SBJ/June 9-15, 2014/Facilities

Technology’s ‘ultimate showroom’

49ers build on formidable Silicon Valley sponsor base

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Silicon Valley finally has a sports address. It’s Levi’s Stadium, the San Francisco 49ers’ new $1.3 billion home in Santa Clara.

The facility, 45 miles south of San Francisco and 10 miles northwest of San Jose, will be a showcase for top technology brands in the Bay Area, some familiar to consumers and others that fly under the radar. It’s the result of the 49ers’ vision of developing a cutting-edge stadium and a marketing strategy for differentiating within an expanded tech category and allowing each company to tell its story at the 68,500-seat building.

Tech brands SAP and Brocade are part of the sponsor lineup at Levi’s Stadium.
Photo by: COURTESY OF BROCADE

When the stadium officially opens less than two months from now, for a San Jose Earthquakes game Aug. 2, the 49ers will have 10 technology sponsors on board, including founding partners Brocade, Comcast, Intel, SAP and Yahoo.

Those five firms all signed 10-year deals valued in the mid-seven figures annually. Two other tech companies, Sony and data storage provider Violin Memory, have deals considered to be one step below the founding partner level, said Ethan Casson, the 49ers’ chief revenue officer.

The team also has deals in the negotiations stage for three Bay Area tech firms to sponsor the stadium’s suite tower, press level and owners club, Casson said. Those agreements are also a level below founding partners.

Few if any major league facilities can match the number of tech partners for marketing and building services and the value of those deals.

Levi’s Stadium sits in the heart of Silicon Valley, and having multiple tech firms as neighbors played a key role for driving those deals, sponsors and 49ers officials said. All told, the team targeted more than 100 technology companies since it went to market in 2012, Casson said.

“You drive into work in the morning and see pretty quickly just how amazing of a landscape it is out here with all this technology,” Casson said.

Brocade, for example, whose technology will power the stadium’s IPTV network, security and audio systems and concessions points-of-sale, sits within a mile of the stadium.

Intel’s microchip processors will operate hundreds of stadium systems. Its headquarters sit fewer than 2 miles from the stadium. “You could probably ride a zip line between our fifth floor to the south end of the stadium,” Intel spokesman Bill Calder said.

Until now, however, there has never been a focal point for all those tech firms to showcase their products, said Chris Burton, head of global sponsorships for SAP, the only company among the tech sponsors that is also an NFL corporate partner.

When it opens, Levi’s Stadium will essentially serve as the “GPS point” for those brands, Burton said.

The question has always been, “How do you bring as many of those tech brands together as possible to tell a collective story about what technology can do for sports?” he said. “Levi’s Stadium is that place. It will be the ultimate showroom for a lot of the tech brands.”

Brocade officials feel the same way, and that’s why they jumped on board early in stadium development, first engaging in talks with the 49ers before the team had a chief information officer for the project, said Jason Nolet, the company’s vice president of data center and campus networking.

Brocade signed as a founding partner in April 2012, the first to do so. It beat out Cisco, a chief competitor and the dominant player in the IPTV space at sports facilities, in part by showing the team how much it valued a deal. “Brocade was very aggressive with us and us with them,” Casson said. “They were a company that really saw the vision and believed in what we were trying to do.”

Yahoo will have its name on the Yahoo Fantasy Football Lounge at Levi’s Stadium.
Photo by: INFINITE SCALE

It helped Brocade’s cause that Jed York has close ties to Mike Klayko, Brocade’s CEO until he retired in August 2012, Nolet said.

Brocade, which is the team’s official provider of network infrastructure, may not enjoy Cisco’s high profile, but it is no stranger to sports facilities. The company has a marketing presence at SAP Center, home of the San Jose Sharks, and provides technology services for Coors Field, AT&T Park and PNC Park, Brocade spokesman Matt Wolpin said.

At Levi’s Stadium, Brocade has naming rights to a club on the stadium’s east side to entertain business clients as part of its activation on the marketing end. It will have signage atop the stadium and as part of the “Faithful Mile,” the pregame tailgate space outside the facility.

Most important for Brocade is ensuring its systems work on a busy game day. Its technology for mobile applications will enable fans to find the shortest lines for restrooms, a new twist that gained national media attention last summer when first announced.

“That’s the best advertising we’re going to do to make sure people know that it’s our wired infrastructure that’s delivering that best-in-class experience,” Nolet said. “We’ll see what happens on opening day.”

SAP, a global brand for cloud-based solutions, will be front and center with seven activation points inside and outside the stadium. Those displays remain in development, but fans can expect to see large touch-screen displays that could include kids developing their own social media avatars by using the helmet from their favorite 49ers player and attaching their face to it, Burton said. For older fans, SAP’s kiosks and real-time tickers will mesh its technology with NFL.com’s player comparison tool for game analysis and historical information.

Some of those displays will be similar to SAP’s activation at MetLife Stadium, where it is one of four cornerstone partners, Burton said.

SAP systems will aggregate messages from across all social media platforms and bring them to life through the digital rights it holds in the stadium.

For Intel, the 49ers deal unites two iconic brands in the Bay Area. Intel does not do a tremendous amount of sports marketing, and this is its biggest sponsorship of a sports facility, Calder said. The firm has a major deal with FC Barcelona that covers a jersey sponsorship.

“It made sense for us to be a partner of the team,” Calder said. “The important thing is we get to connect with fans and consumers in new and different ways.”

The Intel Plaza, next to Gate A on the stadium’s northwest side, is still in development but will most likely include Intel research projects for fan interaction.

The Comcast deal is a partnership that will see subsidiaries Xfinity, Comcast SportsNet Bay Area, local NBC affiliate KNTV and Comcast Business Solutions all benefit from the deal, according to Casson.

In addition to the Xfinity Couches, a seat upgrade program, CSN Bay Area renews its exclusive rights for pregame and postgame 49ers coverage for the new stadium and KNTV begins a new relationship with the team. Comcast Business Solutions gets a piece of the team’s Wi-Fi and video-on-demand business.

“Comcast was only going to do a deal if we could find a way to have all four brands play a role in the stadium,” Casson said. “I think this is the model Comcast and GMR, their agency, are now taking to other teams as a blueprint to reference as they go through those negotiations.”

For all the stadium’s tech partners, their deals will evolve over time as those companies interact with fans and customers. “Year one is going to look a lot different than year two and that’s why we’re so adamant on long-term relationships,” he said. “We wanted that chance to grow with these folks.”




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