What Every Business Should Learn from Super Bowl 50, Levi’s Stadium and the San Francisco 49ers

What Every Business Should Learn from Super Bowl 50, Levi’s Stadium and the San Francisco 49ers

This Sunday, the NFL presents the 50th Super Bowl from Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, CA, home of the San Francisco 49ers. In the last 5 years, the 49ers have gone from being a winning team with enthusiastic fans to a losing team with fans who have gone cold.

If we take a step back from the fervor of football, the 49ers’s recent saga holds some critical lessons that every business can appreciate, the foremost being this: a business should never lose sight of what its customers want and need, especially when a business is excelling.

Let’s start by providing an overview of what has happened to the team and its fans.

New Hope

In the San Francisco Bay Area, “49ers” is synonymous with the word “legendary.” After winning multiple NFL Championships from Candlestick Park, the five-time Super Bowl champions moved to their new Levi’s Stadium (which happens to be the home of this year’s Super Bowl). The over $1 billion stadium brought new hopes to the 49er fans, as the early 2000’s weren’t exactly kind to the “Faithful.”

But in 2011, things started changing. In his first year, new head coach, Jim Harbaugh brought the team to their first NFC Championship and the next year got the 49ers all the way to the Super Bowl. Along the way, the 49ers appointed a young unknown quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, who dazzled fans with his abilities and eventually took over incumbent starter, Alex Smith’s position.

Shattered Dreams

So here’s what’s going on today – Super Bowl 50 will be headlined by the Broncos and Panthers. Jim Harbaugh is now the head coach at Michigan; Kaepernick wants to play for the Jets after being benched for half the season, and the 49ers went 5-11.  All of this changed in one year. Starting with the 2015 NFL Season, the expensive, $1 Billion plus stadium has been hosting games for a losing team–and the fans blame management. A 2015 SFist article started a discussion about how 49er season ticket holders were scrambling to offload their tickets, with one fan admitting,

I’m here to support the home team, but it seems like they’re not helping us, and they’re making it worse for us.

The fans’ anger starts with management decisions. Jim Harbaugh and 49er owner Jed York have had some interesting times, including Jim Harbaugh explaining to media that while it was initially reported that parting with the 49ers was a mutual decision, it wasn’t. Over the course of time, Colin Kaepernick lost his luster, which eventually led to him getting benched and feeling marginalized by the team and asking for his trade. 49er fans went from going to the Super Bowl from Candlestick Park to moving to Levi’s Stadium with a superb coach and Super Bowl 50 dreams–to having a losing team and horrible traffic this coming weekend.

49er fans are infuriated, and in particular, they are angry with 49er’s management. 49er fans are selling their tickets and not buying as much merchandise (and if they are, it is a #7 Colin Kaepernick jersey.)

What Every Business Can Learn

At the end of the day, football fans are consumers, and they actively choose to spend their money to buy tickets, merchandise and make revenue for the business: the football team. We like to think of this as V.I.E.: their Visionaries (C-Levels), Implementers (VPs) and their various levels of staff as the Customer Experience. Football is a business where you have Visionaries like General Manager Jed York, Implementers like Head Coach Jim Harbaugh, and Customer Experience created/managed by players like Colin Kaepernick.

The Visionaries of every business need to remember that the more successful they become, the more they need to start paying attention to how the customer experience of their organization is evolving and how the consumer is responding.  Sometimes the experience may not be completely in line with what they had originally envisioned, but that’s okay as long as the customers, the people who are the revenue, believe that what they are experiencing is of value to them. Upper management troubles and business relations have actually deprived a strong and loyal fan base of what they believed was a Cinderella moment,a once in a lifetime experience.

Like what’s happening with the 49ers, evidence today demonstrates that many businesses continue to ignore the wants and needs of their customers. A recent study has found that 70% of companies ignore customer complaints on Twitter, despite the fact that 83% of those who received a reply liked or loved the fact that the company responded. “What is striking about these findings is the strong degree to which consumers want to be engaged online to have their issues addressed,” says Anthony Sardella, senior vice president and managing director at evolve24. “They are clearly seeking to have a greater voice in the customer service process and see social media as a streamlined means for resolution of their issues.”

Whether it’s responding to complaints on social media or reviewing your product or service in order to better fit customer demand, the lesson here is clear: when you ignore your customers, your company will pay for it in the end.

As visionaries, it’s very important to remember that there will come a time when your vision will take on a life of its own. You will no longer own that vision; it now belongs to the customer, but you will still be responsible for sustaining it. Ignoring what your customers want isn’t possible, if you want to keep your business, or team, together for years to come.

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