The equation sounds terrifying, I know. El Niño + al Qaeda + Coldplay + smallish train depots + Highway 101 gridlock + displaced homeless people + thousands of visitors unaware that Union Square is 44 miles from Levi’s Stadium = Havoc, more than potentially.
As a columnist who has covered 24 Super Bowls and 14 Olympics and understands how major metropolitan regions are swallowed by massive events, I do realize what could happen in San Francisco and the Bay Area between Jan. 31 and Feb. 8. I also will issue a five-word addendum: Deal with the hassles, people. The City is spending a mere $4 million for the privilege, remember, while Keith Bruce’s Super Bowl Host Committee has successfully hit up corporations and the wealthy citizenry for event support and gala happenings. The net gain will be tens of millions of dollars in revenues and beautiful local visuals shown to the world, including 125 million Americans on game day.
Super Bowl 50 is not just a number. It’s pure gold for the region.
Logistical headaches, much like Coldplay, are necessary evils.
The challenge is making sure this isn’t a Jim Tomsula, a one-and-done. You want to produce an impressive week-long spectacle that convinces the NFL to return, so the Bay can reap more windfalls and tourism optics as part of the Big Game’s regular rotation of sites. Yes, San Francisco/Santa Clara/San Jose is viewed — at the moment — as more than simply a one-time reward because Jed York managed to build a new stadium. The league would like Levi’s to be a long-term venue along with places such as Arizona, New Orleans, North Texas, South Florida, Houston and, once a franchise or two relocates and builds a new stadium, Los Angeles.
Whether that happens or not depends on variables, one completely beyond human control, particularly when a 49ers fan named Mother Nature is still upset about Jim Harbaugh’s firing. El Niño already is upon us, and Roger Goodell, your head will get wet. Maybe every day, in fact, which might amuse those who loathe the NFL commissioner but won’t help the Bay’s future chances if the league’s owners also are drenched morning, noon and night. Teams come to the Super Bowl to prepare for the biggest moment of their professional lives. Celebrities and partiers come for the bashes, the chance to schmooze Joe Montana or yank on Brian Urlacher’s wig — unless Donald Trump’s is available, as it will be if BFF Tom Brady is back home and playing in the game. Fans come to watch their favorite teams in a comfortable, modern stadium, willing to pay four figures per ticket for the lifetime thrill.
Absolutely no one wants to sit through a week or even a few days of El Niño. Did York think about this — of course, he didn’t — when he planned “the most technologically advanced stadium in the world” without any sort of roofing except over a handful of non-suite seats? Even ancient Candlestick Park, R.I.P., had a sloped covering of sorts. I sat in a relentless rainstorm outside Miami watching a Super Bowl so awful, with Peyton Manning outlasting the AWOL Chicago Bears, that I’m not sure the experience ever happened. By the time Prince performed his most famous composition, at halftime, I was so delirious that the rain really was purple.
The good news is, maybe terrorists don’t like to work in downpours. The bad news is, Coldplay is contractually obligated to do so anyway. Turning serious now, only weeks after Paris and San Bernardino, the Bay Area is a natural target for any creep who wants to make news. You wouldn’t recognize the surroundings at Levi’s, where kid soccer leagues have been ordered to leave neighboring fields by the NFL colossus, and where rings of security zones already are being tested, meaning the guy who flies those anti-Jed banners isn’t getting near the air space. A month-long security sweep is something we should appreciate as residents.
What won’t be welcome, if you’re attending the game, is the waiting time at security checkpoints. With lines longer than any airport you’ve visited since 9/11, the lag-drag outside Levi’s will make the game-day experience much lengthier than four hours inside the stadium. In fact, prepare for anywhere from 15 to 18 hours of Super Bowling, depending on your means of transportation.
Herein lies the most daunting part of your day, other than Coldplay. No matter when you leave for the stadium and no matter how you plan on getting there, brace for a nightmare. If it’s difficult enough navigating Levi’s in a timely manner for a 49ers game, consider that 40 percent of the regular parking spaces won’t be available for the same reasons the kids can’t play soccer: The NFL engulfs large accompanying plots for corporate purposes. So, how about mass transit?
That was the cry two years ago in New York, when ticket holders were encouraged to take trains from midtown Manhattan and depots throughout the metropolitan area to a New Jersey rail center called Secaucus Junction. From there, shuttle trains tried to haul fans to MetLife Stadium. This was a full-blown disaster. About 26,000 people attempted the journey, about 20,000 more than would try it for a Giants or Jets game, and both before and after Seattle’s lopsided victory over Manning and Denver, riders were crammed into overheated cars when they weren’t crowded into an undersized station. Medics were called to care for people who passed out, and the NFL surely began to think twice about putting another Super Bowl in its backyard, even when the feared snowstorm never happened on a 49-degree evening.
I’ve been taking trains from San Francisco to Levi’s for 49ers games. Last Sunday, I boarded a BART car at Civic Center station, passing a few slumbering folks shooting needles into their arms and legs, and got off at the Coliseum stop. I crossed San Leandro Street and walked down 73rd Avenue to the tiny Amtrak station. This time, my Capitol Corridor pickup was on schedule for a change.
Are the BART stations prepared for the crush? Will the displaced homeless — Mayor Lee says they must move, but where is he putting them? — use those stations among various high-profile platforms for protests during Super Bowl week? And that little rail station in Santa Clara, under Tasman Way off Lafayette Street? When I’m headed home 90 minutes after a Niners loss, maybe 50 people are boarding, and it’s fairly cramped. What if 5,000 uninformed Amtrak riders try to board?
“We have a very aggressive process in how we select cities,” Goodell said. “The ability to host the Super Bowl is more and more complicated, more and more complex because of the size and number of events. The infrastructure is very important. There are over 30,000 hotel rooms needed even to host the Super Bowl.”
Consider my column not a scare tactic but a how-to manual. Twenty-two days remain before the teams arrive and 28 before kickoff, which still gives us time to steal the battery from Coldplay’s tour bus.