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Editorial: The Super Bowl Is Making San Franciscans Feel Like Strangers in Their Own Town

Or like guests at a terrible destination wedding.


The beer-can wall at Super Bowl City, enjoying the benefit of police protection.

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What even is this.

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The line to get into the rooftop lounge at the pop-up Levi's store is depressingly long.

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Entrance to the NFL Experience at Moscone Center.

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At the NFL Experience, even the food is aggressively enormous.

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San Franciscans are quickly discovering that the worst part about hosting a Super Bowl isn't the prevalence of $8 crap beer, the Rambo-style security, the hokey corporate booths, the garish black-and-gold bunting detracting from our terracotta-and-stucco facades, or even the giant football made out of Bud Light cans. The worst part is being forced, as a city, to don the alien exurban drag of mediocrity—and, while we're at it, pay for the privilege. It's being forced to shell out for the civic equivalent of a hideous bridesmaid dress. "Oh, you'll be able to wear it again!" chirps Ed Lee from underneath a blingy SB50 tiara, sipping his fifth cosmo. No, Ed. We won't.

It's not that we don't love football, or cheap lite beer, or the spectacle of semi trucks carrying vats of said cheap lite beer getting their axles stuck on our vertiginous hills. We love American excess as much as the next excessive American city. But there are some big problems with this Super Bowl experiment, and they don't just have to do with homeless sweeps or the fiduciary debacle of the city's handshake deal with the NFL. The problem is that it's actually fucking up the city. Last we checked, the foot of Market Street had a view of the water, but you wouldn't know that now, with Super Bowl City blocking every vantage point of the bay. No big deal, though. It's not like we invested a decade of our lives and millions of dollars to take down the Embarcadero Freeway and sculpt an effortless-looking but paradisical boulevard only to have a mess of corporations erect the pop-up equivalent of a highway service plaza. 

We knocked off work the other day to check out Super Bowl City, thinking we'd give it a real chance and an open mind. But honestly? It has the personality of an infomercial. When we weren't puzzling over menus for novelty snacks ($8 hotdogs in a baguette, anyone?) or $35 glasses of wine, it was all, "Isn't that gold Hyundai the shit" and "Let's do cheerleader moves in front of a chirpy video screen." Even the supposedly useful elements are tainted by overwhelming shillery: Stop by the Verizon shack to recharge your phone and you're likely to get a sales pitch about the benefits of switching to Verizon. 

Things were looking up when we spotted the bar on the roof of the Levi's mega-kiosk. Finally, a chance to get our view of the water back! But, alas, there was a line to be admitted. Although drinking $8 beers atop what is essentially a Sunglass Hut was the best use of time that afternoon, we found ourselves on the wrong side of the velvet ropes. Not getting to go in was, still, not exactly a bummer—sort of like finding out Ruby Skye is closed for a private party.

The weirdest thing about Super Bowl City, though, is the sound. It was eerily quiet on Wednesday afternoon, totally cut off from the surrouding city (and even though there was a protest going on not yards away, you wouldn't have known it inside). To be honest, the absence of car and bus noise was pleasant, but the soundtrack of the village fell far short of anything you'd associate with a "Fan Energy Zone." There were snatches of chatter, the occasional corporate emcee barking at smatterings of onlookers, pop music playing from big speakers, and light foot traffic, all set against a backdrop of white noise from what sounded like generators.

Market Street is normally a lively, action-heavy place, but this felt like all the vitality had been sucked out and replaced with a dying mall. Inside the Bud Light tent, where a polite row of bartenders stood like hotel receptionists behind a bizarrely white bar, a gap in the Super Bowl City fencing revealed the facade of the Philz coffeeshop just beyond. It looked so tantalizing that we began to believe that the logic of the security apparatus was flipped: The rest of San Francisco wasn't being kept out; we were being kept in. 

We're San Franciscans
; we can smirk at a stuck beer truck and move on. But for a town where chain stores regularly get shot down, where one neighbor can't so much as add a balcony without another's blessing, this particular instance of corporate takeover is a total urbanist nightmare. We're the city that popularized parklets; that invented tactical urbanism at Proxy, in Hayes Valley; that helped pioneer sleek, strollable factory retrofits (yes, even Ghirardelli Square was, at one point, cutting edge); that would rather spite the rich and keep a little-used tennis club and parking lot than build a condo high-rise near-ish to the water. We wade through lengthy reports on shadows. We've never seen a piece of wood we didn't want to reclaim.

And for all that legacy of community investment and late nights at Planning meetings, we're rewarded can statues? As if it could hear us thinking all this, the Super Bowl activities shut down City Hall yesterday for a private event, cutting short the regular Planning Commission hearing. Planning, booted from its own domain! The NFL never skimps on symbolism.

The thing that really gets us, though, is this: Why not hold Super Bowl City at the Moscone Center? It's perfect. There's nothing to ruin because it's already…Moscone. You can't destroy that which is already stuffy and staged with cheap vinyl and stage sets. That's what it's built for. Plus, out-of-towners are fine with it. They are just excited to see so many Starbucks in one place. Even better, the NFL Experience could have stayed in Santa Clara, where the taxpayers wouldn't be shelling out for the extra security.

Moscone, meanwhile, is the fan Disneyland
we were expecting—minus the artistry of Disney, of course. The activities are best for little kids: Think obstacle courses that end in ball pits, high jumps where you test your prowess against NFL athletes, and games where you can hone your spiral pass. Maybe not worth the $35 ticket price ($25 for kids 12 and under), but, you know, fun enough. And unlike Super Bowl City, it's as self-contained as any Dreamforce or CloudCon, which means our usual shill-and-let-shill policy remains in effect.

The NFL Experience is sort of about sports—pint-size versions on turf, anyway—but it's mostly about selfies. There's a new photo op roughly every two minutes. Fans can take a selfie as the head of the headless foodball player body. They can queue up at the FedEx booth to make a video of themselves doing a touchdown dance in front of a green screen. They can take a snap with a cheerleader. To keep the logistics of all this selfie taking manageable, the host committee commissioned an app that keeps track of them all via a personalized QR code. You don't really need the app, though, unless you want the particular selfie where you become a Hall of Fame–style bronze bust. By far the most popular attraction, a helper named Marsha told us, is the selfie with the Lombardi trophy, which has an amusement-park-length line. 

Oh, a warning about the food: Aside from some free mini-Snickers lying around, expect some seriously sad offerings. The food seems to have been catered by an AMC equipped with a microwave and a vending machine for a sous-chef. There are squares of cheese or pepperoni pizza for $8.75, suspect enough to make you actually consider shelling out for an $8 Bud Light. Sneaking normal-person food through the metal detectors isn't a good bet, by the way: We almost got caught out with a banana, but luckily it fit in our hoodie pocket.

The weirdest attraction we tried was something called NFL Virtual Reality, the premise of which is to transport fans to various NFL stadiums via virtual-reality goggles. It's immersive, for sure—there are bulky headphones to wear—but it feels like being inside a particularly plotless 3-D video game where you can do nothing but watch a few disconnected plays go down. Plus, the proportions are off significantly: Everyone looks to be about three feet tall, which is a jarring thing to do to a fully ripped adult male team.

On the plus side: For the few minutes we were inside the virtual reality football game, we were spared the view of our actual surroundings. 


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