San Francisco welcomes first Super Bowl celebration in more than three decades

San Francisco is known for its Golden Gate Bridge, but this week it will also be known for its Golden Football.

After months of hype and years of planning, the first Super Bowl in the Bay Area in more than three decades is merely days away. For visitors and sports lovers alike, the following days will be spent immersed in football-themed activities throughout downtown San Francisco.

The front page of the San Francisco Examiner on Jan. 20, 1985 — when the Bay Area last hosted a Super Bowl — reveled in the moment, having “surrendered” to its crowds, craziness and general chaos. In the words of the 1985 headline: “City goes gaga over The Game.”

And the Examiner’s description of football fever that descended upon San Francisco 31 years ago easily rings true today as well:

“The great municipality of San Francisco hereby surrenders. This alleged sophisticate, this most European of American cities has been taken down and pinned… Super Bowl is a giant, a roaring-down-the-Lombard hill bandwagon that has given the citizens of San Francisco two choices: Jump on or get run over.”

Today in San Francisco, streets are shut down to accommodate the week-long Super Bowl City leading up to the big game. Local politicians have sparred for weeks over whether the nearly $5 million in costs to The City to host football festivities will pay off in the end. Thousands of football fans will descend upon the region this week. Super Bowl fever is here.

It’s not just San Francisco that’s celebrating this week; Super Bowl officials say the entire U.S. has its eyes on the Bay Area.

“From the country’s perspective, it’s the 50th Super Bowl; it’s a milestone event in the calendar for the NFL,” said Keith Bruce, CEO of the Super Bowl 50 Host Committee that’s responsible for planning and pulling off the shindig.

“The Bay Area is excited because we haven’t hosted a Super Bowl in over 30 years,” Bruce added. “It’s an opportunity to welcome a new era of the game.”

It’s estimated that up to a million visitors will arrive in the Bay Area for the Super Bowl. Hotels are full, restaurants are stocked up to serve extra crowds and stores are ready for the influx of customers.

“Super Bowl 50 is a great economic engine for restaurant businesses in San Francisco, especially during a typically slow time of the year,” said Samantha Higgins, policy and community manager for the Golden Gate Restaurant Association.

Though four members of the Board of Supervisors in recent weeks raised concerns over the cost of San Francisco hosting Super Bowl City, local business leaders said The City will likely make money in tax revenue.

Jim Lazarus, vice president of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, noted that Phoenix, which hosted the Super Bowl last year, netted $1.5 million to its general fund.

“This Super Bowl will be a cost benefit to the city of San Francisco,” Lazarus said. “Hotel tax revenue alone, when you take a normal 80 percent occupancy and move it to 95 percent … you’re going to get $4-5 million net new hotel tax money for five days of the Super Bowl. Add sales tax, parking tax, utility taxes … this is a net positive event.”

In addition to Super Bowl City, which is spread throughout Justin Herman Plaza and Sue Bierman Park, football fans can get a taste of the game at the NFL Experience, hosted at Moscone Center just blocks away. While Super Bowl City is free to the public, the NFL Experience — which includes interactive games and opportunities to meet the players — costs $35 for adults and $25 for children 12 and younger.

“It’s a [great] opportunity for fans who don’t necessarily have a ticket to the game to get a taste of Super Bowl 50,” Bruce said. “If you’re a football junkie, that’s a must, the NFL Experience.”

Live music performances will be sprinkled throughout the week, including Perry and One Republic, culminating in an Alicia Keys concert on Saturday night.

San Francisco resident Maggie Xiao, who checked out Super Bowl City as it was getting set up on Wednesday, said even though she’s not a huge football fan she likely wouldn’t be able to resist coming back once the festivities begin.

“It’s exciting,” she said. “I can already feel the excitement.”

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