“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. With its first year investment as the NBA’s title beer sponsor in peril, Michelob ULTRA set out to innovate the live sports experience forever.
As other brands divested, canceling sponsorship activations, pulling ads and subduing communications, Michelob ULTRA changed the game. The NBA’s younger, urban sports enthusiast audience was often pleased, but not proud, to drink Michelob ULTRA, so the brand set out to gain cultural relevance, while proving the brand’s motto: “It’s Only Worth It If You Enjoy It."
As sports leagues scrambled to install cardboard fan cutouts in the stands, athletes and coaches threatened not to play. Michelob ULTRA knew why: Joy creates success.
Professional athletes have long attributed success at their craft not only to dedication, but also to those in the crowd cheering them on. Without live fans, athletes were worried the game would feel as empty as the stands themselves.
Michelob ULTRA virtually transported fans right back to where they wanted to be… and where players need them to be: Courtside.
In partnership with Microsoft and the NBA, Michelob ULTRA Courtside was born. This digitally immersive experience, powered by the debut of Microsoft’s new AI-driven Together Mode, closed the gap between athletes in the Orlando-based NBA Bubble and fans safely at home. Joy permeated all 124 games, and suddenly, game-changing innovation changed the game for years to come.
Michelob ULTRA bottles could be scanned for a chance to win a coveted Courtside “seat” in a ring of 17-foot LED screens in the NBA Bubble. An immersive experience for fans and players alike, millisecond data transfers, a never-before-seen rail cam and 120 spatial audio contact microphones brought fans virtually Courtside, reacting and interacting in real-time.
Branded game nights hosted by Michelob ULTRA were dynamically themed to capture press headlines and social conversation throughout the season. Depending on the night, the stands were filled with first responders, adoptable dogs, or unsuspecting fans who found themselves rubbing digital elbows with the likes of Lil Wayne, Shaq, and even President Obama.
Michelob ULTRA Courtside was prominently featured across 81.5 million hours of NBA coverage and an integrated campaign, including PR, influencers, trade, eCommerce, social and digital. Courtside dominated headlines in sports (ESPN SportsCenter, Bleacher Report, etc.), lifestyle (People, Today, Uproxx, etc.) and news (Wired, Fast Company, Yahoo!, etc.).
Over 535,000 unique fans visited the digital Courtside property to get in on the action, making it the most visited URL in the brand’s history. Today, Microsoft is applying lessons learned from Courtside in efforts to make the workplace and classroom more joyful and engaging.
Michelob ULTRA Courtside took the beer from an accepted commodity to a brand in-demand, as it played a pivotal role in culture: bringing joy back to quarantine culture.
Courtside was the #1 topic in the sports industry and over 13 billion impressions brought the brand unprecedented cultural relevance, leading to unprecedented business results:
32% increase in sales, with flat product distribution
31% increase in brand reach across integrated touchpoints
4.3% increase in brand consideration, the highest increase of all tracked beers
2.01 billion earned influencer, social and PR impressions, yielding a 6% increase in share of voice