If you walked down Harrison Street between Third and Fourth in San Francisco any time during the first several weeks of the NFL season, you wouldn't have been able to miss the 49ers' “FAITHFUL SINCE ’46,” billboard towering overhead. The gold background and giant white letters sprawled across the sign make it impossible to ignore.
The billboard served up a couple of reminders to 49ers fans. The first reminder being that the team is no longer in San Francisco, and instead resides 37.4 miles south off US-101 in Santa Clara.
The second reminder is that 49ers fans are “Faithful.” While it’s a brilliant attempt to draw fans in by insinuating that they’re more loyal to their team and thus “better” than other fans, it’s starting to seem disingenuous.
Do the 49ers think fans need reminding of their faith in the team or their willingness to stick through thick and thin?
Do they think fans are unaware of the fact that they support a team that's had just five winning seasons in the last 18 years?
Do they think fans are unaware of the fact that they support a team that fired one of its most successful coaches in franchise history?
Do they think fans are unaware of the fact that the team has done nothing to get better since forcing fans to pay exorbitant prices for a new stadium that has, by and large, been a total dud?
Fans are perfectly aware of all of this. The “Faithful” marketing scheme is a sham. It’s a slogan designed to get fans to fall in line with every decision the team makes under the guise of being a “good fan.”
Not to mention the “F” in faithful makes for wonderful alliteration with the “F” in Forty-Niners.
It’s hard to remain faithful though when the team is consistently alienating its fans. The team throws “faithful” at their fans ad nauseum while simultaneously packing the remnants of a great franchise into a cannon and launching it directly into the Earth’s core.
A 2-14 season?
“Hey. Don’t jump ship. Other teams fans would do that, but you won't. You're too faithful for that.”
Another terrible draft?
“Hey. Be faithful and give these players a chance.”
Fire the successful head coach?
“This is benefiting you, the faithful fans, because this will make the team better and you deserve that.”
Stadium is built in such a way that it serves as a literal deep fryer for 70 percent of the patrons?
“We don’t know what you’re talking about. Here. Have a water bottle that says ‘Faithful’ on it.”
This is no longer about being “Faithful.” The team is blatantly disregarding the fans they so adamantly admire for their unyielding faith and loyalty.
What they’re going to find out sooner or later is that fans will only fall for this ruse for so long. Faith in the team and not wanting to waste time with a product that has proven to be dysfunctional are two separate things.
Faith in the team is when the team loses a couple and fans rally around them. It is not when the team is in a free fall, losing 29 of its last 37 games with no real solutions in sight.
Faith in the team is when the team has a few bad drafts, and a new general manager is brought in. It is not when the same general manager that has constructed an abysmal roster over the course of six seasons and continued to be the GM through the entirety of a horrendous 2-14 season.
Faith in the team is when the head coach is bad and gets fired. It is not when the head coach is good and replaced with another guy who is wholly unqualified for the position.
Now 49ers CEO Jed York is expecting fans to trust him to make all the right decisions in constructing another winner to revive the corpse of this proud franchise. To be fair, being “Faithful” in this case requires an abundant amount of trust. Trust that the team earns through succeeding, failing and then succeeding again. Ups and downs are part of this whole thing.
The problem with the 49ers, and thus, the “Faithful” marketing campaign is the team's failure has only been followed by more failure. The proven track record that fans can look to and have faith in is not there. The team knows this, which is why they repeatedly emblazon “FAITHFUL” on scarves and billboards and tee shirts to remind fans to stay since they wouldn’t have a reason to otherwise.
It’s phenomenal bit of work by the 49ers, and I don’t say that sarcastically. It is tremendous marketing that allows the team to be consistently terrible while simultaneously not doing anything to get better, all while the fans all fall in line, put #FAITHFUL in their Twitter bios and buy tickets, merchandise, and concessions at games. (Note the team's Faithful Since '46 page on their website lists the two shopping options BEFORE the part where it pays homage to the "faithful").
The crux of all this is that fans shouldn’t have to be reminded or told how faithful they are. That comes with the territory of being a fan. Any fan that’s going to jump ship at the first sign of trouble wasn’t pouring a ton of money and time into the team to begin with, so appealing to them is pointless. The 49ers, however, don’t have anything else to cling to because the team stinks and they don’t have a plan for it. They know fans are fed up and that people will start doing other things with their time and money on Sundays.
Remember “Quest for Six”? That was the team’s heavily-marketed slogan when they were in contention for a championship. “Faithful” was around then too, but the fan base didn’t start getting bludgeoned with it until the team fell out of contention and measures for keeping fans interested were necessary. The team’s “Quest for Six” is over because that’s expensive and requires hiring people that ownership would probably find abrasive and mean.
And now we’re here. Fans are clamoring for answers from the front office, begging for some form of change that isn’t replacing the head coach or the quarterback. The use of "Faithful" to describe 49ers fans isn't the problem. The problem is that the team is using it as wool over fans' eyes.
People don’t need a Super Bowl every year, they just want the team to be competitive, and the 49ers are not providing that. Even worse, they seem totally unconcerned with doing so while piling up crazy profits in their new stadium that fans don't like. They’ll continue to ignore what the fans want because as long as they can slap up “Faithful” billboards across the Bay Area, they know people will come.
Experiment 626. Coffee drinker and cat enthusiast. Pro-avocado. Anti-sac bunt. Habitual bat flipper. Alex Smith apologist. Yoenis Cespedes fanboy.