By Barry Janoff
October 1, 2014: In 1853, Levi Strauss, an immigrant from Germany who sought fame and fortune in the Old West, settled in San Francisco, where he opened a dry goods store. Some 20 years later, Levi Strauss & Company changed the course of fashion history when tailor and later Strauss' partner Jacob Davis created for local workers sturdy denim pants whose seams and pockets were reinforced with copper rivets.
In May 2013, Levi's signed a 20-year deal at an estimated $220 million, according to industry analysts, for naming rights to the stadium that in 2014 became the new home for the NFL's San Francisco 49ers. For most events, the venue seats 68,500, but can expand to 75,000 — filled with people, if the company realizes its ultimate dream, all wearing Levi's products.
That same month, the NFL named Levi's Stadium as the host for historic Super Bowl 50, scheduled to be played on Feb. 7, 2016.
The $1.2 billion venue, located in Santa Clara, about 45 miles south of Levi's San Francisco corporate headquarters, has been called the most high-tech and one of most environmentally friendly sports stadiums in the world. In addition to Levi's it has a plethora of marketing partners, including PepsiCo, Yahoo!, Intel, Anheuser-Busch (Bud Light), Sony, Comcast-NBCUniversal, Esurance, United Airlines, SunPower, NRG Energy, SAP, Citrix, Violin Memory and Brocade.
This past August, the NHL selected Levi's Stadium as the site for the 2015 Coors Light Stadium Series, scheduled for Feb. 15 between the Los Angeles Kings and host San Jose Sharks, marking the first time that an NHL outdoor game will be played in a venue that will also host the Super Bowl.
Among other upcoming events scheduled for Levi's Stadium: the CFB Pac-12 Championship Game (Dec. 5), the CFB San Francisco Bowl (Dec. 30 featuring teams from the Pac-12 and the Big Ten Conference) and WWE Wrestlemania 31 (March 29).
Levi's alliance with the stadium and the Niners goes beyond signage and as the official outfitter for both (fans who wear Levi's products to games can receive on the spot such items as tickets to upcoming games, field access passes and 501 Club upgrades "to reward them for living in their Levi’s").
In-stadium, a mobile app offers a variety of options for fans, including a way order Levi’s products from their seats during games; and the 23,000-square-foot Levi’s 501 Club includes an historical homage to the company.
In the social media space, Levi's is presenting sponsor for the team's "Forty Viners" effort, which offers on Vine team information with a focus on fans (and also unites fans on Twitter).
Levi's has been working with creative agency Heat, San Francisco, for activation and marketing relating to the stadium experience. The effort includes print, radio, digital, social, in-stadium and experiential, such as the Fan Rally at Levi’s Plaza in San Francisco and at Levi's Stadium that coincided with the Niners first official home game in Levi's Stadium on Sept. 14,
NYSportsJournalism spoke with Stacy Doren, head of Levi’s marketing for the Americas, regarding the brand's sports marketing strategy, activation to support the Levi's Stadium naming rights deal and the challenges of using the alliance to brand awareness and sales.
NYSportsJournalism.com: Levi Strauss himself shows up unannounced at Levi's Stadium. What does he say about the facility and his name on the venue?
Stacy Doren: I think he’d be proud to find his name on top of a world-class venue, tied to a world-class organization in the 49ers, that shares so many of the values that he himself established at Levi Strauss & Co. over 150 years ago. I think he’d say, 'This partnership makes sense,' and he’d most love seeing all the butts in Levi’s. He’d definitely approve — it’s a no-brainer.
NYSJ: How would you respond to him?
SD: Whew. Because we’re in this for the long haul!
NYSJ: When the topic of naming rights to the stadium first came up or was in its early stages, what were the major pros and any cons among executives at Levi's?
SD: The partnership between Levi Strauss & Co. and the San Francisco 49ers is really a natural fit and makes perfect sense for both organizations. Both share deep roots in Bay Area history. We were founded in San Francisco in 1853 and in 1873 created the first blue jean for the working man of the American West (those in search of gold were called the forty-niners), while the San Francisco 49ers became the first San Francisco-based major league professional sports team more than 60 years ago. Both organizations also value and prioritize sustainability and innovation. And jeans are the uniform of choice at all types of events that will happen at the stadium — from football games to concerts. It was a significant decision, but one that always made sense.
"The stadium only recently opened but it’s already one of our top drivers for buzz and impressions, and we expect that to translate into sales."
