Empty arenas and stadiums were the domains of losing teams. But in the COVID era, fanless venues are a common sight, even for the winners—a phenomenon that will grow even more depressing when the normally fan-charged National Football League kicks off its season. Each NFL team is setting its own rules, but most are banning fans or allowing only limited attendance. The longer the pandemic restrictions linger, the harder it will be for sponsors, many of which count on in-person experiences to wring value from their deals. Still, some leagues, teams and brands have found creative ways to make the best of a bad situation with fun and creative promotions. Below, a sample.
Sponsors, teams and leagues get creative to compensate for empty seats
In 2020, tailgating is now “homegating”—at least according to NFL sponsor Pepsi, which is plugging the phrase as part of a sweepstakes in which it is giving away a 16-square-foot tailgating box that includes an outdoor projector, custom corn hole sets and, of course, Pepsi. The brand went even further for a New Jersey couple who are big New York Jets fans by recreating a stadium parking lot tailgate experience at their house. The brand paved more than 1,500 square feet of their front yard, put in stadium lighting, a parking booth, grill, painted end zone and an inflatable jet.
Michelob Ultra’s ‘courtside’
Michelob Ultra and Microsoft have gotten plenty of attention for their pricey virtual fan experience at National Basketball League games in the so-called Orlando bubble. Using Microsoft technology, fans watching from home appear on 17-foot screens that surround the players on three sides of the courts. During broadcasts, the fans appear as they would in real life, with a few minor but arguably charming quirks. Read more here about how it came together.
Postmates Dodger home plates
The Los Angeles Dodgers teamed with Postmates to bring a bit of the culinary experience from Dodger Stadium to fans’ homes. In L.A., Postmates is offering delivery of “Dodgers Home Plates,” which consist of the stadium’s familiar offerings, including premium Dodger Dogs, Dodgers’ blue gelato and the team’s carne asada helmet nachos. The offering follows last year’s introduction of Postmates Live from Dodgers Stadium, which allowed fans to place their concessions stands orders from their seats via the food platform app and pick them up from a designated Postmates spot.
Heinz stadium ketchup
For fans who like a lot of ketchup on their dogs, Heinz created 200 “Stadium Ketchup Kits” to help bring a bit of the ballpark home. The full-size dispenser comes filled with the red stuff, plus a coupon for a free pack of Oscar Mayer hot dogs and a red foam finger to help fans cheer their teams on. The promotion coincided with MLB’s opening day.
Foul ball by mail
Like most pro teams, the Pittsburgh Pirates offered refunds to season ticket holders and threw in some swag—a “ballpark experience in a box” kit that includes a T-shirt, fleece pullover and a Pirates branded mask. But the club went above and beyond for at least one fan. When a foul ball landed in his empty seat, the team mailed it to him.
Heineken stadium in a box
Since soccer fans can’t go to the stadium in the U.S., Heineken is now bringing the stadium to them—at least a bit of it. To promote zero-alcohol Heineken 0.0, the brand created “Stadium in a Box,” a contest that promises lucky fans their own official stadium seat, branded with their team’s logo, along with their own mini-fridge to stash their brew. The only excuse they’d have for missing a goal would be a trip to the bathroom.
MLB: Cheer at the Ballpark
At Major League Baseball games, players are enjoying the “presence” of fans through cardboard cutouts featuring their pictures, but the league is also allowing baseball lovers to “cheer” for their teams through its “Cheer at the Ballpark” app on MLB.com. There, fans can clap, cheer or boo for their teams at specific games each day and also see the percentage of game-watchers cheering for each team in real time. Crowd noise operators at each ballpark will have access to the Cheer at the Ballpark data and will be able to use it as a guide to control stadium sounds during each game.
As the finals of UEFA Champions League approach, Mastercard is trying to unite soccer fans to create the world's biggest stadium wave—on TikTok. For the #PricelessWave, the brand has tapped soccer vets Fernando Torres and Marcel Desailly to kick off the action, and fans can take part by accessing the challenge on TikTok. When recording themselves, they need to raise their arms from bottom of the screen to the top, and the Mastercard football sonic sound and a sprinkle of football confetti will adorn their video.