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)
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.
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.
These 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.