Silicon Valley was a different place when the San Francisco 49ers were putting the final touches on the plan for their billion-dollar Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara.
When local voters approved a ballot measure to lease the team the land for the venue in June 2010, unemployment in Santa Clara County was hovering around 11 percent. Tech startups weren’t getting nine-figure funding rounds, and average rents were nowhere near the current $2,000-a-month range.
But that was then.
On Thursday, 49ers leaders joined corporate sponsors, local politicians, and hordes of media to officially open the ultra high-end stadium with a ribbon cutting. The 49ers won’t take the field for a few more months, but the venue already has changed the sea of office parks, single-family homes and strip malls that is Santa Clara.
“Today we change the very trajectory of our city and our region,” said Santa Clara Mayor Jamie Matthews, who teared up as he recounted door-to-door campaigning on the 49ers ballot measure with his 80-something father, who has since passed away.
He said the stadium project “helped bridge the gap” for the city between the recession and the current tech boom.
Matthews cited a figure that the city now has $6.7 billion worth of private investment either approved or under construction, which he credited in large part to the buzz around the stadium. He also mentioned a more nascent proposal by Related California to build a colossal mixed-use development right across the street.
Niners CEO Jed York focused heavily on the fans.
“You guys deserve the best stadium in the world,” he said to the crowd populated by many local big wigs. “Now you have it.”
Still, amid all the nostalgia about the colossal effort of more than 7,000 workers to build the $1.3 billion, 68,500-seat stadium, it is impossible to ignore the fact that the structure also serves as a monument to the massive amount of money that is once again circulating in Silicon Valley.
The stadium holds no less than 10 club lounges, seven of them housed in a gleaming glass building running down the sideline. Without the context of the Bermuda grass field below, it looks more like brand new class-A office building than a place to guzzle some beer and slam some hotdogs during a football game.
Prices for admission at the new stadium have been contentious since they were announced, with many worrying that die-hard fans could be priced out.
At the swanky 50-yard line club sponsored by investment bank BNY Mellon, for instance, seat licenses alone went for $80,000. Seat licenses went for $20,000-$30,000 at the Levi’s 501 club on the second level of the stadium, plus $325-$350 per ticket.
The primary concourse level for those without club tickets or luxury box seats — where seat licenses started at $2,000 — also has sweeping views of the foothills around the Santa Clara Valley and unique features like a craft beer taproom and vegan hot dog stand.
National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell, who also came to town for the ribbon cutting, demurred on a question about whether pro football is still accessible to all fans by emphasizing the upgrades at new stadiums.
“Prices for football tickets, like anything else, tend to go up, not down,” he said, stressing that teams now must create “more value” for those who do show up in person.
While the 49ers and many other pro sports teams do face huge financial pressure to compete with ever-improving home theatres, that doesn’t change the math for fans who don’t have thousands to spend on tickets (at least for future seasons, since the venue is already sold out for this year).
“Pity I will probably never be able to take my family to a game,” one fan said to me via Twitter. “I will say it is an amazing looking facility.”
During his remarks at a press conference, York told a story about a recent talk he saw billionaire Warren Buffett gave about why “getting rich slow” is the most effective way to gain wealth.
“I think Santa Clara really embraces that,” he said.
Though the city will have to wait to fully realize its returns on the $850 million stadium authority loan for Levi’s Stadium, the team has already cashed in by moving down Highway 101 to Silicon Valley.