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How 49ers intend to gain East Bay foothold with Raiders in Las Vegas


How 49ers intend to gain East Bay foothold with Raiders in Las Vegas

The 49ers have moved on to Super Bowl LIV. The Raiders have moved on to Las Vegas.

Regardless of which (former) Bay Area NFL team you root for, it's been an eventful week for that franchise. San Francisco sits one win away from its sixth Lombardi Trophy. While Oakland ... err Vegas ... officially changed residences.

Many Raiders fans will follow the team to Sin City, whether through in-person support or from afar. But certainly, there will be others who change allegiances or simply stop watching the NFL altogether, as a result of the pain from watching their hometown team depart for purported greener pastures.

The 49ers are sitting pretty regardless, but with the Raiders now officially out of the region, they're in a position to capitalize even further.

Success breeds fan interest, and as the NFL's surprise team this season, the 49ers have been riding a wave of increased fan support during their path to Super Bowl LIV. A large portion of that increase has emanated from the East Bay, and as The New York Times' Ken Belson reported prior to the 49ers' 37-20 win over the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game, San Francisco has plans to gain an even greater foothold in the region with the Raiders now operating elsewhere.

"We would never try to convert Raiders fans,” 49ers chief marketing officer Alex Chang told Belson. "It’s a multigenerational play here for people who are transplants or kids who are growing up here now and won’t have the Raiders."

As part of San Francisco's efforts to establish a greater presence in the East Bay, the 49ers intend to expand their number of charities and free flag football programs in the region and to invite more East Bay school children to their science and technology programs. For obvious reasons, there is a clear focus on the younger audience, but San Francisco isn't necessarily trying to change their loyalties.

"We want kids to be 49ers fans," 49ers chief administrative officer Hannah Gordon said, "but it’s not like we want someone not to be a Raiders fan."

As the 49ers go about this expansion effort, the organization can look to its next opponent for proof that it can be accomplished. As Belson noted, the Kansas City Chiefs have been very successful in converting former fans of the St. Louis Rams, who left for Los Angeles in 2016. While the fan anger might not ever entirely subside, Chiefs president Mark Donovan told Belson that ticket sales and sponsorship from the St. Louis region remain on the rise.

While the Raiders have dominated fan support in the East Bay throughout their time in Oakland, their constant flirting with the idea of leaving combined with San Francisco's recent success has resulted in a major shift this season. Belson noted that, according to Fanatics, 49ers merchandise sales in the East Bay have increased by 250 percent compared to last year.

[RELATED: Five moments that defined 49ers' journey to Super Bowl LIV]

With the Raiders moving to Las Vegas and the 49ers looking like a team built to contend for many years to come, one can expect that number to increase even further next season.

Programming note: NBC Sports Bay Area feeds your hunger for 49ers Super Bowl coverage with special editions of “49ers Central” all week (5:30 p.m. Monday and Wednesday; 8:00 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday; 6:00 p.m. Friday).

49ers' 2020 schedule ranks as toughest in NFC, fourth-hardest in NFL

49ers' 2020 schedule ranks as toughest in NFC, fourth-hardest in NFL

The 49ers took advantage of a third-place schedule this season after finishing behind both the Los Angeles Rams and Seattle Seahawks in the NFC West a year ago. But now that they're the cream of the crop in the division, they won't have that same benefit next season.

The NFL schedule is intentionally structured to create parity. Generally, the best teams from the previous season face each other, while the teams that finished third and fourth in their respective divisions encounter a less challenging slate. The point is to create a situation in which all teams can contend for the playoffs on a regular basis.

You don't have to look further than San Francisco to get an idea of how quickly a team's fortunes can change within this system. The 49ers went from the No. 2 overall pick in the draft to the No. 1 seed in the NFC. And, consequently, they'll face a tougher road through the regular season in 2020 than they did in 2019.

The NFC West will play against the AFC East and NFC East in 2020. Counting San Francisco's six intra-divisional contests, that accounts for 14 of the 16 games the 49ers will play during the 2020 regular season. But since they finished first in their own division, they'll also face the 2019 first-place teams from the two other divisions in the conference, meaning the New Orleans Saints and Green Bay Packers.

While the game dates have yet to be announced, their locations are known. For instance, San Francisco will travel to New Orleans, while the Packers will visit Levi's Stadium in 2020 -- both for the second season in a row.

[RELATED: 49ers' 2020 opponents set after team claims NFC West title]

The 49ers' 2020 opponents compiled a combined record of 134-120-2 in 2019, which equates to a .528 winning percentage. That ranks as the toughest 2020 regular-season schedule in the NFC and the fourth-toughest in the NFL, behind the New England Patriots (.537), New York Jets (.533) and Miami Dolphins (.529). For comparison, their 2019 opponents combined for a .510 winning percentage in 2018. 

Now, just as the 49ers went from near-worst to first, it isn't uncommon to see the opposite occur. Just because a team was successful in 2019 does not guarantee that it'll be a winning squad next season, so it's certainly possible that San Francisco's 2020 schedule won't be as daunting as it currently appears. Of course, one could also argue that most -- if not all -- of the 49ers' divisional foes will be improved in 2020, so if you're expecting them to easily coast to a second straight NFC West title, you're likely asking to be disappointed.

49ers kicker Robbie Gould named NFC Special Teams Player of the Week

49ers kicker Robbie Gould named NFC Special Teams Player of the Week

Kicker Robbie Gould, whose 33-yard field goal as time expired finalized the 49ers’ 34-31 victory over the Los Angeles Rams on Saturday night, was named NFC Special Teams Player of the Week on Friday morning.

Gould earlier made a 26-yard field goal against the Rams. He also kicked four extra points as the 49ers set up a winner-take-all game for the NFC West division title on Sunday night against the Seattle Seahawks.

If the 49ers (12-3) win, they will earn home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.

Gould, who has experienced a difficult regular season, has kicked two game-winning field goals as time expired this season. He had a 30-yard field goal on Dec. 8 with no time remaining to lift the 49ers to a 48-46 victory over the New Orleans Saints.

[RELATED49ers-Seahawks injury report: Tartt on verge of returning]

The 37-year-old Gould, a 15-year professional, was named NFC Special Teams Player of the Week twice in each of his previous two seasons with the 49ers.

On the season, Gould has made 21 of 29 field-goal attempts for a career-low 72.4 percentage. He ranks eighth all-time in field-goal accuracy at 86.728 percent.