By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes
Studies show that NFL teams can earn up to $1 million more per game in merchandise, food and beverage sales if they can get their most dedicated fans to show up an hour early for games.
The San Francisco 49ers think a pair of McNary High School alums is just the team to make that happen.
Matt Watson and Dave Sjolin are the heads of two Portland-based firms who recently signed with the 49ers to develop a fan loyalty platform that will encourage fans to do everything from read articles about the team to ordering food from their seats.
“It’s a next generation airline miles points system, but it also makes it into a game. We can use it to motivate people to do certain things, like get to games early or purchase their season tickets as soon as possible. In return, the fans will get points they can use to spend on other items within the 49ers’ offerings,” said Sjolin, owner of Desja Logic.
Sjolin, a software engineer, is handling all the coding for a new mobile app that will allow fans to take advantage of the loyalty system. Watson, owner of Watson Creative, and his team are making sure it looks nice and delivers a user-friendly experience.
“We’re the ones making sure it has a clear message and directs behavior that deepens a fan’s relationship to the team,” Watson said.
Sjolin started his company in 2007 after several years working for the Portland Trailblazers as one of their software coders.
“I was doing everything from their backend software development to writing their statistical scouting system modeled after the guys who did it in the MLB (Major League Baseball),” Sjolin said.
After interning with Nike, Watson took a job with Lippincott’s, an international design agency, at its New York office. He returned to Oregon to take a full-time position at Nike before resigning to spend time with his ailing father, former Keizer City Councilor Jerry Watson.
In his second tenure at Nike, he earned an MBA from George Fox University and launched Watson Creative with his sister, Christy Bachmann, after their father passed. Sjolin and Watson joined forces in business two years ago after growing up together in Keizer.
Sjolin’s contacts with the Trailblazers led to opportunities to work with the 76ers and Clippers. Those jobs led to contracts with professional hockey teams and even rugby teams abroad.
Watson set his sights outside the sports world, partly because of a non-compete contract and partly simply because he wanted to tackle challenges outside pro sports.
“We just shot some video for a memory care facility. That’s the work that you feel good about,” Watson said.
Sjolin counts among his clients Marion-Polk Food Share and Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization. For the latter, Sjolin designed software that manages appointments and dispatches translators and contractors.
While the two keep separate books for accounting purposes, they share an office space and the teams work together on most projects.
“You have senior developers and senior creative talent in both design and development. What makes us unique is that we’re able to tell a story completely using the talents from both teams,” Watson said.
The 49ers contract was a white whale in many regards. For the first time, Sjolin and Watson weren’t relying on contacts within the industry, and the vetting process took more than four months before a contract for work arrived.
However, they’re in talks now to do something similar for the Miami Dolphins.
“Teams are either in a retention or rebuilding phase. Right now, the Trailblazers are doing well, the fans are responsive and they don’t have to worry about selling tickets. They want the ticket buyers to be happy and engaged. A few years ago, the Trailblazers were in a rebuilding phase and that means bringing in new fans. We can take our tools and tailor them to either situation,” Sjolin said.
What neither of them expected was to travel far and wide and somehow end up back in each other’s daily lives running successful branding firms.
“Matt knows the visual language and I know what happens in the back office,” Sjolin said.
“Dave and I have benefitted so much from each other, and I think we’re only now beginning to realize how much that relationship can benefit our clients,” Watson added.