The San Francisco 49ers are getting a massive amount of stick for their fan questionnaire in which they asked the seemingly ridiculous question, “How important is winning to your stadium experience?”
As in, “Do you need to ask this at all?”
But it speaks to the state of the business (as opposed to the franchise) that someone thought it needed to be asked. And that someone was probably Jed York.
Remember that Levi’s Stadium is his baby, the object by which he measures his value in the marketplace. Everything about the stadium shrieks his belief that the stadium is a standalone triumph, a multi-event mecca that is its own attraction.
Thus, for him, the question is his way of trying to quantify his core belief -- that the stadium is its own attraction.
Except that (a) he asked 49er fans, whose interest is the football produce rather than the commodious restrooms or luxurious suites. Except that (b) he asked at this fresh nadir in club history, when they have won seven of their last 39 games. Except that (c) most people view the stadium as the place where his football team plays, and he will always be regarded as a football owner, not a venue operator.
That’s why the question seems ridiculous. It’s that York doesn’t really want to be thought of as the football owner because his experience has been fairly unhappy. When the team was good, he was warring with the head coach, to the point where he chose not winning over daily migraines as his preferred option. When the team was bad, people rented planes to slag him.
As a football operator, he isn’t having fun. At all.
So he has the question asked, “Do you love the thing I actually did so much that you’ll ignore the thing that makes me susceptible to fan abuse and migraines?”
He will find that he is about to get the answer he doesn’t want -- that football fans want quality football, first and foremost. And he shouldn’t expect any different. His customer base sat through Candlestick Park for 40-plus years, for God’s sake. They voted with their feet and lungs as well as their wallets, and they’re voting now.
But the 49ers asked the question anyway, because they were hoping for a different answer. What they have gotten is laughter. What they’re going to get is a rebuke from the customers, and a renewed understanding that the future of the empire lies with John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan more than with Coldplay tours.
Then again, maybe they get a lot of responses from fans saying, “No, I actually prefer the losing.” In which case this is the best questionnaire ever, and the 49ers are meeting their customers’ needs far more brilliantly than we imagined.