At first blush, Levi’s Stadium appears to be a substantial upgrade over the formerly rickety Stanford Stadium and its wooden seats and limited amenities.
But by Super Bowl standards, demands also have changed in the 31 years since the Bay Area last hosted the biggest game of them all. At a cost of $1.3 billion, about $1.1 billion more than that old horseshoe cost in Palo Alto, Levi’s Stadium is made for megaevents of all kinds. The Santa Clara venue may never host a bigger one in size and scope than Super Bowl 50 next month, a fact that poses some unique challenges.
“You know, there will be a lot of people there,” said design director Tim Cahill of HNTB Corporation, which assisted in the stadium project. “Everybody wants to leave at the same time, so you have to do analysis on how to get all those people out. You reverse the escalators’ direction, design the stairwells by code, make sure they’re wide enough and there are enough elevators. … That’s all designed for larger crowd capacities, but it’s still a lot of people.”
Nearly two-thirds of the Levi’s Stadium seats are in the lower bowl, the highest percentage of any NFL venue. It will have a 75,000 capacity for the Super Bowl, an increase from the 68,500 for 49ers dates. Approximately 6,500 seats will be added in the upper level.
“The capacity is there,” Cahill said. “People will enjoy the weather. They’ll enjoy the game and the design. … It’s all about San Francisco and the Bay Area and Santa Clara and the people there. When people see a picture of it, they’ll know where it is, so that’s what will make it unique.”
The biggest test may play out on the field, and it won’t involve only the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos necessarily.
In the past, the Niners had well-documented problems with conditions of the field. Levi’s Stadium is a multipurpose facility with natural turf, which makes it more vulnerable to wear and tear.
Days ago, NFL field director Ed Mangan and his crew of 30 workers stripped the surface and laid down 75,000 square feet of hyrid Burmuda 419 overseeded with Perennial Ryegrass, which was brought in from nearby Livingston. The Niners tried the new West Coast Turf product with favorable results late in the season. It was grown on plastic, which reduced shock when transplanted and made for a thicker, stronger, more compact package.
Otherwise, Mangan said, “There’s really not anything different. The Niners have addressed their issues. We’re kind of starting anew here. We’re fine.”
But not even the NFL can control Mother Nature, and no natural turf product can hold up after days of rain. If the league has one Super-sized concern, it’s that a steady downpour will turn the field into a soggy mess, which could affect the quality of play if not the outcome.
“That’s really a day-to-day kind of thing,” said Mangan, who checks the weather forecast almost hourly. “It’s a natural sand field and it can probably take an inch or so without becoming an issue. But that’s depending on how quickly that happens. If that’s an inch-and-a-half an hour, we’ve got a problem, and that will go for anything. There’s only fast that the water can get through the sand profile.”
A veteran of 26 Super Bowls, Mangan has seen this fish before, most recently in 2007, when a storm hit Dolphin Stadium outside Miami. The game marked the first and only Super Bowl victory in the career of quarterback Peyton Manning, whose Broncos will represent the AFC in the championship game.
“That field played great,” Mangan recalled. “The drainage was great. The turf that we put in was great. We got the pregame show in. We got the halftime show in and the postgame. So that field was beautiful.”
One way or the other, Manning, the NFL and Levi’s Stadium can only hope the results are similar a few days from now.