New 49ers stadium will battle Bay Area couchesJuly 23, 2013: 8:01 PM ET
The new home of the 49ers will try to lure fans with high-tech accommodations.
By Kurt Wagner, reporter
FORTUNE -- The San Francisco 49ers are pulling out all the stops building a new stadium. At a cost of $1.2 billion, the new field will provide more than a new home to the reigning NFC champs. It will also provide a unique user experience that fans can't get while watching the game at home, according to team CEO Jed York.
York was speaking at Fortune's Brainstorm Tech conference Tuesday to discuss the new stadium and its unlikely competition: the living room couch. As game broadcasts have improved and the costs of enjoying a game in-person have increased, York and his front office staff feel they have to provide an experience that will beat the convenience of watching at home. From basics like high-speed wireless Internet access to more elaborate perks like instant replay from any camera directly to your phone, the 49ers have made their goal abundantly clear. "This is, at its core, not a stadium project," 49ers president Gideon Yu said. "What this is is a blank piece of paper, and think 'how do you fundamentally rethink the user experience?'"
In typical Silicon Valley fashion, most of that rethinking relies on technology, or more importantly, the "backend" the stadium will require to accommodate fans using all different manner of gadgets. "I don't care what hardware people use," says York. "I want the content in the stadium [to be] what you want it to be." The idea is that fans can come equipped as they are—Apple (AAPL) or Google (GOOG) device in tow—and still sync up to the stadium's network to watch highlights after every play, order concessions delivered directly to their seats (even in the nose bleed section), or order team merchandise without ever having to wait in line.
The logistics behind a system that enables fans to enjoy food or merchandise without ever having to stand is quite another story, but Yu is confident that the problem is simply that: a logistics problem and not a technology problem. York pointed out that vendors already walk up and down the aisles at the stadium, and it's only a matter of increasing their efficiency.
Despite all of the high-tech offerings, the plans for the stadium still leave questions unanswered—at least for now. With so many fans encouraged to engage in the game using their personal devices, charging stations are still a matter of debate internally. Yu was originally a fan of including an outlet on the back of each seat, but the idea of people navigating aisles with cords everywhere and the possibility of spilling a soda or beer onto an outlet have engendered second thoughts, he says.
Ticket prices have also been an issue for fans, as they are expected to rise dramatically once the team leaves Candlestick. York, however, is not concerned, saying that 70% of current season ticket holders have already renewed for the 2014 season. "It's easy to hear the story that says, 'you raised my ticket prices, I can't make it,'" says York. "70% have already decided that they can. So it's not like 70% of the fans at Candlestick are Silicon Valley tycoons." Perhaps after enjoying a game in the new stadium, they'll start to feel like one.