Levi’s Stadium, the stadium where the National Football League’s Super Bowl 50 will be played in Santa Clara, Calif., is not only home to the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers, but also 2,000 beacons.
The beacons—small wireless transmitters that can sense a smartphone’s location via Bluetooth low energy—were installed at Levi’s Stadium in spring 2014, right before the stadium opened that July.
“When we set out to build a new stadium, we wanted it to stand for sustainability, technological sophistication and unsurpassed guest experience,” says Jim Bartholomew, 49ers director of information technology.
Location data lets the stadium staff know where fans are at any time and determine the most-trafficked areas, Bartholomew says. Location information is also important to fans at the stadium. For example, using location data collected from beacons, the stadium app can direct a fan the nearest bathroom or to his parking spot from his seat, he says.
Initially, the 49ers were going to use Wi-Fi for location tracking, but found that it wasn’t always accurate, which is why it went with Bluetooth beacons, Bartholomew says. “We needed something that was going to give a high-accuracy, device-specific, location calculation,” he says.
The beacons work with the Levi’s Stadium App for iOS and Android devices that the 49ers developed, an app that is separate from its San Francisco 49ers team app. 30% of fans use the stadium app during the game, a metric Bartholomew says he’s thrilled with. The stadium seats 68,500 fans.
The Levi’s Stadium App informs fans of venue happenings during the game. For example, the app will send alerts to the lock screen of a fan’s smartphone, such as “Be in your seat by 6:50 p.m. to enjoy the pre-game show!” It also helps them navigate the stadium with handy tools including a map to help them find the nearest bathroom.
Because the beacons can sense where a fan is, the stadium can send app users such messages as, “Lines near you are short to order food and drinks before the quarter ends.”
Another feature the 49ers worked on was linking the San Francisco 49ers team app and the Levi’s Stadium App. For example, the stadium app can send a message to a ticket holder who has his ticket in the 49ers app when he is near the entrance (which a beacon can sense): “Don’t forget to scan your tickets at the gate. Check here to be ready. Go Niners!” When a digital ticket holder taps on the message, the 49ers app will open—not the stadium app even though the stadium app sent the message—and display the fan’s ticket.
“We made sure that users can seamlessly link back and forth between the apps to take full advantage of both,” Bartholomew says.
The 49ers are still in the early stages of implementing regularly scheduled push notifications in the stadium, and Bartholomew says his staff is conservative in the number of messages they send fans per game, although he declined to give specifics.
The beacons and app are valuable to the 49ers as well, as Levi’s Stadium secured a $750,000 in-app advertisement placement, and the app processed $1.25 million in revenue from food, beverage, merchandise and parking in 2014. Consumers can make all of those purchase in the stadium app.
Another benefit of having the interactive stadium app is the additional data the 49ers obtain from the app downloads, Bartholomew says. While the 49ers have some form of contact information, such as an email address or physical address, for its 17,000 season ticket holders, many of those ticket holders have three or four tickets and don’t go every game. Many ticket holders sell their tickets or pass them on to family and friends, and the 49ers don’t have any information about those fans. Now, many of those fans who are not season ticket holders are downloading and using the stadium app, providing the 49ers with data on those individuals and a new way to interact with them.
“Through the Levi’s Stadium App, we were able to expand the information we have on people attending games from that 17,000 to 203,000 in just eight home games in 2014,” he says. “This is an important metric for us that enables enhanced customer service.”
The San Francisco 49ers worked with VenueNext to architect and create the platform of the Levi’s Stadium App. The app also uses services from data and storage networking company Brocade and beacon hardware company Aruba Networks, as well as Ticketmaster (for mobile ticketing) and NFL (for video replays). Bartholomew would not say how much the 49ers invested in the apps and its beacon-based mobile marketing.