Levi’s Stadium and the 49ers: Leveraging Technology and Social Media

After years in the historic Candlestick Park (which housed the Giants, 49ers, and even the Beatles’ final concert), a new stadium was needed for the San Francisco 49ers. Forty-five miles from San Francisco proper, Santa Clara was the town selected to house the new Levi’s Stadium. Located in the heart of Silicon Valley, architects wanted this stadium to reflect its surroundings and become the most ecological and technological stadium ever built.


(Above: Rendering of Levi’s Stadium, Below: Finished Image of Levi’s Stadium)

Technological Advances

To achieve the goal of becoming the most technologic stadium ever built, the 49ers hired 30 engineers and developers from companies like Google, Yahoo!, and Facebook to create the structure needed to reach this achievement. The most important task for these tech gurus was to make the entire stadium Wi-Fi accessible. Since many public locations have Wi-Fi available, you’d think that this would be a simple task. However, with large amounts of concrete and steel in the construction, these signals have difficulty in penetrating these materials. 49ers President Paraag Marathe stated, “We’ve created a pretty novel spider web of access points. Everybody that comes here is going to very pleasantly surprised with the quality of the Wi-Fi.”

Levi’s Stadium App and The Faithful 49 Program 

This Wi-Fi network isn’t just set-up for fans to check their emails or post updates on Facebook, but to access the 49ers app, which was designed to improve the experience quality for fans attending games. Within the app, fans are able to see instant replays, access mobile ticketing, in-venue mapping, and in-seat ordering and delivery (for only $5 more).

The Levi’s Stadium app also allows fans to access their Faithful 49 accounts. The Faithful 49 program, which is sponsored by Esurance, was announced three months before the start of last season. This rewards program allows for fans to collect points through reading articles, watching videos, or interacting with the team’s social media pages. These points are then able to be redeemed for free food and drinks, various prizes, or tickets for future games. While this app isn’t directly social media, the 49ers are able to grow their social media platforms and engage with their fans – creating stronger and better relationships. Through their in-seat delivery program and free giveaways, fans feel important and are more willing to stay loyal fans. Therefore, this social app that the 49ers developed eventually increases customer loyalty and eventually revenue streams – both important business objectives.

Toyota and Levi’s Stadium: Toyota Fan Zone

My personal connection to the 49ers and social media occurred in my internship this past summer, where I worked for the advertising agency the represented the Northern California Toyota Dealers. Before I arrived, Toyota and my agency worked a sponsorship deal with the 49ers and their new stadium. Within this package was name rights for one of the entrance gates – Toyota Plaza – and other various advertising installments around the stadium.

Within my first few weeks, I was in a meeting where we were discussing ideas for these installments. With wanting to follow Levi’s Stadium’s technological construction, our agency wanted a tech idea that engaged fans with the Toyota Fan Zone, a Facebook/Twitter account developed by the agency for Toyota, which covered all SF sports. We developed a two-sided video wall (see below) which had a Facebook/Twitter feed, an Instagram feed, and a continuous video reel from a shoot with head coach, Jim Harbaugh. Placed at the entry way to the stadium, fans were able to see their social media posts on the video wall. As an agency, we were able to accomplish our objective to allow fans to connect with the Toyota Fan Zone via Social Media while maintaining the integrity of the stadium.

(Above: My original sketch for the TFZ video wall, Below: Finished TFZ video wall)

Toyota and Levi’s Stadium: Toyota Red Zone

Another piece of the sponsorship deal with Toyota and the 49ers was brand visibility when the team made it into the red zone, i.e. 20 yards to the end zone. During my internship, I heard that whenever they made it into this zone, all the LED displays in the stadium would turn red and display the Toyota Red Zone messaging. However, a few weeks after my internship, I saw an article on Ad Age with the headline “All of San Francisco Hates NFL Red Zone Advertising”. Looks like there was more to the deal than I thought.

