July 28, 2014

NFL’s 49ers Launch Data Drive to Boost Fan Base

George Leopold
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The San Francisco 49ers are now brought to you by the $1.2 billion Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara. The NFL team’s “fan engagement program,” dubbed “Faithful 49″ is presented by team sponsor Esurance and a couple of data collectors you may have heard of: Google and Facebook.

As the Niners prepare to open their spanking new 68,500-seat stadium in Silicon Valley, the team is jumping into the data collection business by offering fans incentives like flying in the team charter to road games, lunch with players and exclusive memorabilia in exchange for personal data.

The primary means of collecting data will be “engaging with the team digitally and socially” along with attending home games and shopping at Levi Stadium and other team retail outlets, the franchise announced earlier this month in unveiling its new home.

Niner fans can also chase program rewards like discounts on pricey team jerseys by watching videos on 49ers.com or following a team sponsor like Esurance on Twitter. (Following an insurer on Twitter would certainly provide a stern test for any NFL fan’s loyalty.)

The engagement program “incentivizes [fans] to report activity and preferences,” Chris Giles, the 49ers director of business operations, told the Silicon Valley Business Journal earlier this month.

Along with building fan loyalty in a sport that is already widely popular, business sponsors like Esurance are also hoping to cash in on the treasure trove of big data that increasingly popular “engagement” programs will likely generate.

The Faithful 49 data drive will be structured as a competition in which participants gain digital currency in the form of yardage in order to qualify for team discounts. Among the other rewards are field passes and fancy personalized “letterman’s” jackets.

In one sense, the new NFL stadium will serve as a giant, networked big data collection platform that will cater to fan preferences so long as they are willing to give up personal information. The new stadium includes 165 pricey luxury boxes and 8,500 club seats that have become standard features of modern sports palaces.

The NFL launched a similar partnership last fall with Twitter that allows fans “to engage with customized NFL video content” formatted for the social media platform and viewable on mobile devices as well as tablets. The engagement tool also includes fantasy football advice, a hugely popular side-business for the NFL that also generates loads of personal data about users.

Measuring fan engagement varies. Along with metrics like average home attendance and average ticket prices, Facebook “likes” and Twitter “followers” also are used. According to the website ticketcity.com, the 49ers ranked 12th among 32 NFL teams for fan engagement during the 2012 season, which ended with the Niners losing the Super Bowl in the final seconds.

Presumably the team sees the opening of its new stadium as a golden opportunity to boost fan engagement through big data as new revenue is generated from corporate sponsors eager to tap into a rabid fan base.

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