SANTA CLARA — Welcome to the new home of the 49ers.
Eight years after the San Francisco football team announced plans to move an hour’s drive south to Santa Clara, the team officially opened its $1.3 billion “sports and entertainment cathedral” in a show-stopping ceremony Thursday.
Beer flowed, stadium-themed merchandise flew off shelves, massive HD video-boards lit up with highlight reels and surround-sound speakers hummed with pop music. Team luminaries from coach Jim Harbaugh to star defender Patrick Willis schmoozed with guests such as NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, tech executives and politicians.
About the only thing left to add to Levi’s Stadium is 70,000 screaming 49ers fans – and, of course, 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 their phones; a rooftop suite and celebrity-chef dining for high rollers; and all the standard modern amenities Candlestick Park didn’t have, such as concourses now three times bigger.
“You deserve to have the best stadium in the world,” said 49ers CEO Jed York. “Now you have it.”
Thursday’s ceremony was bittersweet for some fans. 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.
There is still work to be done before the first event, an Aug. 2 San Jose Earthquakes match. The Niners take the field for their first preseason game Aug. 17, and first regular-season game Sept. 14.