The San Francisco 49ers had a problem and the market wasn't readily providing a solution. The NFL team was building a new home, Levi's Stadium, and looking to ensure it was a hit with fans. They wanted to deliver a fan experience that was truly fun and substantially better than anything else out there – for games, and any other event at Levi’s - and deliver real value for the franchise and its corporate partners.The problem was that when they went looking for the technology that would fit their needs, no provider was offering what they needed so they took the classic Silicon Valley approach and saw their problem as one that could be turned into an opportunity by creating a new technology platform that integrated the full Levi’s Stadium experience, and then surfaced that to fans via a smartphone app.
VenueNext was the result, a company that was incubated in the 49ers, with the goal of transforming the venue experience for both guests and venue owners across many types of venues such as those in sports, hospitality, healthcare and transportation.
“When Jed York and the San Francisco 49ers team set out to build Levi's Stadium they wanted it to stand for sustainability, technology, and unsurpassed guest experience. As a group they dreamed up the ultimate fan experience,” Louise Callagy, vice president of marketing at VenueNext, told Crowdsight.
“It was a white space brainstorm to find it. They looked to buy or source the technology but found that it didn't exist. Then over the course of the work being done, we found there were many other teams and venues interested in the technology so we realised there was a market opportunity.”
For VenueNext the goal was simple, it was getting there that required work.
“From the very beginning our approach was to unify the whole eco system of the venue, both technically and logistically, with a view towards giving guests and visitors a connection through one mobile seamless interface to everything that venue has to offer. That's not something that can be created quickly from scratch and requires lots of collaborative work with our partners,” said Callagy.
“We designed the Levi’s Stadium app to be context-aware, offering fans the essential features they need when they need them, like mobile tickets and parking passes, in-seat and express pick up ordering, way-finding and video replays. Fans can watch replays of every play four seconds after they happen from multiple camera angles, get a live feed of the game, and access content NFL Redzone which keeps you up to date with everything happening around the league. They can also upgrade their seats and get a holistic view of every transportation option when they are ready to leave the venue,” she said.
“By context aware we mean your ticket won't appear in the app once you have entered the stadium.”
That kind of functionality sounds fantastic, a groundbreaking level of fan engagement technology, but achieving it requires buy-in and collaboration. VenueNext worked with the partners of the 49ers and the stadium in order to make their vision a reality.
“In order to deliver this level of functionality, we had to integrate with partners such as Aruba Networks for way-finding and Ticketmaster for ticketing. Through working directly with them we brought the ability to easily buy, sell and transfer tickets within the app, which is convenient and unique,” said Callagy.
“We created a content management system called VenueNext Canopy which gives our venue customers the ability to change and publish to the app in real time. In the Levi's Stadium app, the home picture changes based on the next event, whether it's a Taylor Swift concert or a 49ers game. Content can be changed quickly in concession stand menus. For instance, hospitality services can turn off nachos if they run out of them and it will disappear from the app food ordering menu. The goal is to delight the guest, and take away friction – saving time and removing any unnecessary steps when you’re at the venue. We are aiming to give guests the power to do whatever they want when they want through their smartphone.”
One key aspect that needed to be addressed was how many apps were going to be in play. The 49ers have a successful team app already but the vast majority of users won't be at every game. VenueNext created a specific app for Levi's Stadium but one that could link in to the existing 49ers app where appropriate.
“Users can seamlessly link back and forth between the 49ers and Levi's Stadium apps, they work together so fans can take full advantage of both. The Levi's Stadium app is very relevant in the venue but there are millions of 49ers fans around the world who want to know the latest on the team through the 49ers app. It's about understanding the content and how to deliver it. We are solving it so that if you walk into the stadium for the first time as a 49ers app user, the functionalities of the Levi's Stadium app are surfaces through that app. It's about being context aware to make the most of the guest experience,” said Callagy.
This approach to integrated venue apps has opened doors for the business and it has secured a deal with the NBA's Orlando Magic. Through the Levi's Stadium rollout, the 49ers have been able to increase their knowledge of their fans.
