stadium, sod with 16 different varieties of native, draught-resistant plants. Its only open to fans on tours, so you couldn’t really watch a game from up here, which is a shame:

Another view of the green roof:

Turn around from that shot above and you’ll see the rows of 49 banks of solar panels:

Down below, a view of one of three solar-powered pedestrian bridges that leads to an empty parking lot that will soon be a sea of cars:

The bank of big lights on the green roof were made by a company called Musco out of Iowa, that specialises in sports and stadium fixtures:

Back inside, all kinds of art lines most of the halls. I liked this painting by Tom Mosser: “The Niners Take on Johnny Unitas at Kezar”:

Tough not to feel wowed by the whole thing from this angle on the ground level:

The on-site museum and Hall of Fame are open to visitors daily. “The Catch” at Candlestick is one of the franchise’s finest moments, immortalised here by Brooklyn-based Studio Eis in a resin sculpture with a steel skeleton that apparently took 400 hours to make:

The museum is also home to a STEM education classroom, which will offer some 20,000 students day-long interactive workshops throughout the year:

See ya next time, JeanHole.