Striking Gold in the Bay Area

Ethan Casson brought one of the world’s biggest sporting events to California while building a state-of-the-art home for the San Francisco 49ers

It was a thrilling fourth quarter. The Denver Broncos had led Super Bowl 50 since kicking a field goal on the game’s opening drive, but a late Carolina field goal brought the Panthers within six points of tying the game. Carolina received the ball and a chance to take the lead with four minutes and fifty-one seconds left to go on the game clock. But Broncos linebacker Von Miller, who would go on to become the game’s most valuable player, jarred the ball loose from all-pro quarterback Cam Newton. Denver recovered possession, and went on to win 24-10.

Raise the Green Roof for the NFL 

Levi’s Stadium was not only selected as the site for the National Football League’s biggest showcase of the year in 2016, but it also serves as a forefront of modern architecture for its eco-friendly initiatives.

• First professional football stadium in the United States to achieve LEED Gold certification

• Live real-time monitoring of energy, water, and air usage

• Sustainable site adjacent to local mass transit and bike hubs

• Photovoltaic solar panels on three pedestrian bridges and rooftop terrace

• Sustainable materials including reclaimed wood and recycled products used in construction

• 27,000-square-foot green roof

• Recycled water used for cooling, flushing, and irrigation

• Local suppliers used in concession areas

• Composting and recycling program

On the field, Super Bowl 50 was a success for Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning and the entire Denver franchise. But on the sidelines, Ethan Casson and his dedicated team were quietly celebrating victories of their own. Casson, chief operating officer of the San Francisco 49ers, had worked tirelessly on making Levi’s Stadium a reality by collaborating with the Super Bowl 50 host committee in bringing the big game to the Bay Area for the golden anniversary spectacle. The game signified an end to a six-year journey.

Casson began his professional sports career as an intern with the Boston Celtics. Although the business side of sports was in its infancy, he recognized the enormous growth potential the industry would have in the years to come. He spent eleven seasons with the National Basketball Association’s Minnesota Timberwolves, where he worked his way up to be one of the leaders of the organization.

This experience led him to the Bay Area, where he accepted an executive position with the National Football League’s San Francisco 49ers. CEO Jed York tasked Casson with securing a naming rights partner and other founding corporate partnerships, in part to help fund a billion-dollar stadium, which had yet to be approved by the City of Santa Clara.

In June 2010, they won public approval to build California’s first major NFL stadium in nearly fifty years. The $1.2 billion stadium would be constructed in the heart of Silicon Valley, a true showcase of technology, sustainability, and the ultimate fan experience. The 68,500-seat stadium provides blazing-fast Wi-Fi and 4G connections, as well as beacon technology, a robust IPTV network made up of more than 2,000 television monitors, and massive LED scoreboards.

The 49ers also developed and deployed its own mobile app, allowing fans to enter the building via e-ticketing, pay for concessions, have food delivered to their seats, or watch replays during the game. As a LEED Gold-certified structure, Levi’s Stadium features rooftop solar panels, reclaimed wood, recycled building materials, a green roof, recycled water, and use of local suppliers.

When stadium construction got underway in the spring of 2012, the Super Bowl bid committee, along with 49ers officials, set out to bring the event to the Bay Area. In the spring of 2013, the league’s thirty-two owners voted to award the monumental game to Levi’s Stadium. “In the end, we live in a beautiful region of the country with a warm climate and had a great new facility; we just needed the opportunity to demonstrate our ability to host the most important game on the biggest stage,” says Casson, adding that the league and owners were likely drawn to Levi’s Stadium’s green and high-tech features.

There’s a number of reasons why the competition to host a Super Bowl is so fierce—one of which being that considerable and lasting economic impact can come when a team, stadium, city, and state are thrust into the international spotlight of the most-watched sporting event in the United States. Early studies estimate the Bay Area’s benefits from business travel, hospitality taxes, leisure dollars, and other consumer spending associated with the big game are worth approximately $350 million.   

With the new home of the San Francisco 49ers complete, a $220 million naming rights partnership secured with Levi Strauss & Co., and numerous events hosted at the stadium since its opening (WrestleMania 31, NHL Stadium Series, the PAC-12 football championship, international soccer, and many music headliners, to name a few), the Bay Area will continue to enjoy this impressive venue.

Looking ahead, the focus continues to be on the fan experience and driving value for season ticket holders and corporate partners. “These folks are the lifeblood to the success of our franchise. It’s critical that we exceed their expectations at every turn,” Casson says. “In order to do this, we will continue to retain and recruit the top talent in the industry. Great companies get the people aspect right before moving on to strategy and process. Having passionate people who work together is what got us to this point, and that is what will continue to propel us forward.”

Editor’s note: Ethan Casson was promoted to CEO of the Minnesota Timberwolves at the time of publication.