It’s 2am and I’m up to catch a 5am flight from Kansas City to San Francisco for today’s 49ers game in Santa Clara. Today is going to be a long day of travel and probably one of the longest ‘away days’ I’ve done. I had a 530am flight to Phoenix, Arizona with a two hour lay over and then a direct flight to San Fran. By the time I make it to San Francisco it’s 10am. I make the quick trek to my hotel, dump the bags and then hit the ground running for what would prove to be another two and a bit hours of travel to the 49ers Levis Stadium.
I make my way to San Francisco’s Union Station in downtown San Fran and pay US$20.50 for a day return which takes me to Levis Stadium. The huge CalTrain disembarks at 1pm packed with fans heading out early to the 5.35pm Thursday Night Football game and passes through 20 odd stations before we all disembark and cross the tracks for a small light rail type train to then take in another 20 odd stops to Mountain View station where Levis Stadium is located. It surely is a decent effort (100km or so) to get from downtown San Francisco to the stadium however with fellow NFL fans to talk to and a clean, safe and smooth ride in this modern transport it’s really quite a breeze.
Parking and Tailgate Set Up
I step off the train at Mountain View station, walk across the platform and the car park ($60 US per car to tailgate) and stadium are in full view and it is a sight to behold. This is a stadium which greatly defines what an outstanding fan experience is all about and as I had heard a lot about it, it was thrilling to finally be able to experience it. As I walk in I start to feel thirsty so kindly ask the first tailgater I see in if I could buy a beer off him. Without hesitation he reaches into his huge esky packed with beers, soft drinks, waters (any good tailgater knows you have to be smart with the fluids!) and the biggest Grey Goose I’ve ever seen and hands me a beer and a handshake. It’s this type of hospitality that the tailgate is famous for as within the next few minutes we’re both being offered BBQ meats, seafood and other football food staples I stay for an hour or so talking about the success of Jarryd Hayne, fan engagement, life in the US and the tailgating experience before heading into the stadium but not after the guys had given me a few more beers to get set for the night.
As I leave the car park tailgating area and head into the stadium I notice that there’s a substantial bicycle area for fans who have chosen to ride to the stadium. I remember seeing something similar at Aston Villa’s Villa Park in Birmingham in the past so it’s great to see that the stadium is accommodating to those fans who chose a healthy way to get here today.
Levis Stadium and 49ers App’s
I had previously downloaded both the extensive 49ers and Levis Stadium app and was excited to test these two out today, especially as they are integrated with one another on game day.
After extensive security procedures that included walking through the metal detector followed by a metal detector wand search and finally a pat down I was able to continue entering the stadium. Opening the Levis Stadium app I was able to view my ticket and scan the QR code at the electronic check point to enter the stadium.
Using today’s hashtag and the app, my name was then displayed on the screens inside the stadium which was a very cool feature, especially as the app sent me a notification informing me that my ‘check in’ was coming up on the screens. As other’s have mentioned the beauty of this is that fans can be rewarded for their first, 50th or 100th visit for example by the NiNerds.
Just as you pass through the mobile ticketing area you are greeted by the NiNerds reps who are on hand to help fans with any stadium related queries they may have. From finding your seat to where you can purchase a gluten free vegan hotdog these guys are helpful, tech savvy and are here to look after the needs of fans. I had a great chat at the gates with Michael and Noemi but also later noticed them running around during the game helping fans with queries.
One of the best features in the app is the way-finding element which directs you right to your seat inside the stadium using GPS. While I normally get a kick out of doing a full inside and outside walk around a stadium, this was a great feature that gets fans to their seats quickly.
Free WiFi which was super fast all day long even with 70,000 here today. It made ordering food and drinks, way-finding, mobile ticketing etc all very easy. The only thing this stadium or future stadiums need now is retractable USB charges under or in front of your seats.
Every seat has a cup holder. Just brilliant to keep your beer cold.
The food options inside Levi’s Stadium rival that of some of the best stadiums for food that I’ve visited in the past such as Yankee Stadium and the MCG.
Fans have the option of over 180 items such as garlic fries, pizzas, burgers, pretzels, hot dogs, curries, steamed buns, burritos, asian style rice bowls and BBQ fare as well as having the option to either have their food delivered to their seat or grabbing it through express pick up. It was also interesting to see a over 14 vegan food concessions and other healthy options throughout the stadium as well as plenty of craft beer varieties to choose from.
An aspect of the app which I was keen to test was the in-seat ordering for food and drinks. While I have tried these a few times in the US in the past, this was by far the best example of how to do this.
I started by going into the app’s in-seat ordering section. Food was fairly priced for stadium food with a fee of $5US attached to in-seat ordering which does seems a bit high (but not if you’re ordering a stack of stuff).
While there are only about 15 options to choose from (drinks, hot food, snacks) I was able to select a hotdog and gatorade, punch in my credit card details and see where the food would come from. I hit one hurdle in that I had to fake a US postcode (11111 worked) where it asks for the address details that match your credit card because my 4 digit Australian postcode was not allowing the process to continue. It obviously makes no difference though as my order was processed. This part of the app is incredibly user friendly and all in all took 90 seconds to order (after I realised I needed to make my postcode 5 digits. I guess though if you didn’t know US postcodes are 5 digits then you’d have an issue). I set the timer on my phone and watched as the app screen moved from ‘order processed’ to ‘being prepared’ to ‘en route’.
