“Play games without the fans? Nah, it’s impossible. I ain’t playing.” — LeBron James, March 6, 2020
COVID-19 sent the sports season — and beer sales — into a tailspin. As quarantine set in, on-premise sales evaporated, fans feared a “lost season,” and athletes threatened not to play. While other sports sponsors divested, canceling experiential activations, pulling ads, and subduing communications, Michelob ULTRA set out to save its first year as the official beer sponsor of the NBA.
And while other leagues scrambled to install cardboard fan cutouts, Michelob ULTRA partnered with FCB, Microsoft and the NBA and Michelob ULTRA Courtside was born.
Powered by the debut of Microsoft’s AI-driven Together Mode and a 17-foot LED ring, the experience digitally transported fans into the NBA Bubble, from the comfort and safety of home. The experience boasted millisecond data transfers, a never-before-seen rail cam, and 120 spatial contact microphones, which redefined the live watching experience.
To get Courtside, fans scanned their Michelob ULTRA bottles to win virtual tickets to 124 games live-broadcasted from the Orlando-based NBA Bubble (7/30/20–10/11/20). Calls-to-action across PR, in-store and digital trade, social, influencers, broadcast integrations, TVC, and more led to the most visited URL in the brand’s history, with 535,000 unique fans visiting.
Suddenly, empty stands that plagued stadiums became an invaluable brand opportunity. Real-time player, fan, and broadcaster interaction made Michelob ULTRA a pivotal part of the season. Nightly, the brand’s stands featured first responders, adoptable dogs, or unsuspecting fans, rubbing digital elbows with the likes of Lil Wayne, Shaq, and even President Obama. And across 124 games and 81.5 million hours of NBA coverage, Michelob ULTRA proved its motto, “It’s Only Worth It If You Enjoy It.”
The magic of FCB and Michelob ULTRA’s campaign went far beyond the lucky fans sitting Courtside. Intensified focus on sites like Drizly put Michelob ULTRAs in fans’ hands at home in under 60 minutes and boosted eCommerce ad engagement rates by 700%. Courtside dominated headlines, from ESPN SportsCenter to Bleacher Report and from People to Fast Company, becoming the #1 sports industry topic, as influencers and celebrities made appearances all season.