As the legendary, hard-nosed Green Bay Packers coach/generalissimo Vince Lombardi once famously said, “winning isn’t everything, making sure that you can tweet about winning from inside the stadium while you’re winning is the only thing.” OK, maybe that isn’t the exact quote, but in the middle of a game, surrounded by screaming fans and the pulse-racing pace of professional football, who can possibly fact-check such things? Well, you can, on your phone or other mobile device, provided you’re inside the 49ers new Levi’s Stadium.
The 49ers, one of the NFL’s most storied and successful franchises, and currently one of the very best teams in the league, moved out of the legendary Candlestick Park at the end of last season. Candlestick park hosted some of the most famous moments in football history (“The Catch”, anyone?) but it was also famously — well, not exactly comfortable or modern. It was time for something new, a stadium which would be state-of-the-art for modern fans, capturing for once the true way we watch sports now.
Outside the lines
Connectivity defines nearly all of life experience. We’re willing to give up a lot of privacy in order to be able to connect with friends or broadcast our thoughts to strangers. We are constantly sending messages, mediating nearly every experience through the lenses of social media, and framing the way we see and think about things in short and concise bursts. One could argue this diminishes experience, or one could say this makes us actually consider things in a deeper way. There is a case to be made for both, but don’t worry, I’m not going to spend 20,000 words discussing it in a post about football.
But this type of connectivity, whether good or bad, takes a lot more than human desire to come into being. It takes infrastructure. And the designers of Levi’s Stadium knew that. The stadium is equipped with over 400 miles of cables, with 70 miles of that for WiFi alone. There is a WiFi node for every 100 fans. It is a stadium designed with the modern fan experience in mind.
And what is that modern experience? It is one where you can enjoy the game by watching more than what your perspective allows you to see of the field. Let’s face it, while football is awesome, being at a game has become increasingly irritating. Long lines, shoddy replay, a lot of waiting — you don’t notice these things at home, being able to flip channels during timeouts and commercials, or checking your email or Twitter. At the game there is none of that. It’s still exciting to be there, but it is actually harder to follow the game from the stadium. You often don’t know why someone is hurt or why a call was made, and you don’t see endless replays until you know if the refs got it right or not (Spoiler: they didn’t).
And so the modern fan demands more, maybe even needs more. And there is no place more likely than San Francisco, the tech hub of the universe, to satisfy this demand with an interactive stadium. Here are some things that fans like to do with their mobile tech and WiFi during the games.
Check other scores/fantasy teams
Fantasy sports are huge, and football is the biggest, with tens of millions of Americans playing an increasingly lucrative game. If you’re playing, you constantly want to be checking how your team is doing, if Cutler has thrown yet another touchdown to Brandon Marshall, because you drafted them both, because you are an optimist (here the author may be projecting). At the game, if there is bad WiFi, you can’t do that. One could argue that reliance on fantasy takes us away from our teams, but that could also be a good thing. Regardless, it is of increasing importance for fans to follow their teams. Even if you don’t have a stake, one of the great things about Sunday is being able to watch all the games, and with NFL downloads and Red Zone you can do so even while there is a game in front of you.
What’s the point of being there if you can’t make people jealous? Or if you can’t give a play-by-play of your own experience? (“Man in front of me on 8th hot dog. He’s currently more mustard than man”). A nice record of your day.
Understand what’s going on a little better
Whoa, why is Lynch suddenly out? Did he get hurt? What’s going on? Before we had mobile tech, if a guy stopped playing, you might not know why. Now you can check twitter or any update site and find out “M. Lynch- Bruised Knee- Return Probable” and turn with confidence to the mope behind you and proclaim “He’ll be back- it’s just a bruise.”
I mean, you can, but really — don’t do this.
Apps that help the stadium experience
There’s more to being wired than communicating with the world outside the stadium. Levi’s Stadium also has a host of apps that will help you do things like order tickets, pick them up, find out where the nearest beer vendor is, place an order for food to be delivered to you, and even manage instant replay. In early preseason tests, there were still kinks to be worked out, but that’s to be expected. It’s preseason, and anyway, anyone who expects everything to work perfectly right away or they’ll be furious is — well, probably a football fan.
That’s a good thing. It’s fun to be a fan. Old-time fans might decry a stadium full of people checking their phones, but there is no indication that people don’t pay attention during play, or that they don’t yell and scream and moan and cuss at the appropriate times. Most consumers now demand to be plugged in. For them, it expands the fan experience. It won’t stop the 49ers from playing their smashmouth defense, or stop Jim Harbaugh from screaming on the sidelines, or stop Kaepernick from improvising with his feet before throwing a perfect strike. Football will still be there — tech won’t stop it; it’ll only enhance it.
Of course, it won’t stop Richard Sherman either, but there’s a difference between enhanced experience and the miraculous.