“At the start of the 2014 season, the 49ers had around 17,000 season ticket holders that they were aware of. Many of these season ticket holders own three or four tickets per game but they don't always go to every game. They invite friends or family, sell them, or pass them on. Through the Levi's Stadium app ticketing and transfer functionality the 49ers were able to expand the information they had on people attending games from that 17,000 to 203,000 in just eight home games in the 2014 season,” said Callagy.
“If someone attends two or three regular season games, they are a likely candidate to sell a season ticket package to and the 49ers can be more targeted in their approach to these fans. They also know who is in the building, what time they come, what they typically buy and what they are interested in. It gives them an opportunity to be smarter about how they market to a specific fan. Once you know more about your fans, you can market to them more effectively,” she said.
“We have a robust real time data platform that we call VenueNext Wisdom. At any time we can tell what users are using any part of the platform.” With the Super Bowl taking place at the arena next February, Wisdom is ready to be put through its paces on its biggest podium to date.
We previously highlighted the growth of the connected stadium with a comparison between Superbowl 2014 and 2015, and with a market leading app to further engage fans thrown into the mix; Superbowl 50 at the Levi's Stadium is all set to go up another level in terms of connectivity and data usage.
Is this intimidating for such a young company? Not at all it would appear, Callagy sees this as a further opportunity for VenueNext to expand its vision and data gathering.
“You can think of a venue as a city. With Super Bowl 50, it's not just the game at Levi's Stadium it's a week long event across the Bay Area. You see the potential of connecting together all the components of the experience.” And the preparation to make the most of the occasion has already started - as Mobile Sports Report highlights the recent app updates that will only serve to heighten the experience.
Digital Sponsorship Initiatives
Proof of concept was a crucial factor for VenueNext. In order for the 49ers to see it as a tool they could gain from rather than just something they needed, the app had to deliver early.
“$1.3 million in purchases were recorded through the app in the first season. The benchmark for app usage in any venue, based on our research, is 5 per cent. We started at 30 per cent and sustained that throughout the season. That's a pretty impressive number and we fully believe it's because of the comprehensive functionality of the platform. When you can do multiple things through the app, it's going to appeal to more,” said Callagy.
Now that the Levi's Stadium app has exceeded expectations, thanks in no small part to its real time engagement with fans, it is primed to grow as a digital sponsorship platform.
“Together with Levi’s Stadium, we agreed to purposely keep digital sponsorship out of our plans for the first season because we wanted to focus on the user experience. The 49ers subsequently secured a $750,000 sponsorship for it and we believe there are plenty of opportunities to sponsor certain functions or feature experiences. If it was a hot day we could send push notifications to fans in certain parts of the stadium about promotions on Pepsi for example,” said Callagy.
The challenge now is to integrate digital sponsorship within the mobile app in such a way as to create engagement, showcase the fan experience and ideally maximise value for Sponsors across social media channels as well.
With VenueNext focused on integrating with the most effective partners to add value to the app, there are sure to be some interesting developments in the works. Watch this space!
Guest Post By Emmet Ryan
Emmet Ryan is Tech, Beer and Betting Journalist for the Sunday Business Post. Emmet is also editor of BallinEurope.com, Europe's biggest English language basketball site. Follow him on Twitter @action81
TEAM AND EVENT APP REVIEWS
This article is part of our series of Live Event App reviews where we look to understand best practice and current industry standards with a series investigating the potential of market leading Team or Live Event apps. Check out the other team/event app reviews that we've done here:
- Official Rugby World Cup App: A Review of how Fans made the Rugby World Cup a Digital Business
- San Francisco 49ers App: Examining how VenueNext re-invented the 49ers Fan Experience
- Real Madrid App: Real Madrid Keep Fans and Sponsors Happy With Unique Mobile App
- Barclays Center App: Barclays Center Creates a Digital Fan Experience via Interactive App
Check back soon for the latest in our series or sign up to our Monthly Sports Tech Review to get informed as soon as it’s available.