There seemed to be a renewed spirit in the air at Levi’s Stadium on Saturday as the San Francisco 49ers hosted an open practice. Kids six and under got in free while all other attendees paid $5 general admission, which went to the 49er Foundation.
According to 49ers officials, just over 25,000 fans attended the Training Camp practice, which is more than one third of the 68,500 capacity. After disappointing seasons the last two years, 49er fans appear optimistic that the new management and coaching staff can turn things around.
“The vibe around the team is a lot better now,” commented 49er fan and Santa Clara native Brian Goldenberg. “There’s more energy, there is a vision and a plan for this team. There’s definitely a path that the fans can see. They are building something the fans can get behind. You can feel the excitement.”
First-year 49ers General Manager John Lynch received high praise for his draft selections back in April and first-year Head Coach Kyle Shanahan comes to San Francisco as a hot commodity in the coaching world, similar to Jim Harbaugh’s arrival in 2011.
Saturday’s practice was a good reminder that the 49er fan base is particularly strong in Santa Clara and the surrounding South Bay cities.
“Back in 2010, [49ers owner] Jed York told me that 30 percent of the season-ticket holding fan base were in Santa Clara County,” noted Goldenberg, who is also a graduate of Santa Clara High. “Another 30 percent were in San Mateo County and less than 10 percent were in San Francisco. There were more season ticket holders in the Central Valley than in the City of San Francisco.”
The team has long called the South Bay home even before Levi’s Stadium opened. Team headquarters have been in Santa Clara since 1988. Coach Shanahan spent a chunk of his childhood in this area when his dad Mike Shanahan was the offensive coordinator for the 49ers from 1992-1994. Kyle admitted he was pleasantly surprised by the fan turnout on Saturday.
“I didn’t totally know what to expect today, but it was real cool,” commented coach Shanahan. “I drive in every morning and on the wall I see, ‘faithful then and faithful now’ and I always think about that, because that’s how I felt back in the day. I grew up a fan of two teams, the Broncos and the 49ers. Getting to the stadium today and seeing all those fans out there was real cool. A lot of old feelings came back, good to be around the 49er faithful again.”
When the 49ers first moved into Levi’s stadium in 2014, some members of the faithful were miffed that the team was moving 35 miles south. However, 49ers fan and Santa Clara native Christopher De Jesus believes that sentiment from San Francisco residents undermines the strong fan support from Santa Clara and throughout the rest of the Bay Area.
“In today’s world, as someone who has worked at tech companies, you see people from all around the country recruited to work here and they are more likely to live in San Francisco. The city doesn’t necessarily have as much native passion for a local sports team like, say people in the South Bay or other areas.”
A number of fans, including De Jesus, were invited down to the field to watch from special VIP sections. After practice there were a number of young kids down on the field receiving autographs from their favorite players.
Everyone seemed to have a fun time at the open practice. Fans got their first in-person glimpse of the 2017 squad even before the first preseason game.
“This was a really cool thing for the 49ers to do,” commented Santa Clara resident and season-ticket holder Fred Ryan. “Definitely something they should do more.”