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VenueNext, Startup Behind Niners' New Stadium App, Eyes More Teams

VenueNext is on the hunt to bring more stadiums into the 21st century.


Some of the San Francisco 49ers’ top brass, including CEO Jed York, celebrated quietly Tuesday night at Michael Mina’s Tailgate restaurant inside Levi’s Stadium.

The celebration included employees from tech startup VenueNext, which created the team’s new stadium app, and it didn’t have to do with the Niners’ recent efforts on the football field (the team blew a 17-point lead Sunday night in a loss to the Chicago Bears in its home opener). Instead, this dinner was to celebrate what happened in the stands during the game.

The technology-infused stadium — which had a number of tech hiccups and stumbles during the preseason — had passed its first real test: A sold-out, nationally televised, regular season game. “We proved on Sunday that what we said we were going to do could be done,” said John Paul, VenueNext COO and co-founder. “It couldn’t have gone better.”

Nearly 30 percent of the fans used the app during the game, and the stadium filled 2,100 in-seat delivery orders, nearly triple the number filled during the last preseason game in August. And while these early adoption numbers are exciting for the team, VenueNext may have the most to gain by a successful season at Levi’s.

If you haven’t heard of VenueNext, there’s a good reason why. The company just launched publicly on Thursday, and currently operates in just one stadium. It has, however, been in conversations with more than 15 teams and venues over the past year, said Paul, many of which are watching closely to see how the experiment at Levi’s turns out. VenueNext is hosting potential clients at each Niners home game this year, including last Sunday’s.

Teams are competing with the couch, said Paul, where fans can watch replays when they wish, get food without missing the game and avoid long lines and parking. VenueNext hopes to eliminate some of those inconveniences. You can watch replays and order food from your seat, for example, using the app. But VenueNext also provides the infrastructure that connects the app to the stadium’s other tech elements, like electronic ticket scanners and point-of-sale systems at the vending booths.

VenueNext hopes that other teams and venues are as open to new technology as York and the Niners have been.

“Levi’s is a great first customer,” said Paul. “Jed’s promised us that we can always use Levi’s as our beta petri dish and innovate there.” York is so bullish on the in-stadium technology that he’s actually a VenueNext investor along with a number of other Niners executives through their Aurum Partners LLC investment group.

The app and in-stadium technology isn’t complete. Paul said they still want to add social media elements, where fan posts and photos may be integrated, and even a feature that allows users to find friends who are also at the stadium and meet up. Perfecting the food delivery and ordering process will also improve over time, he said; it’s a matter of supply and demand, and that balance takes time to understand.

Once VenueNext does clear things up, it shouldn’t have a shortage of prospective clients. “We’ve talked to everybody who’s building a stadium,” said Paul. Stadiums don’t turn over often, but new arenas and stadiums are multi-year projects with hundred million and sometimes billion dollar budgets. The Atlanta Falcons are planning a new stadium; so are the Minnesota Vikings, who have already secured the 2018 Super Bowl. If Levi’s Stadium continues to have success, there’s no doubt we’ll see similar technology crop up in other places around the country.

“We’re hoping,” he said, “that in December we’ll be choosing [which] customers we want to work with next year.”

For VenueNext, that’s something worth celebrating.

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