The College Football Playoff’s Levi’s Stadium Problem


Levi’s Stadium sucks.

Were Gavin Belson to own an NFL franchise, Levi’s Stadium is the monument to his ego he would have constructed: Luxury amenities for Silicon Valley executives; plopped in the middle of Hooli’s office park, easily accessible only for developers walking from work; and awful in every other way, including as a football venue.

Consider this life imitating art imitating life.

The myriad issues inherent with Levi’s Stadium — chronicled since its opening in 2014 but somehow ignored on a larger scale — are now a topic of nationwide conversation, with the College Football Playoff championship emanating from the Bay’s $1.3 billion boondoggle.

We have a prime opportunity to engage in a meaningful discussion about the issues associated with modern sports venues. Levi’s Stadium manages to combine many of the worst traits, like an inaccessible, suburban location; and a hefty price tag passed off to taxpayers, while catering almost exclusively to corporate interests.

Such concerns plague stadiums like Glendale’s State Farm Stadium — which, at high-traffic times, takes about as long to access from Sky Harbor Airport and downtown Phoenix as it does from the interstate stopover town of Gila Bend. With no reliable public transportation, the sprawl complicated covering the 2017 Final Four.

And then there’s the future home of the Las Vegas Raiders, which received a disgusting $750 million in public subsidies.

Yet, at that, State Farm Stadium was filled beyond capacity for the 2015 season’s Playoff championship, between the same two teams playing Monday in Levi’s Stadium. Rampant speculation suggests that, with the popularity of its basketball tournament in Las Vegas, the Pac-12 will move its football championship from Levi’s Stadium to Sin City. That would leave the Silicon Valley without one of the marquee events promised to offset public expenses — which didn’t draw particularly well anyway, in what should have foreshadowed the Playoff struggles to come.

See, on top of the problems common with other billion-dollar monstrosities construced in the 21st, Levi’s Stadium has other problems all its own. Silicon Valley is exceedingly expensive, for one thing. Hotel prices were triple the rates I often pay when covering the Pac-12 Championship.

Inside the stadium itself, the highest-quality turf available are the steaks served with lobster in the on-site bistro. Levi’s Stadium’s actual playing surface is shockingly bad. In my experiences walking across it, the field has felt like either an old sponge someone failed to wring out; or a slab of concrete.

Any number of valid criticisms can be offered against the College Football Playoff’s committee decision to host its championship in Silicon Valley. The falling price of secondary-market sellers — since, *GASP!*, won’t someone please think of the secondary-market sellers!

might even be an indictment of the Playoff’s format itself. Asking fans to travel to Dallas or Miami one weekend and the Bay Area the next places a pricey burden on their shoulders.

As prices fall, and the risk of a less-than-capacity-sized audience for the championship game looms, rest assured that plenty of asinine takes will circulate with valid criticism. Putting one such take to rest immediately: The ticket sales for the Playoff championship are not a larger-scale indictment of the West.

I spent my New Year’s Day just this week surrounded by approximately 93,000 rabid fans at Rose Bowl Stadium. Plenty traveled to Pasadena from the East — in part because the Los Angeles area is an easier area to get to from other airports, and in another part because L.A. is more attractive than an office park in Silicon Valley.

No shortage of those in attendance at the Rose Bowl made their way from the West. Washington fans accounted for half of the attendance, after largely no-showing the Pac-12 Championship Game. The Granddaddy of ‘Em All is also a hot local ticket every year; all this despite a not-insignificant effort from the national college football commentariat to devalue its meaning.

A championship game at the Rose Bowl would sell out. The last held there, when Florida State claimed the final BCS title over Auburn, drew 94,000. A hypothetical championship at the forthcoming Rams and Raiders stadiums would sell out. Glendale’s already sold out a Playoff championship. It’s entirely feasible for Western sites to host the championship. What we have in 2019 is a byproduct of a simple fact: Levi’s Stadium sucks.