How the Bay Area is creating a Super Bowl experience that’s uniquely Silicon Valley

Visitors line up to pose for photos outside of Levi’s Stadium.
Visitors line up to pose for photos outside of Levi’s Stadium.
Image: AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez
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When the San Francisco Bay Area put in a bid in to host the Super Bowl in 2013, it wanted to highlight its illustrious tech scene. So it delivered the proposal on a first-generation Apple iPad Mini—nascent technology, at the time, created by one of Silicon Valley’s shiniest examples of the entrepreneurial spirit.

The iPads, which may seem commonplace now, were given to each of the NFL’s 32 team owners, who were “very much old school,” Joe Arellano, a spokesperson for the San Francisco Bay Area Host Committee, who also worked on the bid, told Quartz. “It was an innovative and cool, new way to do it,” said Arellano. It reflected what the Bay Area hoped to offer fans and viewers. 

Three years later, with the bid secured, the Bay Area is bringing more of that technology into the game-day experience. And as Super Bowl 50 descends on Santa Clara, California this week, the influence of nearby Silicon Valley is palpable.

Fans won’t see billboards of the Valley’s biggest names, like Apple, Google, and Yahoo, papering Levi’s Stadium when the Carolina Panthers face off against the Denver Broncos on Sunday. But those companies were part of a roster, which also included Hewlett Packard, Intel, and Seagate, that raised $30 million for the project early on. They’re also among dozens of partners of the Super Bowl Host Committee, responsible for the event’s logistics and planning.

Other Bay Area firms like Oracle and Visa have also weaved themselves into the Super Bowl experience, by enabling new state-of-the-art technology at Levi’s Stadium, which was already one of the most high-tech stadiums in the NFL. There, fans will be able to order food, drinks, and merchandise from their seats during Sunday’s game for the first-time ever, using the stadium’s new Super Bowl 50 app. The beverages will be delivered directly to fans, and food and merchandise will be available for pick up within the venue.

Visa is powering payments for in-seat ordering using Visa Checkout. And the company also upgraded the nearly 700 Oracle-backed payment systems within the stadium with NFC readers that will allow fans to make contactless payments through apps like Apple, Android, and Samsung Pay. Visa is headquartered in San Francisco next to the Super Bowl City event area, where fans can enjoy free performances from artists like Alicia Keys, meet NFL stars, shop, sample favorites from eateries from San Francisco to Napa Valley, and play interactive games.

Verizon, which is sponsoring Super Bowl City, also invested $70 million to upgrade its wireless network in the area and will have a team of technicians on-site to manage the expected influx of traffic on game day. The wireless provider thinks this will be the most “shared” Super Bowl of all-time.

Google will also feature official Super Bowl-related events on Google Maps, so visitors can quickly and easily find where they need to go.

On-demand services like Uber and Airbnb are also expected to get a boost in the Bay Area this week. Uber, another Silicon Valley native, will shuttle fans to and from the stadium as the Super Bowl’s exclusive ride-sharing partner. And home-sharing service Airbnb estimates that 15,000 guests from 100 different countries will stay at more than 4,000 different Airbnb listings in the San Francisco Bay Area during Super Bowl week.

“This is the first Super Bowl in the heart of Silicon Valley, where most of these companies are based, and arguably where some of the most penetrated markets in terms of on demand and real-time service are,” Aunkur Arya, general manager of mobile at PayPal-owned payment processing platform Braintree, which works with Uber and Airbnb, told Quartz. “It’s going to be an interesting weekend because it’s in the mecca of all these services.”

While many of those involved in the event relish the opportunity to shine a light on the Bay Area’s culture, not everyone is happy about the festivities. San Francisco residents have criticized the city for absorbing about $5 million in costs for public safety and transit services, reportedly asking municipal workers to volunteer for the events so they don’t have to be paid overtime, and trying to move the city’s homeless away from Super Bowl City

The Super Bowl Host Committee is giving $13 million of the funds it raised back to the community by supporting local philanthropic efforts, which San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee says justifies the costs. About half of those donations have been distributed so far, the committee said.

Viewers at home will also get a taste of Silicon Valley’s tech spirit while watching the game on Feb. 7. The CBS Super Bowl broadcast will feature 360-degree instant video replays for the first time. To capture the game from every angle, the stadium is being outfitted with 36 cameras that will be used to create 3D scenes with technology from Replay Technologies. The replays were used in a few Sunday night football games this season, but this is the first time they will be part of the Super Bowl broadcast.