When the San Francisco 49ers set out to build their new stadium, they wanted to make it one of the most tech-advanced in the NFL. Now that Santa Clara’s Levi’s Stadium has been open for nearly a full season, it’s time to see if they actually pulled that off.
When the new stadium was built, the 49ers laid close to 400 miles of cable that allows for all types of wired and wireless connectivity in the arena. At the professional level, that gave TV, radio and online broadcasters access to some of the most high-powered infrastructure and world class broadcasting equipment ever installed in a stadium. For 49ers fans, new Wi-Fi routers, beacons and an app make it possible to order food, beer and merchandise from their seats or stream replays on their phones or tablets.
12 games into Levi’s Stadium’s inaugural season, I headed to catch a game to get a sense of how successful all that new technology has been. I can report the new features have made the arena experience much more immersive and interactive, putting it on-par with watching a game in the comfort of your own home.
I talked to over a dozen people at the stadium who have used the new Wi-Fi and various apps, and they all seemed to love the experience, especially the ability to have food and drinks delivered to their seats. Many 49ers fans also told me about the Beacon-powered tools that helped them find their seats or check on the bathroom line without getting up and missing a key play.
However, there’s a catch-22 about Levi’s Stadium’s new tech: When the 49ers are doing well, fans seldom check their mobile devices, preferring to keep their eyes on the action. However, if the home team is struggling, fans’ attention drifts, and many of the people I talked to said they used the stadium’s Wi-Fi to go online and check email, surf the web, or post disparaging comments about the team’s performance.
About 21,000 to 23,000 people use Levi’s Stadium’s Wi-Fi per game, with the exception of Sept. 14’s home opener that saw 41,000 unique users, according to the 49ers’ IT department. The peak bandwidth usage has ranged from 1.5 GB/s (Nov. 2nd) to 3.1 GB/s (Sept. 14th). The team’s last home game, on Nov. 27, registered a figure of 2.5 GB/s. Most games have seen fans use more than 100MB of data each, no small feat considering how hard it can be to use mobile data during games at big sports arenas.
The various San Francisco 49ers officials I talked to say the stadium’s tech has performed well. They admitted there have been Wi-Fi glitches every once in a while, but there have been no major problems. They are also pleased that once people first try the stadium app, they often keep coming back to it.
The 49ers hoped that Levi’s Stadium could be a poster child for other stadiums, and have been very gracious in sharing details about their plans with other NFL teams. The fans, meanwhile, are happy that the 49ers went the extra mile to make the stadium experience even better through technology the ticketholders have widely embraced.