Two days ago, the Quakes played Ricardo Kaka and Orlando City SC at Levi’s Stadium. The number of fans in attendance seemed bleak, despite the reported 36,224, as many seats in the stadium were vacant, especially in the 100 (lower bowl) center-line section of Levi’s.
On the way out, I had the opportunity to poll/interview several people about their experiences, and many fans were critical.
“I hate everything about Levi’s,” said Katarina Kotik. “I hate where the bars are positioned, I don’t like any of those things. For me, it’s just one thing after another.”
Katarina feels that all Quakes home games should be at Avaya. “Levi’s Stadium is all about the Niners. There is not a single area in the Levi’s Stadium about the Earthquakes.”
“The whole point of having a new stadium is to build a strong community around it,” said Rob Zizak, citing that games away from Avaya do not build community.
Season ticket holder Alex Pignotti had this criticism: “If you’re watching [the Levi’s game] on TV, you’re going to see . . . empty sections.” Alex added that “You can pack out Avaya . . . which is the atmosphere you want to create.” For Alex, this atmosphere more crucial to building a fan-base than having games at larger venues.
Brandon Davis also noticed a lack of soccer atmosphere. “The lack of attendance brought a lack of support. That meant little to no home-field advantage.”
Many season ticket holders also felt slighted as their seats were moved backwards or towards the goals to make room for the center section at Levi’s.
There were few positives about Levi’s. Alex Pignotti said he did enjoy the separation of the different supporters groups at different goals, which cut down on the “competition” created at Avaya by the supporters groups.
First-time Quakes attendee Patrick Roseblade, said his experience “was great,” but he admits “I have nothing to compare it to.” He plans to go to an Avaya game sometime this season.
Season ticket holder Leonard Castro said that the Levi’s seats were more comfortable, but that was about it. “Just sitting in the bowl? I like Avaya better.”
When asked about the Stanford game, fans were split. The Stanford tradition of playing L.A. seems to be a good fixture since Avaya has limited seating and a game against the rival Galaxy will draw many more fans, which Avaya cannot accommodate with its 18,000 max capacity. It also has a fireworks night, so it appears Stanford does not have the same vitriol of Levi’s.
However, when asked about having games at other venues outside of the South Bay, such as the Oakland Coliseum, AT&T Park, and Cal, fans were more apprehensive. Traffic and distance seemed to be the main issue.
Castro said that he wouldn’t drive to Berkeley to see the Quakes, unless they were playing a team he really wanted to see. “I’m not going to Berkeley to see [Manchester].”
What Went Wrong
Why wasn’t Sunday’s game as successful as last year? There are more than a few factors to consider.
Part of the success of last year’s game at Levi’s was the fact that it was the “Grand Opening” of Levi’s. People had seen the stadium built before their eyes and could not wait to taste the atmosphere. There was a mystery about the stadium, and being part of the first professional event was enticing. Now, a year later, the mystique of Levi’s is gone.
The Quakes were still playing at Buck Shaw, so any professional venue seemed like a welcome change from the 50-year-old former SCU football stadium. Avaya became “home” once it opened, and leaving home to play at another local venue was insulting for most fans, many of whom had waited a long time for Avaya.
In 2014, the Quakes hosted Western Conference rival and the eventual Supporters’ Shield winner Seattle Sounders. The 49ers and Seahawks rivalry helped to fuel the MLS rivalry, which made it the opponent that much more appealing for the venue. Unfortunately the Quakes picked the wrong team this year. Orlando City SC is an Eastern Conference expansion team with one *former* international super-star Ricardo Kaka. Kaka is on his way down, scoring just seven goals last year for his former AC Milan club, which finished 8th during Kaka’s second stint with the team. A 2007 FIFA Player of the Year is not enough to get people excited in 2015.
The weather. Many fans complained about baking in the sun while others underneath the luxury boxes froze in the wind and shade.
The lack of excitement for opening Levi’s, still playing at Buck Shaw, a poor opponent, and poor weather all combined to create a mediocre experience for fans, all of which were missing for last year’s match.
How to Fix It
The Quakes are locked into a five-year contract with the 49ers to host one game a year at Levi’s, which was reported on July 31st, 2014. That means there are still three games left to be played in 2016-2018. So what are some solutions?
1. Terminate the contract. The Quakes can cut their losses at Levi’s and focus on Avaya. I’ve heard rumors that the Niners would like to terminate the contract as well, although these are unsubstantiated at the moment. In any case, the best course of action may be to recognize that future games at Levi’s may be similar to Sunday’s, and the Quakes front office should simply focus on promoting one “home-away-from-home” game at Stanford.
2. Use West Coast teams. Rivalries are the biggest draw for big games, and Western Conference teams draw more visiting fans, especially to a venue which would be able to support more visitors. By playing West Coast teams like Portland or Seattle while waiting for LAFC, the Quakes might be able to revitalize the Levi’s game. Furthermore, opposing teams’ fans might be enticed to come down and enjoy the game at a venue with more seating for them, rather than being relegated to the visitor’s section at Avaya.
3. Put an end to the Levi’s policies regarding tifo and bags. Many fans simply didn’t go because of the enforcement of Levi’s NFL policies, including tailgating, the bag policy, and lack of tifo for supporting sections.
4. More advertising? Brandon Davis said he didn’t know about the game until the night before. Perhaps more advertising, combined with a larger-market opponent, would be the antidote for the Levi’s blues?
5. Make it a night game in the late summer. Nothing is better than a game under the lights. Fans don’t have to worry about baking, and a late summer game might help the weather problem.
In the end, the game was considered a failure by most fans. With three more games to go in the coming years, changes are needed to attract more fans, both local and visiting. Only time will tell if the Quakes front office can adjust to make Levi’s games a successful event in the coming years.