San Francisco 49ers removing game-day barriers in real time with its SAP data war room

San Fransisco 49ers Levi's Stadium fan feedback surevy.
Jabari Young, CNBC Sports Business Reporter
Key Points
  • The 49ers are the only National Football League team to use Executive Huddle, a tracking system created by German software company SAP.
  • The system has helped the 49ers find ways to improve the experience for fans at the stadium, which the team expects will help it to boost sales.

SANTA CLARA — It's nearly two hours before game time, a Week 11 matchup against the Arizona Cardinals, and a San Francisco official is observing negative alerts from a concession stand but can't figure out why.

For Moon Javaid, the 49ers' vice president of strategy and analytics, the alerts are "atypical" because it's so early and fans haven't filled Levi's Stadium. Javaid is usually accustomed to "positive feedback" when the gates open, so he sends a staff member to investigate. The check-in reveals the concession stand, which was being operated by a nonprofit organization, was closed, hence the negative feedback.

Score another win for the technology the 49ers installed in the stadium last year. It is what allowed the team to identify the problem and correct it.

In the second year of using Executive Huddle, a real-time tracking system created by German software company SAP, the 49ers say they are seeing positive results and plan to expand it next season. The 49ers are the only team in the National Football League to use Executive Huddle, which gives the team the ability to make real-time adjustments on game day.

Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., Oct. 7, 2019.
Ric Tapia / Icon Sportswire /Getty Images

"I want to remove every single barrier that [fans] may have in their mind, so they might come to a game next time," Javaid said. "The way we do that is trying to solve every single minor issue or inconvenience that you might have."

The 49ers' version of Executive Huddle is a suite located on the west wing of the 5-year-old stadium, overlooking the field. Five big-screen monitors display real-time data that allows the team to study fan behavior.

When congested parking lots are causing traffic issues, the team will see the overflow via ticket scans and will send word to redirect traffic, and the same goes for gate entry.

If the restrooms aren't clean, customers can use HappyOrNot kiosks, which will send the feedback to Executive Huddle. From there, the 49ers can monitor the complaints and send officials to solve any issues. Javaid said low inventory is a constant problem in bathrooms.

"I never realized how frequently we run out of toilet paper," Javaid joked. "You don't think these things would happen in a new building. That is very surprising to me."

A retail experience review system at the San Francisco 49ers store at Levis Stadium.
Source: SF 49ers.

SAP developed Executive Huddle in 2017, hoping to assist the 49ers in solving their weekly strategic planning. Team President Al Guido holds staff meetings every week to examine game-day stats and make corrections. Before adding the software, it took the team days to gather data to provide Guido. He wanted a more rapid system to dissect the feedback sooner, and the team added Executive Huddle in 2018.

Today, Guido receives a report to his phone every 30 minutes during game days. If he identifies any issue, Guido contacts stadium officials to address any complications that will disturb fan experience.

"We put on (eight) games a year, hopefully, more than that if it's playoffs, and we only have one chance to make sure that's right for the people coming in here," Guido said. "To have the data, to have the technology, to have the platform at our fingertips, to be able to react in real time, and even more importantly proactively communicate to our fans, it's made all the difference in the world."

Guido calls Executive Huddle a "revenue driver, not a cost center," since the software is designed to assist in preventing the 49ers from losing money. An example of this is using point-of-sale data to help queue efficiency with the thinking shorter wait times result in more sales.

"Happier fans spend more money," Javaid said. "We're listening. We're making improvements and trying."

Warm wine

As the 49ers prepare to make a postseason run with Super Bowl LIV in sight, Javaid said what the team learned in using Executive Huddle is understanding they have the capabilities "to solve a lot of little problems" on game days.

He recalled an early experience using the software. Like in the case of the closed concession stand, the team sent a staffer to check on an issue after tons of negative alerts. The staffers arrived at the kiosk that was set up near a bar area but did not immediately detect any problem.

The alerts were still coming, so Javaid told the staffers to return to the area and "not leave until they figured out what the problem was." As it turns out, a wine fridge was broken, and customers were upset with being served warm wine.

"We know we don't need to invest in the technology," Javaid said. "We know we're going to get a 75, 80% rating by doing nothing. But that's not good enough for us. … We want everyone happy so that they can be cheering our team on the field."

SAP charges a monthly fee ranging from $5,000 to $10,000 for the use of Executive Huddle and data storage. The company also charges a one-time "data connection setup," ranging from $60,000 to over $100,000, depending on the services an organization selects.

SAP San Francisco 49er's performance center
Source: SF 49ers

Mark Lehew, SAP's global vice president of sports and entertainment, said using the software is "kind of like an air traffic control tower, showing [teams] what's going on end-to-end across the business at any point in time."

Through Dec. 20, SAP shares are up 39% year to date and on pace for the stock's best yearly performance since 2012 when it gained 48.6%.

Forty-niners CRO Brent Schoeb said Executive Huddle helps the team minimize operational cost and grow revenue, although he added that the 49ers haven't been able to pinpoint accurate dollar figures for how much it has contributed.

"What we do know is the more efficient we can get, the more revenue we'll see," he said.

The 49ers have a 10-year partnership with SAP, which a league source said is valued at roughly $8 million per year and runs through 2022. The deal also allows the company to hold naming rights to the 49ers training center, SAP Performance Facility.

The plan next season will include expanding Executive Huddle by adding an automated inventory section for concession items and what Schoeb calls a "social listening" component, giving the 49ers the ability to monitor social media to seek discussions from fans who are at the game.

"We might not be capturing what a fan wants from us without capturing what they're saying about us on social media," Schoeb said.

In October, the team announced a unique "Member Inclusive Menu" for season-ticket holders. This offseason, the 49ers will use data from Executive Huddle to examine popular food and drink items that the team will use to finalize the menu.

"If we're not investing in them [fans] daily," Guido said, "they're not going to invest back into us."