(Photo Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports)
Nearly two million people will soon be in San Francisco to participate in one of the biggest events in the world: Super Bowl 50. As I think about the wave of cheering fans that will come parading into Levi’s Stadium on Sunday, I’m brought back to a quieter moment. A moment between not two million people, but two, and a moment that changed the Levi’s brand forever.
Three years ago, the naming rights for the new San Francisco 49ers stadium in San Francisco were up for bid. At that point, I wasn’t even thinking the new home of the San Francisco 49ers would be “Levi’s Stadium.” A long-term naming rights deal for an NFL stadium is a major investment for any company, not to mention a mid-sized one like LS&Co. – and one in the apparel business at that. Big brands in tech, finance or consumer packaged goods are the ones that put their names on stadiums and arenas – like AT&T Park down the Embarcadero from my office, Gillette Stadium or Oracle Arena across the Bay in Oakland.
But over a dinner at Spruce in San Francisco, 49ers owner Jed York and I started talking. We talked about the things our two brands had in common. We’re both San Francisco originals. LS&Co. made the first pair of jeans for miners back in 1873; in 1946 the 49ers, named for those same miners, became the first big-league pro sports team to call the city home. We’ve both been part of the life and identity of the city ever since – as iconic as the Golden Gate Bridge or our cable cars. We’re recognized all over the world, but we’re essentially San Francisco.
The more we talked, the more I realized that this was more than just an opportunity to build great visibility for the business: I couldn’t think of another brand that belonged on that stadium as much as ours. I thought back to when I was at Procter & Gamble leading the Gillette business and seeing the power of a naming rights deal with Gillette Stadium, home to the New England Patriots. It was one of the biggest moments for the brand, providing an incomparable opportunity to connect with consumers, and has continued to be a great investment for the business. Levi’s also had some experience with sports venues, having “Levi’s Landing” in right field at AT&T Park, home of the SF Giants. And we considered this a marketing success.
So I had some good experience to draw from. And in thinking about the possibility of Levi’s having the naming rights for the new stadium, the picture couldn’t have been clearer in my mind…Sourdough Sam, the 49ers mascot, running across the field rocking a pair of Levi’s to the sound of 68,500 cheering fans proudly wearing their favorite Levi’s jeans, and a prominent Levi’s Stadium scoreboard shining in the background. Levi’s is at its best when it’s at the center of culture. And the center of culture lives in sports, music and entertainment. It couldn’t be a more perfect fit.
The stadium fit so well with our past. LS&Co. has been part of the major happenings in San Francisco since Gold Rush days. Every generation has been drawn to San Francisco by something big. The city has played host to three World’s Fairs – the Midwinter Fair of 1894, the Panama Pacific International Exposition in 1915, and the Golden Gate International Exposition of 1939-40 (where we sponsored the “Electric Rodeo”). Our jeans were the uniform of choice for the workers who built those fairs, for the Summer of Love in 1967, and for sports fans in the stands for four World Series and, as of this week, two Super Bowls.
But I was just as excited at how the stadium fit our future. While we’re very proud of our tradition, innovation is in our DNA and since coming on as CEO I’ve made investing in innovation a top priority – and Levi’s Stadium is both the most technologically advanced and sustainably built stadium in football. It uses recycled water for 85% of its needs, including irrigating the field, flushing toilets – pretty much everything but drinking water. Low flow water fixtures such as toilets, urinals and sinks use 40 percent less water than conventional fixtures making the stadium exceptionally water stingy – and that meshes with our commitment to sustainability and using less water in making our clothes.
The stadium also makes great use of technology, offering fans with mobile phones an extended experience ranging from more bandwidth than any stadium in the world to an app that does everything from finding fans a parking spot to bringing them the latest game stats, letting them order food from their seat – or even find the shortest bathroom line. We’re big believers in the latest technology, too; we use some pretty innovative stretch technology in our new line of women’s jeans, we’ve created one of the most technologically advanced supply chains to make and deliver them, and we’re tapping into the latest technology to deliver an unprecedented consumer experience.
So before the dinner was over, I knew that getting the Levi’s name on the stadium was the right decision for the company. It played to our strengths and represented a unique opportunity to put the Levi’s brand back at the center of culture where it belongs; where it has always been at its peak during some of the most historic moments in history (from rebellious Hollywood and Woodstock to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the rise of Silicon Valley).
And our investment is paying off. At $220 million over 20 years it has to, right? A 30-second Super Bowl ad is going for roughly $5 million. We got the entire 2015 football season, plus Taylor Swift, One Direction, Kenny Chesney, WWE WrestleMania, FIFA Friendlies, and Super Bowl 50, all for about the cost of two Super Bowl spots. But, even more important is how the stadium and the NFL are helping the Levi’s brand reconnect with fans through their passion for sports.
For a CEO, fit is just as important as the bottom line when it comes to big decisions. This one will be good for our bottom line – but only because it was a good fit for the past and future.
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This article also was published on LinkedIn, where LS&Co. leaders periodically share their perspectives and expertise on business trends, industry issues, careers and the workplace.