Wear Levi's to Levi's Stadium, Maybe Get a Free Beer

Merchandise Deal with San Francisco 49ers Could Lead to Broader NFL Deal

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Levi's 49ers Jacket
Levi's 49ers Jacket
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This football season, San Francisco 49ers fans will be treated to plenty of Levi's-sponsored experiences as the brand looks to capitalize on its new stadium naming rights deal and weave its brand into the fabric of America's most popular sport.

On Sept. 14, when Levi's Stadium hosts its first regular season game, Jumbotrons will show Levi's-centric content produced by the Forty Viners, a social media program dedicated to highlighting action inside the stadium. On the field, team mascot Sourdough Sam will be running around in a new pair of Levi's. And dotted through the stadium, there will be fans wearing Levi's 49ers trucker and varsity jackets, part of an exclusive collection that could be the beginning of a league-wide apparel partnership.

Fans will also be rewarded for wearing Levi's throughout the season, both inside and outside the stadium. During the games, fans seen wearing Levi's by stadium staff may periodically have their drink tabs picked up, or they may get invited into the 501 Club, a 23,000-square-foot space above the stadium's craft beer garden.

Also, at some point this season, Levi's reps will show up at Finnerty's, a well-known San Francisco-centric sports bar in New York City, and invite Levi's-wearing attendees to fly back to San Francisco to watch the following week's home game at the stadium.

"This could be the move of the century for Levi's," Levi's President James Curleigh said. "We want people thinking, 'When you wear your Levi's, good things happen."

The naming rights deal, announced last May, will cost Levi's $220 million over 20 years. Though the price and length of the commitment are unusually high for the brand, it offers a level of compatibility and synergy not always present in stadium naming rights deals. "There is no comparison," Mr. Curleigh said. "There is no one-off effort that Levi's has ever done that has cost us $220 million over 20 years."

Tim Cunningham, a senior partner at the brand consultancy Lippincott, said Levi's and the NFL have similar audiences. "The brands support and reinforce each other rather than clash," he said. "Levi's is a mass market consumer brand with a slight skew to men. And guess what the NFL is."

In years past, stadium sponsorships were seen as a way for a brand to heighten its profile in a geographic area. Airlines, banks and energy companies, eager to make themselves synonymous with their hubs or customer bases, signed on to have their names uttered during baseball, basketball and football broadcasts.

"It was a very easy way to plant a flag," explained Jim Andrews, vice president at sponsorship consultancy IEG.

Levi's has no need for such a thing in the Bay Area. The company was founded in San Francisco in 1873 and has been headquartered there ever since. It has also done local sports-related deals before, including a sponsorship of a section of right-field wall at AT&T Park, the San Francisco Giants baseball stadium, since 2006.

What it wants with its new deal is a chance to enhance its status as an iconic American brand. Mr. Curleigh sees NFL team-licensed jackets as a way in. "We can Trojan horse our way into the sports domain," he said.

Levi's originally planned to create a collection for the 49ers only. But Mr. Curleigh said that after showing a test run to NFL executives, the reaction was overwhelming. "They see it as an opportunity," Mr. Curleigh said. "They want to take it to all 32 NFL teams quickly."

The NFL declined to comment.

For now, Levi's will sell its 49ers collection at the stadium, select Levi's stores in San Francisco and on Levi.com.

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CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story referred to Mr. Curleigh as John. His name is James.