SANTA CLARA, calif. >> Welcome to the new home of the 49ers.
Eight years after the San Francisco football team announced its plans to move an hour’s drive south to Santa Clara, the Niners officially opened their $1.2 billion "sports and entertainment cathedral" during a show-stopping ceremony on Thursday.
The beers were flowing, the stadium-themed merchandise was flying off the shelves, the massive HD video-boards were lit up with highlight reels and the surround-sound speakers were humming with pop music. Team luminaries from coach Jim Harbaugh to star defender Patrick Willis were schmoozing with guests such as NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, tech executives and local politicians.
About the only thing left to add to Levi’s Stadium is 70,000 screaming 49ers fans — and, you know, some football. Until then, the faithful can look forward to the sleek new features on display Thursday, including: a WiFi system that will allow all fans to surf the web at once — a sports first; instant replays available on your phone; a roof-top suite and celebrity-chef dining for high rollers; and all the standard modern amenities Candlestick Park didn’t have, such as concourses that are now three times bigger.
"You deserve to have the best stadium in the world," said 49ers CEO Jed York. "Now you have it."
In typical NFL tradition, Thursday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony had all the pageantry of the April 2012 groundbreaking event, which also felt like a Super Bowl half-time show.
After York and Santa Clara Mayor Jamie Matthews officially cut the long red ribbon outside the south entrance, hundreds of VIP attendees were able to pose with four more un-cut ribbons and hold giant red-and-gold scissors. Afterward, they sipped champagne and ate hors d’oeuvres in the swanky United Club as owner John York, Jed’s father, made a toast on the stadium’s grand wedding staircase.
At one point in the ceremony, hundreds of workers wearing white "I built Levi’s Stadium" shirts and hard hats marched down two red-carpeted giant staircases. Thousands of white, red and gold pieces of graffiti burst into the air at the end of the event, as dozens of cheerleaders waved their pom-poms and guests rushed to take selfies in front of a giant screen on stage.
Thursday’s ceremony, which marked the opening of the first new NFL stadium in California since 1967, was bittersweet for some fans. Goodell acknowledged the move from San Francisco "is an emotional issue," while about 30 percent of Candlestick Park season ticket holders gave up their tickets — some after generations –in large part due to being priced out of the stadium’s expensive new seat license program.
But 49ers President Paraag Marathe implored fans not to even bother comparing Levi’s Stadium to Candlestick Park, and Goodell seemed to agree.
"You can feel the difference, and you know the fans are going to feel the difference," Goodell said.
Despite the ceremony, there is still work left to be done before the first event, an Aug. 2 San Jose Earthquakes match, and when the Niners take the field afterward for their first preseason game Aug. 17, and the first regular-season game Sept. 14. The museum and hall of fame area and the new Michael Mina restaurant are both unfinished, for instance.
Matthews said while the city’s Stadium Authority will continue to oversee Levi’s, Santa Clara’s big job now becomes building the $6.5 billion monstrosity of a mixed-use project a developer has proposed across the street from the 49ers new home. There is also a separate hotel and sports bar next door proposed by Joe Montana. Both projects have at least a year of planning left.
49ers sign OT Joe Staley to 2-year extension
SANTA CLARA, Calif. >> The San Francisco 49ers have signed left tackle Joe Staley to a two-year contract extension through the 2019 season.
The 49ers announced the extension after Thursday’s ceremony at Levi’s Stadium. Staley was among the players at the event.
San Francisco selected Staley 28th overall in the 2007 draft out of Central Michigan. He has earned Pro Bowl honors the past three seasons and is primarily responsible for protecting Colin Kaepernick’s blindside. General manager Trent Baalke says the extension means the 29-year-old Staley "will likely be a 49er for life."
LA, Chicago finalists to host ’15 NFL draft; N.Y. out
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. >> With the 2015 NFL draft up for grabs, New York is out and the race has come down to the nation’s second- and third-largest cities to play host to the multi-day event.
"We’re focusing solely on Los Angeles and Chicago now," NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said Thursday, speaking to reporters at the Beverly Hilton after participating on a CBS "Thursday Night Football" panel.
New York has hosted the draft since 1965, but has been dropped from consideration for next year, Goodell said, because Radio City Music Hall couldn’t offer available dates in April or May. The event is expected to take place either April 22-25 or April 29-May 2.
"We had 12 cities that were interested," Goodell said. "We felt the best thing to do was to focus on the three cities, because they had such a tremendous interest. There are very attractive aspects to each of those cities. Because we don’t have the appropriate dates in May our focus is completely on Los Angeles and Chicago."
The league is considering stretching the draft from three days to four, a concept that would test the creativity of the NFL considering the interest naturally wanes in the later rounds. Still, the TV numbers are staggering. For instance, the first round of this year’s draft drew more viewers than the NBA playoffs (and attracted a larger audience than MLB’s All-Star game.)