The San Francisco 49ers moved into Levi’s Stadium in 2014, and it’s been a fairly miserable football-going experience ever since. 2014 marked the end of Jim Harbaugh’s tenure, and the team is only just now working its way out of the mess created in 2015 and 2016. The stadium has been sold out, but people are more inclined to spend time in the high quality clubs, or otherwise just not showing up if they can’t unload tickets. When you put a crappy product on the field, that’s what happens.
This past Monday, Clemson put on a show in decimating Alabama in the college football national title game. By all accounts, Levi’s Stadium was a quality host site and the fan atmosphere was electric. Clemson and Alabama fans raised a ruckus, and generally had a good time cheering on their team (Clemson obviously for more of the game).
Levi’s Stadium has had a shaky reputation for 49ers fans at best through its first five seasons. The field was a huge problem in year one. Heat issues created problems in the preseason. Traffic seemed to be a mess. It was way the heck out of town for people coming from further north. And of course, the atmosphere was fairly staid.
Fast forward five years, and the CFP title game showed the stadium at its best. The field was in mostly great shape as West Coast Turf and the 49ers grounds crew put 14 months into making sure they got the highest quality grass they could. While there have been some grass hiccups otherwise (ask Pete Carroll), it is nothing like that first year. We’ll see how much more consistent they can get, but it’s not nearly what it was.
The traffic will never be ideal, particularly for prime time games, but it is improved. I’d imagine that comes with your traffic crew gaining experience over the course of so many events. The heat issue has been relatively resolved by playing preseason home games later in the day (us east coasters hate it!), but there’s really nothing more to be done at this point and people are stuck dealing with it. As for the distance to get down, well, obviously that’s not changing either.
But the big thing to take away from the CFP title game was the atmosphere. Team president Al Guido spoke with San Francisco Chronicle reporter Eric Branch about how electric it felt. I’ve gotten multiple tweets from people in attendance who enjoyed the atmosphere, and while I was watching the game on a flight back from Los Angeles, it felt like it came through in the broadcast.
So, when will see this kind of atmosphere for 49ers games? When they put a consistent, quality product on the field. It’d be great if people were fired up regularly even when it’s a [site decorum] team, but that’s just not the case. Super Bowl 50 was a fairly dull affair, but when you don’t get a particularly great matchup, the neutral field nature of it is going to be low key.
But if the 49ers started winning again? The atmosphere for the title game suggests it could develop into a solid home field advantage for the 49ers. The 49ers had a chance to build towards that in 2018, but Jimmy Garoppolo’s knee injury sent things south in a hurry. 2019 brings a new opportunity, with a team that will have that much more talent in place. I’m fascinated to see how the atmosphere is at Levi’s Stadium in 2019 if the 49ers are able to put together a consistently quality product for the first time in the stadium’s existence.