On local San Francisco TV coverage, when the 49ers reached the Red Zone, a large graphic (see below) remained on the field until they scored or lost possession. Yes, it gave Toyota the advertising attention they desired, but probably not in the best way. Fans soon lashed out on social media platforms, very unhappy with these graphics. Quickly after, “a Toyota spokesperson told ABC News, ‘During the remainder of the 49ers’ preseason games, fans and viewers should no longer see the Toyota Red Zone once the ball is snapped.'” Through the fans social media input, Toyota was able to give them what they wanted and reevaluated their advertising approach.

toyota-red-zone-hed-2014_0These examples from the 49ers, Levi’s Stadium, and Toyota all prove that social media needs to be used properly and affectively. With the Levi’s Stadium app, Faithful 49 program, and the Toyota video wall, these corporations effectively used social media to engage with fans in a positive way. These uses allowed for fans to engage in a way they desired. However, when things go wrong, like the Toyota Red Zone ad strategy, social media can erupt with negative reactions.

These cases prove that the ways businesses try to accomplish their objectives can be done in a right or wrong way. Operations need to run smoothly for their app (e.g. in-seat delivery) to be successful and social tactics (i.e. with Toyota and the Faithful 49) need to be done with the perfect level of sophistication to engage with fans positively. Otherwise, who knows? Maybe your good idea may come to be haunt you in the end.



  1. Fascinating post…especially since you have first-hand experience with the stadium and the team! I was at Levi’s Stadium a couple of weeks ago and can report that the Wi-fi does indeed work very well and is an amazing asset to have (especially when your data plan is running low, as was mine!).

    What I found most interesting in your post was the introduction, reassessment, and then removal of the Toyota branding on TV when in the Red Zone. I’m sure people initially thought this would be a great way to put an advertisement in the game. It was refreshing to hear that, once it received such negative feedback on social media, the “people’s voice” was heard and the branding was done away with.

    Great post, overall!

  2. Great post Jackson. Until reading it, I was puzzled by the 49ers move out of downtown SF but your blog has helped me gain a greater understanding of the decision. Also, I love to see when teams collaborate with companies to bring state-of-the-art amenities to parks. One other example is the resource-conserving and environmentally conscious features of Nationals Park, where the Washington Nationals play. (You can read more on that here: http://washington.nationals.mlb.com/was/ballpark/information/index.jsp?content=green_ballpark). It’s great that you were able to provide a first-hand account on the work to bring about the sponsorship of the Toyota Fan Zone. The 49ers must love being able to have sponsors for many of its fan-engagement initiatives.

  3. meganvtom · ·

    I loved reading your post!! Even though the 49ers most likely will have a rough season this year…I definitely want to go to the new stadium and check out the app and the other features you wrote about. The Levi’s Stadium app fascinates me the most. It seems like a great idea to reward fans with tangible rewards for their loyalty, while also providing improved efficiency and interesting features. Even though you said that this isn’t necessarily social media, I would have to disagree! I think the app. has a lot of potential for becoming more social or connecting with existing platforms. It seems like a great base for fans to connect. I would be interested in learning about how other sports teams or stadiums have utilized social media or applications in their operations.

  4. I had a student do their presentation on this last semester. Very interesting. Love the example of how SM helped them realize how to Tweak the “Red Zone” graphic.

  5. Great post, Jackson! It sounds like you had a very unique relationship to this venue change through the work that you did in your internship–thank you for sharing your insight! I think that the inclusion of the Levi’s Stadium App is a great way to incorporate fans with the team’s social media sites as well as get more fans involved and sharing with each other. I wonder what different teams will do in the future to follow this example–will this type of high tech sharing become the norm? I’m very interested to see what will happen. Thanks for the insight!

  6. Very cool what the 49ers decided to do with their new stadium. It definitely reflects it’s surroundings, which I think is great more sports teams should look to do this as well. The in-seat delivery program is also great! Originally, when I was reading all of this I thought all of the wi-fi access and technological advancements in the stadium would take away from the game, but it actually does the opposite. Instead of going up to the concession stands and waiting in long lines, loyal fans can order food straight to their seat, not missing a snap. I’m interested to see how all these programs are actually carried out during the games, but it sounds efficient to me. Great post.

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