When the NBA restarts in Orlando, live screens of fans will replace empty seats
The National Basketball Association is planning to replace fan-less stands with high-tech programs designed to virtually connect fans with game action when the league restarts its season next week in Orlando.
The initiative gives the league a new way to satisfy sponsors that are challenged to get value from deals that normally rely on in-person experiences. For instance, Anheuser-Busch InBev today teased a program called “Michelob Ultra Courtside,” which it describes in a press release as “a digital experience that allows fans to appear virtually inside the arena and share in the excitement of the game.”
The brand did not provide details, but people familiar with the program say it will involve placing life-size screens courtside along the baseline. Fans, selected via a sweepstakes, will log onto a portal from home where they can access a unique feed of the game, unlike the regular feed viewers will watch on TV. FCB New York worked on the program for the brewer.
“Michelob Ultra Courtside is a truly groundbreaking virtual fan experience that will not only bring the energy of the fans to the game, but also bring the athletes closer to the fans,” Ricardo Marques, VP marketing for Michelob Ultra, said in a statement.
The NBA is expected to detail other programs next week.
The initiative shows the lengths sports leagues and brands are taking to add some excitement to otherwise dull environments, with games being played in empty stadiums and arenas. Some brands are trying to re-create stadium environments at home or in bars.
Buffalo Wild Wings has hired well-known baseball beer vendors to sling beers inside some of its restaurants. “Fancy” Clancy Haskett will show up at the Washington, D.C. Buffalo Wild Wings, for instance, instead of his regular “home” at Baltimore’s Camden Yards. The chain even hired accomplished organist Matthew Van Hoose to play the organ at its restaurant near the Washington Nationals ballpark in an attempt to recreate the familiar in-stadium music. Buffalo Wild Wings, which has rules that keep patrons six feet apart inside its restaurants, released a new ad debuting tonight during the Major League Baseball opener on ESPN featuring the Yankees vs. the Nationals. The spot, called “We Need Sports. Sports Need Us” is from The Martin Agency.
Michelob Ultra’s NBA marketing includes a new ad from Wieden+Kennedy New York featuring Miami Heat star Jimmy Butler. He is shown packing his bags for Orlando, where the league will play the remainder of its season at ESPN’s Wide World Sports Complex at Walt Disney World. The venue is part of the Orlando “bubble” that the NBA established to keep players confined in a single location in an attempt to minimize COVID-19 exposure risk.
AB InBev is a longtime NBA sponsor. The brewer has used Budweiser as its lead NBA brand but has now swapped in Ultra.