Report excerpt part 2: App updates part of Levi’s Stadium prep for Super Bowl 50

New outward-facing TV screen at Dignity Health gate. Photos: Paul Kapustka / MSR

New outward-facing TV screen at Dignity Health gate. Photos: Paul Kapustka / MSR

Other than the Wi-Fi network, the other “tech” thing that really set Levi’s Stadium apart in its debut season last fall was the stadium app and its revolutionary services, like instant replay and in-seat food and beverage ordering to every seat in the stadium.

While those two services garnered most of the headlines, the Niners are also high on other less-heralded services the app also enabled, such as digital ticketing and directional info, both en route to the facility as well as wayfinding once inside the building.

If there was one thing that never really took off, it was use of the app’s instant replay services, which were stunning in their ability to have plays available for viewing on mobile devices just seconds after they had concluded on the field. With never more than a few thousand replays watched per game, the service team officials thought would be a real “wow” turned out to be one largely ignored.

(Editor’s note: This story is the second part of an excerpt from our most recent Stadium Tech Report, the PRO FOOTBALL ISSUE, which is available for FREE DOWNLOAD right now from our site. In the report our editorial coverage includes a profile of the new Wi-Fi network at Green Bay’s Lambeau Field, a profile of Wi-Fi concealment techniques at AT&T Stadium, and team-by-team profiles of Wi-Fi and DAS deployments at all 31 NFL stadiums. Get your copy today!)

The stadium app everyone’s still talking about

From personal visits to Levi’s Stadium, we can attest that another stadium technology – the two huge, crystal-clear video boards above each end zone – may have been the app-replay killers, because of their ability to be seen from anywhere in the stadium, along with the decision to offer up replays there in the same fast fashion fans are used to from television broadcasts. (Perhaps team officials remembered the deficiencies of Candlestick Park too well, where fans used to leave their seats to watch TVs mounted in the concession stands for replay video.)

Levi's Stadium app screenshot. Photo: VenueNext

Levi’s Stadium app screenshot. Photo: VenueNext

And while the food ordering services – which included both the in-seat delivery options as well as an “express pickup” service, where food could be ordered and paid for online, then picked up at a nearby stand without waiting in the regular line – didn’t garner more than a couple thousand orders per game, app developer VenueNext and the Niners said the app ordering did account for nearly a million dollars in concession revenue, a number that should only grow as fans become more familiar with the feature and the Levi’s Stadium team gets better at delivering.

Niners COO Al Guido said that delivery times for the in-seat service started out around 20 minutes, which he said “wouldn’t cut it” in the real world of a fan.

“If I can walk to a stand and get the order myself faster than delivery, what’s the point?” Guido asked.

But by the last six games of the season, Guido said the app team had figured out how to “bundle” deliveries to specific section areas, cutting the average delivery time down to 7 minutes. Even with the $5 extra delivery charge, Guido thinks the in-seat option delivers value along with your beer and hot dog. Especially if the app team and food runners are in sync.

“I do think we nailed it at the end of the year,” Guido said.

Better ticketing support, and more stadium customers?

VenueNext, the app development company that was started by the Niners for the express purpose of building the Levi’s Stadium app, will soon be spreading its wings with plans to announce at least 30 new customers (including the Orlando Magic) for its app development, measurement and deployment services. It might not be widely known that VenueNext also developed the innovative “Kezar” devices that scan tickets (or phones showing ticket codes) outside the stadium gates.

According to VenueNext CEO John Paul, the Kezar devices will in the future support near-field wireless technologies that could allow fans to just walk in the stadium without “showing” anything, as the radio waves perform the authentication process on their own by communicating with devices in pockets or purses.

The magical "rainbow" at June 27 Grateful Dead concert at Levi's Stadium. Photo: Levi's Stadium

The magical “rainbow” at June 27 Grateful Dead concert at Levi’s Stadium. Photo: Levi’s Stadium

The team and VenueNext are also improving the ticket-access technology for this season, adding the ability to buy parking passes online and be directed to that spot via the app. The Levi’s Stadium app, which previously had the ability to direct fans around the stadium, will later this year add the ability for fans to find each other via technology supported by the 2,000+ Bluetooth beacons installed throughout the venue.

Along with maintaining and supporting the app at games, VenueNext’s staff as well as Niners executives played host to numerous other team and stadium reps during the season (in five visits to Levi’s Stadium last year we saw such folks in attendance at every game). The parade was so strong it got Guido to joke about becoming “a master tour guide” for the facility.

While unconfirmed rumors surfaced this summer saying that VenueNext’s app services were going to appear soon at other NFL facilities, the company and the Niners have said they are also targeting other sports and even other types of venues, like shopping malls and concert facilities.

“A lot of people wanted to learn more about it,” said Guido of the app infrastructure, which also includes detailed marketing reporting and analytics of network and app usage, things important to any team or large venue that is seeking to improve the marketing knowledge it has of the people who come inside their buildings.

“Data was the first buzzword, and now everyone is trying to figure out how to improve the fan experience,” Guido said. Like on the Wi-Fi front, Levi’s Stadium’s app and app infrastructure are already ahead of the curve.

Outside operations and looking past Super Bowl 50

Compared to the polished jewel that is Levi’s Stadium, the geography directly surrounding the building is still somewhat of an unpolished gem. Because of the complicated parking situation – the stadium sits in the middle of a heavily built-up commercial zone with many tech-company buildings nearby, limiting available space for parking – getting to and from Levi’s Stadium was perhaps the biggest headache for fans last year, and will probably still be a challenge up to and beyond the Super Bowl in February.

VTA train line at late 2014 season Niners game. Only took 15 minutes from here to get on bus. Photo: Paul Kapustka / MSR

VTA train line at late 2014 season Niners game. Only took 15 minutes from here to get on bus. Photo: Paul Kapustka / MSR

According to Guido, the Niners spent more than $5 million in capital expenditures this offseason just on parking and transportation items around the stadium, including additional exit spots in the parking lots, which last year often became hellish traffic jams after games. He also said the team is working closely with the city of Santa Clara to draft new traffic plans for game days, and continues to work with the Valley Transportation Authority, which runs the light rail trains that stop right outside the Levi’s Stadium gates, to improve fan flow to and from the trains.

The Niners and DAS provider DGP also improved cellular coverage in the parking lots this offseason, addressing what Guido said was a top fan concern. And though the team currently offers some fan entertainment areas outside the stadium for pregame times, he said the league’s planned Super Bowl setups in the areas adjacent to the stadium – which in the past at Super Bowls have included areas for bands, food and other entertainment – will be watched closely to see how such amenities might become regular offerings.

“We’re going to take a real hard look at what the Super Bowl will do there,” in the areas outside the stadium for the official tailgate operations, Guido said. “They will get a lot of sponsors to activate in that area, and we can learn from them.” Guido also said the team is looking at possibly expanding its relationship with the next-door Great America theme park, perhaps using facilities like the park’s amphitheater for football-related events.

On the easy-to-see scale of improvements are two new video boards that face outside the stadium from the Intel and Dignity Health concourses. Guido said the boards will be used for social media engagement (the Levi’s Stadium app is encouraging fans to post pictures that may show up on the big screen), as well as possibly for showing live video like the NFL Network’s RedZone channel during pregame tailgating time.

Without a doubt, there will be more enhancements and features added to the Levi’s Stadium package before the big game rolls into town. But for now, Guido and the 49ers are confident they have a winning venue that will only keep getting better.
“Overall, we’re really happy how it all shook out,” Guido said. “We’re looking forward to kicking off year two.”

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