SANTA CLARA -- Along with their replica jerseys, homemade signs and foam "We're No. 1" fingers, 49ers fans will want to take one other essential piece of gear when they attend games at the new Levi's Stadium -- a smartphone.
Thanks to a new app and a technological infrastructure that many analysts say will be second-to-none, that smartphone will be an indispensable game-day tool.
Fans will be able to pull up their ticket on their phone to get into the stadium, order food through it to be delivered directly to their seat -- no matter where they are sitting -- and watch replays of the latest game action. Thanks to a high-capacity network and an in-stadium antenna system, fans will be able to use their phones to check sports scores from around the league, get updates on their fantasy football teams and message selfies to their friends.
In an era of smart cars, smart TVs and smart homes, the 49ers "wanted to make this a smart stadium," said Al Guido, the team's chief operating officer.
Befitting a team based in the heart of Silicon Valley, the 49ers devoted a sizable chunk of their $1.3 billion stadium budget to technological features. The 49ers declined to say exactly how much they spent on particular items, but last year estimated they would spend about $125 million on technology, up from an initial $50 million budget.
Some of the flashier features will be obvious to fans -- such as two giant scoreboards and hundreds of flat-screen TVs, including a 108-inch screen in one of the stadium's restaurants. However, much of the technology will be hidden from view in a state-of-the-art computer network that would make many a tech startup jealous.
The network includes about 680 Wi-Fi access points -- one for every 100 seats in the stadium -- and 12,000 Ethernet ports, which allow everything from phone systems to video cameras to connect. It also includes a superfast 40-gigabit-per-second fiber-optic cable "backbone" that connects the stadium's network to the broader Internet. That's 10,000 times faster than what federal regulators classify as broadband.
Another cutting-edge feature of the stadium is a collection of about 1,700 high-tech "beacons." Using the latest version of Bluetooth, the technology that connects your phone to your wireless headset, these beacons can be used to pinpoint consumers' locations inside the venue to provide them directions.
"I don't think it's too much of a stretch to say that at opening day, (Levi's) will probably be the most advanced stadium, maybe in all of sports," said Paul Kapustka, editor-in-chief of Mobile Sports Report, which closely tracks technological features of sporting venues.
The stadium's communications network and beacon system will link to an app that plugs into the 49ers' customer database, helping the team to deliver personalized information to fans. For example, the app will be able use the system of Bluetooth beacons to point fans to the bathrooms and concession stands nearest their seats. And it will give fans inside the stadium access to up to four video replays of each play streamed over the network from 13 different cameras.
The 49ers plan to use the app to direct arriving fans to the parking lot and entrance closest to their seats, and to redirect them to other lots if those parking spaces fill up. When fans enter the stadium, information gleaned from the app could allow ticket takers to greet them by name.
With the app, the team hopes to eliminate some of the biggest frustrations fans face in attending live sporting events, team officials say. They want to help fans get into and out of the stadium as efficiently as possible, help them find their way around the stadium easily, help them get food and drinks quickly, and to provide them with replays to watch if they missed a play, said Dan Williams, the team's vice president of technology.
"If we can solve those four simple things ... we feel that's something real fans would just want to have," he said.
Barb Lawler, a 54-year-old new season ticket holder from Los Gatos, said she's looking forward to the instant replay feature. "That's going to be really cool to have," she said.
Other features likely will prove popular, too, analysts say. Rohit Mehra, an analyst with tech research firm IDC, said fans especially will appreciate directions to the nearest bathroom.
"That's probably more important than where I can get my beer, because when you've got to go, you've got to go," he said.
Fans also will be able to use the communications network to surf the Web, check their email and watch nongame videos. A cellular antenna system inside the stadium should allow them to make calls and send text messages as well, which can be a challenge when thousands of people are clustered together.
The 49ers are among a growing number of sports teams who are turning to technology to connect with fans. The San Francisco Giants have an extensive Wi-Fi network at AT&T Park, for example. And two years ago, the Warriors put in place a Wi-Fi network at Oakland's Oracle Arena and launched their own smartphone app.
Teams feel pressure to include such features because fans, particularly younger ones, have grown accustomed to being able to use their smartphones anywhere and everywhere, and expect to have that same access inside sporting venues, analysts say.
But there's not yet a lot of hard evidence that high-tech features are influencing things such as ticket or concession sales or how long fans stay at the game. "I'm not sure that they're game changers," said Chad McEvoy, professor and graduate program director in Syracuse University's Department of Sports Management.
Lawler, for example, works in tech -- she's Intuit's chief privacy officer -- but said it's not technology that's drawing her to the stadium or what will keep her coming back.
"The most important thing is having a great experience," she said, adding that that was more influenced by how well the team is playing, how easy it is to see the action on the field and the quality and diversity of food choices.
Still, you can bet that Lawler will be bringing her smartphone with her to the games.
Contact Troy Wolverton at 408-840-4285. Follow him at Twitter.com/troywolv.