I’ve got to say that it was a pretty cool sight to watch as the Levi’s Stadium staffer walked down the aisles with a bag holding my food and drink. As Shane Harmon mentioned in his look at Levi’s Stadium a few months back, this whole process still involves a human and the one issue that that human has is that after they come down to your row they then need to identify you and get your items to you. I was in the middle of the row, about 15 seats in and although I had been watching her walk down the aisle I was able to gesture to her ‘Yep, Blair? Yep that’s my order’. The issue here and it’s obviously not a massive one, but the delivery person then needs to come all the way into your row/seat and check your phone’s order screen to see that they are delivering the items to the right person. In a way this means that they get in the way of other fans however this was a 5 second job and I doubt that it affected fans sight angles.
So how long did it take for me to order, the food to be prepared and then delivered right to my seat? 18 minutes and 31 seconds! Outstanding in my opinion and an element every stadium needs so that fans never miss any of the action or have to wait in lines. The hotdog was tasty, piping hot and came with mustard, ketchup and relish while the gatorade was ice cold. The $5 fee is probably a bit steep for just two items but if you’ve got a group of mates ordering a stack of food and drinks then it’s nothing.
A cool function of the Levi’s Stadium app is the way-finding function in the ‘Around Me’ section of the app to show you which toilets are the closet and which have the shortest queues. I asked some of the NiNERD’s how they work out which lines are the shortest and input that into the app and was amazed to hear that there is a person standing outside each restroom area who feeds this information into the app. Again a process that needs a human to facilitate the task however a very cool feature that is thinking about fans first.
Fan Engagement Activations (Around Levi’s Stadium concourse)
Two hours until kick off and the concourse fan zone areas are pumping with people running around between sponsor activations and picking up freebies left, right and centre. The 49er’s sponsor stands are complimented by food trucks, bars and diverse fan zones.
I start by checking out the ’Ninerfier’ Levi’s activation which has fans put a piece of their 49er’s gear on a mobile conveyor belt type contraption (I mean seriously, how do I describe what this thing is!) and watching it pass through various odd but colourful elements before coming off the conveyor belt and being ’Ninerfied’. Fans receive a ’Ninerfied’ pin and then have their photo taken as a memento. An interesting bit of fan engagement that really goes back to the idea of fan culture and being granted approval (‘You’re now Ninerfied!’) of sorts by the team.
I pick up a free sign and calendar from CSN and then move on to the SunPower stand where I score a free set of 49ers sunnies just by playing a bit of trivia with their quiz activation. While I wasn’t a 49ers member, 49’ers members are able to earn points by checking in every 20 minutes at the Faithful 49er’s stand. I couldn’t see myself doing this every 20 minutes to earn rewards but I’m sure hardcore fans would be taking advantage of every chance to gain points in this program to then put towards prizes and upgrades.
Next was the SAP ‘Quarterback Challenge’ which was the first of a few virtual reality activations that I would see today. Fans had the chance to use Oculus goggles to play a game as a quarterback while over at the Toyota fan zone fans were participating in raffles and a wheel of fortune type game for prizes while TV commentators did a live outside broadcast surrounded by fans. This stand also had dedicated phone charging stations while I also counted heaps of ‘Juice Bar’s’ throughout the stadium that were often surrounded by fans charging their devices and what appeared to be making new friends.
Continuing throughout the various stands I noticed more opportunities for fans to win prizes, enter competitions and receive freebies like packets of chips. At the NRG stand fans could pick up another pair of 49ers sunnies and have a go at snapping their photo with a players face cut out. The photo theme is a constant in fan engagement and there were another two sponsor stands that had prizes for fans who had their pictures taken. The Yahoo Sports stand were giving fans free ‘ Go Niners’ 49er’s rally towels while Intel were encouraging fans to ‘Be The SuperFan’ and have their photo taken with super hero type colours put over the top before being showcased on big screens around the stadium.
A feature that I have seen at a few stadiums was the designated driver stand where fans can opt to be a designated driver and in return they receive a free soft drink and the chance to win prizes. The Levi’s Stadium one was called Good Sports and is sponsored by Bud Light.
Fan Engagement Activations (Inside Levi’s Stadium)
I made my way inside the stadium and started walking around the venue to see what was on offer for fans.
Making my way to my seat I found a note in the cup holder telling me that our section was going to be participating in a bit of TIFO fun. It was a great sight to watch the banner come down over our heads in the stadium.
I captured the noise meter at the stadium reaching 112.1 which was by far the loudest I had heard at any stadium where they employ this. It was actually that loud that it was almost unbearable in terms of noise, even if it was a good sight to see fans going crazy with their war cries and screams. Every effort is made in these US stadiums and arena’s to ‘Make Some Noise’ and these noise readers really help facilitate that with fans.
Listen to the 49ers fans here
The 49ers offer merch ‘item’s of the game’ throughout the day, show fan’s selfies on the big screen, have a 49er’s band, a fire twirling squad and have game day and post game (provided they win) offers on food and even haircuts too.
There were some more virtual reality activations inside the stadium such as this giant helmet contraption however from my observations, it seemed as though more people just wanted a photo with this than actually participate in the VR feature.
Sponsor’s Verizon had a section for upgrades, SAP had interactive quiz machines while Yahoo had a fantasy sports touch screen wall with trivia and photo opportunities however it was a bit odd to see kids playing this when it’s a gambling type activation.
Listen to the 49er’s drumming band here
While the actual team needs to start winning on the field, it’s clear that this is one of the best stadiums in the world right now for providing fans with an exceptional fan experience. There are things here that fans can’t get at home therefore Levi’s Stadium are providing interesting aspects that hopefully means more fans are making their way out to the stadium and switching off from their home sports cave experience. From the beacon technology to VR work to the in-seat ordering and toilet line feature and all the little things outside of their impressive app, it’s evident that 49er’s fans have something very special here on game day and I for one can’t wait to get back here to try it all out again.