What to Know
- Mario Patiño grew up watching the 49ers during the team's most formidable years as five-time Super Bowl champions
- The 49ers and Dallas Cowboys have continued to be among the most popular NFL teams in Mexico due to their success in the 1980s
- Patiño started Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts for the 49ers in Spanish, and has now become an official part of the team's social media operation
Mario Patiño took a liking to the 49ers the first time he watched them play on TV when he was 12 years old.
"The colors, the gold in the helmet, everything," he recalled. "I loved the team."
He wasn't alone: Growing up in Mexico in the 1980s and early 1990s, he was surrounded by fans of the San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys, two teams that dominated the NFL during those decades.
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"I never missed a game," he said. "Every game, I used to wear the same jeans, the same T-shirt, my gold satin Starter jacket. And it was like my lucky charm."
In the 90s, he became a fan of quarterback Steve Young, who led the Niners to their fifth Super Bowl win. But it wasn't until 2005 that Mario got to see the 49ers play in person. That was when they played in the NFL's first regular season game held outside the United States, at Azteca Stadium in Mexico City.
"Those singular games can create fans for life," said 49ers chief marketing officer Alex Chang. "It's not just one game, it's really all the pomp and circumstance surrounding the game."
Chang noted that much like the Super Bowl here in the U.S., the NFL's visits to other countries can include a full week of fan experiences leading up to the game. He said the 49ers are making plans to return to Mexico for another game during the 2022 or 2023 season — part of a broader effort to engage fans in both Mexico and the U.K., now that the team has officially been granted marketing rights in both countries. We recently met a seriously die-hard 49er fan who lives in England.
But for Mario, the transition from fan to superfan happened in 2012, when he visited San Francisco and caught Colin Kaepernick's first game as starting quarterback — then traveled to Atlanta to watch the Niners beat the Falcons in the NFC championship. That was the year he decided to start social media accounts about the 49ers, to post news and game updates on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Certainly, the team already had its own social media. But Mario's accounts were different: they were all in Spanish.
When he joined Twitter earlier that year, Mario had noticed that 49ers content in Spanish was lacking. So he went straight to the top and sent a direct message to the team's CEO, Jed York.
"I DM'd Jed York and he answered me," Mario said. "I asked him for more content in Spanish."
York promptly replied, "We will get on that. Thx for your support."
Over the years, the team has kept its word about that, and now broadcasts every game in Spanish. Telemundo 48 sports anchor Carlos Yustis serves as analyst for those game broadcasts. Like Mario, Yustis also grew up in Mexico watching NFL football on TV during the 1980s and 1990s.
"The very first memories I have of football are with the Niners and the Dallas Cowboys," Yustis said. "Being a part of the team that was part of my childhood — for me, it's a dream come true."
Yustis, who recently became a father, pointed out that many fans his age who still live in Mexico are now having kids of their own, and those kids are growing up as 49er fans — so the Niners' fanbase is growing rapidly in Mexico. It may explain why Mario's social media accounts have become popular enough to gain notice by the team. But Chang suspects it's also the quality of the material he posts.
"The frequency that he was posting was incredible," Chang said. "He was keeping up with folks on my team who do that as a full-time job."
But Mario already has a full-time job: he's a doctor at Mexico's National Cancer Instutute. And in early 2021, his life as a fan and as a doctor suddenly collided when the 49ers' official Twitter account followed him.
"They asked me to translate some tweets about vaccination at Levi's, and I helped them," he said.
The home of the 49ers had become a mass vaccination site for Santa Clara County, and Mario said he was honored to be able to help spread the word to the Spanish-speaking audience in the Bay Area. But he also had a favor to ask:
"I asked for their help to verify the account as the official Spanish account for the 49ers," he said.
The team agreed — and also offered to co-manage the account with him, giving him more time to work on his new 49ers podcast, also in Spanish. Ten years after he began live-tweeting every game and translating every piece of breaking news about the team, Mario got his wish: an official presence for the 49ers on social media in Spanish.
But the story doesn't end there. In 2012, Mario went to a second football game during his visit to the Bay Area.
"My wife is a Raider fan," he confessed. "My brother is a Raider fan."
Outvoted two to one, Mario put on a plain black jacket and headed to the Oakland Coliseum, not daring to be seen in his 49ers jersey. And that day, his brother Jesús felt the same enthusiasm that Mario felt when he decided to begin tweeting for the 49ers. He started a Twitter account for the Raiders in Spanish — and still runs it to this day. Sharing the love of football with Spanish-speaking fans has become sort of a family business.
"It's my 'jobby,'" Mario said. "My hobby, and my job on game day."