Super Bowl 50 puts tech in its starting lineup

Reps from the NFL, San Francisco 49ers and software giant SAP say the game will live up to its high-tech promise.

Terry Collins Staff Reporter, CNET News
Terry writes about social networking giants and legal issues in Silicon Valley for CNET News. He joined CNET News from the Associated Press, where he spent the six years covering major breaking news in the San Francisco Bay Area. Before the AP, Terry worked at the Star Tribune in Minneapolis and the Kansas City Star. Terry's a native of Chicago.
Terry Collins
3 min read
Hands raising the Super Bowl trophy.

Super Bowl 50 will be played in Silicon Valley's backyard, and tech will definitely be on hand.

William Perlman/Star Ledger/Corbis

Are you ready for some high-tech football?

Less than three weeks away, Super Bowl 50 will be the most technologically advanced game ever played. At least that's what Super Bowl organizers such as the National Football League, host team San Francisco 49ers and software giant SAP are planning, according to a panel discussion Wednesday night in the city.

Tech will be a focal point not only for the February 7 game itself at the $1.3 billion Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California, but also for the crowds expected to converge on downtown San Francisco to partake in weeklong pre-game festivities at Super Bowl City. A million football fans are expected to try out interactive games such as Amp It Up and Breakaway inside the Fan Energy Zone sponsored by SAP.

Enlarge Image

Here is the beta version of the soon-to-be released Super Bowl 50 app. Organizers say the February 7 game will be the most technologically advanced Super Bowl ever.

Terry Collins/CNET

It's all a prelude to the golden anniversary of the NFL's marquee event. More than 72,000 fans are expected to attend the Super Bowl in the heart of Silicon Valley, with another 110 million watching on TV.

"Almost everybody at the Super Bowl will be using some sort of mobile device," said Al Guido, chief operating officer for the 49ers. "They're going to be looking at game statistics, their social networks, sharing photos and other content. We have the high-tech infrastructure to handle it."

How? The stadium, which opened in 2014, has 400 miles of fiber and copper cable to handle data and 1,200 Wi-Fi access points, Guido said. Simply put, the stadium has 10 times more bandwidth than the NFL mandates at other stadiums.

"We just feel that's the way the future of sports is headed," he said. "We want to our fans to watch any replay from any angle. That was our vision."

Guido also showed off a beta version of the Super Bowl 50 app, teasing that those must-see commercials could be shown on it. "Maybe," he said.

With tech's promise come potential tech fails, conceded Aidan Lyons, the NFL's vice president of fan-centric marketing. But Lyons said he's not too worried, noting that the league and the game's sponsors are putting in their best effort for the game and for Super Bowl City. For example, fans can use NFL Fan Mobile Pass and the Road to 50 app to help get around.

"We're going to put the technology in the fan's hands," Lyons said. "I've experienced Super Bowls where I've heard fans say, 'Where do I go for this?' 'How do I get that?' If you give them the technology, whether it's information [or] scheduling, it will enhance their experience, whether they are from San Francisco or from New Jersey."

With major issues such as homelessness and its lack of affordable housing, San Francisco has been getting heat for spending an estimated $4 million from city coffers for Super Bowl-related events -- mostly for additional police and extra public transportation -- without any reimbursement from the NFL or the local Super Bowl 50 Host Committee.

The city predicts a major windfall nonetheless. "We fully expect a financial win for San Francisco," Mayor Ed Lee's office said in a statement. The mayor also thanked the host committee for offering free "family-friendly" events, such as Super Bowl City.

Sam Yen, chief design officer for Germany-based SAP, said both children and adults will get a kick out of the Quarterback Challenge, another interactive game in which a fan wearing a virtual reality headset becomes a quarterback in simulated game situations such as avoiding getting sacked or throwing a game-winning touchdown pass. Fans can see how they fare against other competitors on a scoreboard.

"We hope this adds a new level of excitement. Technology has the opportunity to amplify the human experience," he said. "This gives an opportunity for the community to experience a part of the Super Bowl, whether you're going to the game or not."

Asked what they are most concerned about on Super Bowl Sunday, the panelists said almost in unison: "the weather."