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Volume 27 No. 28
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49ers Put More Focus On Fans, Community During Pandemic Season

The 49ers were expecting the '20 season to be one in which they would build off of a Super Bowl appearance. But with the pandemic, planning for the year shifted more towards the franchise’s role in the community. “Our relationship with the fan goes beyond wins and losses," 49ers CMO Alex Chang said at the Intersport Brand Innovation Summit. "It’s that connection we have. We are a part of their life, a part of their identity. ... Making sure we are engaging with them in that way is something that really transcends winning and losing.” This year, some fans have different ideas of what they expect from their teams. Chang said, “I don’t subscribe to the theory we should ‘stick to sports.’ … We’re fortunate to have a platform people pay attention to, will listen to whether that’s us as a team or our players or our league or our unions. If we can use that to address issues we’re facing whether it’s the pandemic, whether that’s social justice, whether that’s around voting then that’s really our responsibility to do so.” There is the risk of alienating fans when a brand takes any stance besides neutral, but the 49ers found it a very direct process. Chang: “There’s not a lot of deliberation that goes on there. You just look into your heart and say, ‘What’s the right thing to do?’ … That’s really the only calculation that happens: what does your heart tell you to do and then, more of the conversation is what is it that we can do?" Below are more highlights from the conversation with Chang:

*On the “Faithful to the Bay” campaign not being a knock on the Raiders: "One thing we talked about when we landed on this line was the perception that it was a dig at the Raiders. The way you get around that is you make very clear internally to anyone who is bringing this to life that this is not about the Raiders. We have way too much respect for that organization, for their fans and to sports fans in general to try to do a dig like that.”

*On the inability to have fans at games affecting campaign implementation: “We definitely lose a piece of our arsenal. At the same time, the majority of our focus from a marketing standpoint has been social first, mobile first and digital focused marketing. … We pivoted to those spaces, tried some things out -- some things worked well, some things not so much and that’s OK. We’re all in a period of experimentation at this point.”

*On interest in what the team is up to on and off the field: “That’s what’s been really important for us this year especially is to make sure we are not just marketing our players as football players but also as individuals in terms of how they feel from a societal standpoint, from a political standpoint, how are they coping with the pandemic. Those types of looks are something that fans really appreciate."

*On awareness of how much fans pay attention to the team during the pandemic: “We need to read the room. You have to understand what’s going on for people, not just in the context of their interaction with you. … There’s a lot of things on people’s mind and we have to recognize that and acknowledge it and be part of the conversation where it makes sense, where we can make a difference, where we have something to say. We haven’t held back from that."