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Jed York is maintaining the 49ers’ fan base in a whole new way

Kathleen Russell runs a daycare business out of her Los Altos, Calif. home, so when anybody shows up unannounced, she's a little suspicious. That happened at around 4:45 Monday afternoon, when a baby-faced 30-something wearing a polo shirt and Dockers approached the house.

But the first thing the man did was assure Kathleen he wasn't a solicitor or any other type of unwanted guest.

"I come by your place all the time and I admire your flag," he said, referring to the rectangular-shaped, San Francisco 49ers-themed piece of fabric Kathleen and her husband, Steve, have had waving outside of their home for as long as they can remember.

The man said he worked for the 49ers and wanted to thank Kathleen's family for their support by offering them tickets to Thursday night's crucial prime-time home game against the division-rival Seattle Seahawks.

Naturally, Kathleen was curious to find out what exactly the man did with the Niners.

"I'm the CEO," he told her, shaking her hand. "Jed."

She later told Steve she had been given tickets to the game "from some guy who said he's the CEO."

"I didn't recognize his first name," Kathleen told me, adding that Steve's "a little upset I didn't come and get him" when 49ers owner Jed York paid a visit.

Steve, 56, estimates he's been a 49ers fan about 56 years. He and Kathleen rarely get to games but are huge supporters. Now, they'll attend their first game in years, all because a 31-year-old multi-millionaire — a man who last week was named to Fortune Magazine's 40 Under 40 List for 2012 — took time out of his evening commute home to his extremely pregnant wife (she was due to give birth to the couple's first child on Tuesday) in order to thank the Russells for waving a simple flag.

It's not the first time that's happened. A butcher at a local grocery store tells Steve that York — who lives nearby — has stopped in and handed out tickets to employees before.

This is a guy who gets it. York is doing his part to buck a stigma. He's bridging the chasm that has historically separated fans from dinosaur owners. He, fellow dynastic heir Jim Irsay, and the tech-savvy Paul Allen are the only NFL owners on Twitter. York and Irsay have used social media heavily to connect with their fan bases, even giving away tickets via open contests for followers.  

Will this become a trend? Will new-age owners like York and Irsay lead the next generation of franchise CEOs into an era that further cuts middle men out of the historically frigid relationships between fans and owners?

What York and Irsay seem to realize is that — in a highly-competitive sports world dominated by bandwagons — they have the personal power to secure fans for life with the simplest of gestures. Do you think those bagboys at that local Los Altos grocery store will ever defect to the Davis empire in Oakland now that they've been handed a ticket from the man who runs the Niners?

So these efforts aren't only good deeds, but they also exemplify good business. Those in lines of succession in NFL family businesses across the country should take note, because York and Irsay are pioneers, embracing supporters now so that those very people will continue to return the favor for the remainder of their lives.

Brad Gagnon

About Brad Gagnon

Brad Gagnon has been passionate about both sports and mass media since he was in diapers -- a passion that won't die until he's in them again. Based in Toronto, he's worked as a national NFL blog editor at theScore.com (covering Super Bowls XLIV, XLV and XLVI), a producer and writer at theScore Television Network and a host, reporter and play-by-play voice at Rogers TV. His work has also appeared at Deadspin, FoxSports.com, The Guardian, The Hockey News and elsewhere at Bloguin, but his day gig has him covering all things NFC East for Bleacher Report.

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