Prior to their 2 October game against the Detroit Lions, new Chicago Bears sponsor Visa activated its recently signed four-year partnership with a virtual reality experience that enabled fans of the NFL franchise to get on to the gridiron with their favourite players.
The new sponsorship deal, which sees Visa become the Bear’s exclusive credit card sponsor, not only offers fans at the team’s Soldiers Field stadium to immerse themselves in a Bears’ August practice session, but it also gave Visa a chance to highlight its new Chicago Bears credit card launched in tandem with fellow team partner PNC.
The sponsors and the team worked alongside Palo Alto, California-based virtual reality company Strivr Labs, who used a suite of 360-degree cameras to capture footage from a Bears training sessions back in August at their at Halas Hall training headquarters.
The end result VR experience consists of a series of vignettes featuring the team’s two quarterbacks – Jay Cutler and Brian Hoyer – taking snaps under centre, as well as wide receivers like Alshon Jeffery running route trees and pulling in QB passes and linemen players hitting blocking sleds.
Viewers wearing the VR headsets can turn, twist and look anywhere around them to experience just what it feels like to be on the field, shoulder-to-shoulder with the Bears during practice drills.
Visa set up a branded kiosk at the Bears’ official tailgate beside the stadium ahead of the Lions match-up and invited fans to try the virtual experience and then follow-up by talking about the new Visa PNC Chicago Bears debit and credit card.
In addition to the at-stadium, on-site experience, the partnership initiative is also being amplified via a YouTube 360° video (which thus far has notched up 200,000+ views) for fans not able to get to the stadium,
The social spot, first posted ahead of the at-stadium experience on 28 September, also urges viewers to sign up for the Chicago Bears PNC Visa Debit Card and receive deals on gear throughout the season by driving them online to http://chgobrs.com/2dd6VD1
This online 360° experience, viewable via iOS, Android and (Chrome or Firefox) desktop, can be used via mobile simply by tapping play and turning handsets horizontal and then the user simply looks up, down, right and left to enjoy full experience.
The activation was further amplified through social platforms like Twitter.
— Chicago Bears (@ChiBearsPromos) October 2, 2016
‘It feels like the organization is all pulling in the same direction (when) Pace and Fox say yes to this in an era where they don’t have to at all,’ Bears Vice President of Corporate Partnerships Doug Carnahan – who credits team General Manager Ryan Pace and Head Coach John Fox for buying-in to this new form of fan engagement.
‘This allows us to capture some footage that we think no one else can get.’
According to Strivr creative head Cody Karutz, adding virtual reality into the wider fan experience enables teams to develop deeper supporter relationships and ‘create for each fan the sense that they are intimate with these players that they support and this team that they support’.
This is the latest in an increasingly long line of team sponsor, leading edge virtual reality activations
Indeed, the combination of VR and sports sponsorship has perhaps been the most notable mature market activation trend through the last 18 months right across the world.
Indeed, just in the last fortnight alone we have written case studies on virtual reality activations ranging from Standard Chartered and Liverpool FC (see case study) and Samsung and the Australian Diamonds national netball team (see case study).
Indeed, this isn’t even the first virtual reality NFL project from the Visa and Strivr partnership – as the payments giant and California company teamed up last year on a New England Patriots VR campaign (see case study).
Visa also activated its NFL league rights around this year’s Draft with a virtual reality campaigns (see case study).
While some partners are using the technology because it fits the experience enhancing story that the sponsor wants to tell about its property synergies, others are merely jumping on a trendy new tech bandwagon.
With this tactic becoming so prevalent across the landscape, the technology itself is increasingly seen as not enough in itself to ensure such an approach offers genuinely compelling or original content.
So it is becoming ever more vital to use unique selling points, to offer exclusive access, dynamic footage and, above all, to ensure that any VR work tells relevant, emotional and powerful stories with sponsor synergies.
The new 2016/17 season sees Visa replace MasterCard as the team’s exclusive credit card sponsor.
Indeed, Visa, which is also the official payments partner of the NFL itself (and offers a range of activations and fan benefits from ad campaigns to ticket giveaways and tailgate experiences) wasn’t the only new partnership deals signed by the Bears for the new season.
Other new partner brands include Mrs Fields Cookies (owned by parent company Famous Brands who’s new CEO is former Chicago Bears tight end Dustin Lyman), as well as Carmex lip balm and Olivet Nazarene University (which acts as the host to the Bears’ annual training camp in Bourbonnais).
They join other recent notable Bears sponsors including new deals in 2015 with Tyson Foods, Beggars Pizza, FanDuel and an extended partnership with Meijer.
Yet an overall analysis shows that despite the new partners, the team has actually lost more sponsors than it gained during the closed season, after deals ended with the University of Phoenix, Navistar, Hyatt, Geico and Sports Authority.
The team isn’t doing too well on the field so far this season either: the Bears current record is only one win and four losses.
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