NYSJ: Was there any discussion with other companies that have acquired (or declined) stadium/arena naming rights deals, in particular with the NFL, as to what would or would not work best regarding the parameters of the deal (money, length of the deal, signage, related marketing, involvement with the team and stadium, etc.)?
SD: The decision was one that we made as a Levi’s team, and was rooted in our belief that the two organizations — Levi’s and the 49ers — were the right fit. We also benefit from having a CEO with experience in NFL stadium naming rights, as Chip Bergh came from Gillette, which owns the naming rights to New England’s Gillette Stadium. That certainly helped when structuring the deal.
NYSJ: Regarding the Super Bowl, was there any push to get Super Bowl 49 (as in forty-niners) or was 50 always targeted for historic reasons and also because of the NFL itself wanting a new venue to be up and running for at least one season?
SD: You’d have to ask the 49ers about that. What I can tell you is that we’re certainly looking forward to hosting Super Bowl 50 at Levi’s Stadium. It’s a huge milestone anniversary for the Super Bowl and one that will be celebrated for an extended period, which plays well for us. We’ll be ready!
NYSJ: In February Levi's will host the NHL Stadium Series. How will you tie that in to the Levi's brand and brand recognition, perhaps among a different target demographic; and what "cool" activators do you see around that?
SD: It was opportunities like this that made the naming rights proposition so attractive to us. From football and hockey games, to concerts — we have the opportunity to reach audiences that might be new to Levi’s, at a point where they’re experiencing something they’re passionate about. And that’s very valuable. Like we will during the football season, we’ll use our stadium sponsorship year around to build authentic connections with fans.
NYSJ: How has national awareness of Levi's Stadium itself translated to brand awareness, sales, marketing, company activations, etc.?
SD: Our name on the stadium exposes the Levi’s brand to millions of people both locally and nationally (and globally during the Super Bowl). The stadium only recently opened but it’s already one of our top drivers for buzz and impressions, and we expect that to translate into sales.
NYSJ: How are you working to expand awareness?
SD: We have a number of sponsorship activations currently in play, like the Levi’s x 49ers Collection, which marries the authentic style and craft of Levi’s with the 49ers team colors and logo through a line of exclusive jackets and tees. The response has been incredible and we are struggling to keep the product in stock. It’s a hot item for 49ers fans! We’re also surprising fans wearing Levi’s with things like free access to the 501 Club, tickets to upcoming games, or even picking up your tab for a beer and a hot dog. We want people to know that good things happen when you live in Levi’s!
NYSJ: Levi's Stadium has been called the most tech-advanced sports venue in the world. How has that impacted the technology strategy at Levi's company?
SD: The technology and innovation truly enhances the fan experience and make Levi’s Stadium a world-class venue. When we signed on to sponsor it, we knew that it would become an industry-leading example of innovation, sustainability and excellence — values that 49ers organization share with Levi’s. As the company that founded the blue jean, Levi’s prides itself on its forward thinking approach to the development of our products. Innovation is something that is and was always at our core.
NYSJ: Levi's Stadium has a roster of marketing partners. What have been the biggest challenges and rewards in getting all the brand philosophies to mesh and, in addition, getting Levi's brand message to fans and consumers?
SD: No challenges thus far. What allowed us to sign on for this partnership was that we knew the two organizations – the 49ers and Levi’s — were a natural fit. We’re two iconic brands that share an authentic spirit, a commitment to the community and a lot of passion. We also value sustainability and innovation — and these values are shared by other marketing partners within the stadium. We have no shortage of opportunities to bring that to life for the fans at Levi’s Stadium.
NYSJ: Any challenges in outfitting the Niners (offensive/defensive linemen) in Levi's?
SD: This is a well-timed question. We actually just launched our 541 Athletic Fit, which is designed specifically for more muscular men (including a TV spot with Vernon Davis of the 49ers shot in Levi's Stadium, pictured above). It’s cut roomier while still featuring the aesthetic of a slimmer style. The Niners were certainly an inspiration for this new fit. We’ve had several 'harder to fit' players try it on and they love it. This fit is not just for athletes though — it’s for anyone looking for jeans that have a 'relaxed feel with a tailored look.' Our biggest challenge was probably the 49ers’ mascot, Sourdough Sam, who is sporting a brand new pair of custom Levi’s on the sidelines this season.
NYSJ: Although probably too early to share specifics, what is Levi's looking to do in marketing, activation, fan experiences and overall platforms for Super Bowl 50?
SD: We wouldn’t spoil that surprise this early on, but we’ll say that you can definitely expect to catch a whole lot of denim in the stadium that day.
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