Levi's stadium opened its doors to the public earlier this month with an MLS match, and then an open practice. The team will hold another open practice Friday afternoon, but Sunday brings what I think most of us consider the first real action at Levi's Stadium. The 49ers will play their first home game, a preseason matchup against the Denver Broncos.
Preseason football is generally overlooked as an "event" in the context of the NFL season. While fans can use the games to break down the 90-man roster, more often than not the games could be played in the middle of nowhere and nobody would really care. Yes, season ticket holders get their first chance back at the stadium, but for most stadiums, the regular season opener is a much bigger deal.
Of course, this is not your normal preseason home opener. The first NFL game at Levi's Stadium will be something to remember, even if it is just a preseason game. This will mark a rare time when preseason tickets can easily sell for more than face value. I expect preseason prices to come down next year, and beyond, but for one August, preseason football will be a bit of an event.
From an "event" perspective, this means we get the first look at how the stadium handles traffic, parking, concessions, and the overall experience. The MLS match that kicked off the stadium had issues with parking and public transportation struggling to meet the demand. The 49ers and stadium and city officials have now had two weeks to figure out ways to improve that situation. They apparently have a more robust plan in place for Sunday, so we'll see how that plays out.
For those of us not attending the game, the debut provides the first opportunity to figure out what quirks might exist. This covers everything from potential impacts on kicks, punts, and returns, to how the sun impacts the sidelines. The sidelines are on the east and west side. As I understand it, the 49ers will be on the west side, because the east will have the sun in their eyes at the beginning of afternoon games.
Is there anything in particular you're going to watch for throughout Sunday's game? Special teams is the easy call that we will all be watching. The conditions of the field should be fine for purposes of running around on it, but we'll see if there are any issues with players traction. When the offense is on the field, any potential wind tunnels could be worth tracking.
This is not to say that there will be problems, but with a new stadium, the home team will find themselves learning just as much as the road team. The 49ers will hopefully grow used to their new home sooner rather than later. As weeks roll on, the team should grow more and more used to it. This could be an interesting development given the 49ers roster issues in the early part of the season. They will be figuring out home field advantage without NaVorro Bowman, and potentially Aldon Smith early in the year. It adds one more question mark to the early part of the schedule.