Michelob ULTRA, Microsoft, NBA
"Michelob ULTRA Courtside"

Client: Michelob ULTRA, Microsoft, NBA
Product: Michelob ULTRA
Title: Michelob ULTRA Courtside
Media: Case Study, Presentation Board
Country: USA
Date Of Campaign: July 30, 2020

Background: “Play games without the fans? Nah, it’s impossible. I ain’t playing.” — LeBron James, March 6, 2020COVID-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. Without live fans, athletes and coaches worried the game would feel as empty as the stands themselves. Sports sponsors divested, canceling activations, pulling ads and subduing communications, but Michelob ULTRA saw an opportunity.Once favored for its health benefits, light beer sales are declining 3%–4% per year and have been since 2013. Michelob ULTRA particularly struggles with social badge value among young urban consumers, who are quickly adopting trendy hard seltzers. Put simply, while the beer’s better-for-you product benefits appealed to this active consumer, the brand didn’t.To improve its resonance with this audience, Michelob ULTRA became the official beer sponsor of the NBA, of which nearly two-thirds of Americans ages 18–44 are avid or casual fans. But to truly deliver, this initiative would need to go beyond linear viewing, to include earned media, digital publishers and influencers, where this demographic gets its NBA coverage.As other sponsors abandoned ship, Michelob ULTRA focused on its core purpose of bringing enjoyment back to the game and to prove the brand’s motto: “It’s Only Worth It If You Enjoy It.” Knowing that sales growth is heavily influenced by mental availability (reach, consideration and share of voice), the brand set out to increase its exposure and cultural relevance by finding its place in culture.

Idea: While other leagues scrambled to install cardboard fan cutouts, Michelob ULTRA innovated with Microsoft and the NBA... and Michelob ULTRA Courtside was born. Powered by the world debut of Microsoft’s AI-driven Together Mode and a ring of 17-foot LEDs in the newly constructed NBA Bubble, Courtside transported fans into the virtual stands from the comfort and safety of home.An interactive, virtual experience for fans and players alike, innovations developed in mere weeks included:Immersive AI Segmentation: Uses scientific principles of cognition and social perception to allow natural eye contact and register fellow participants’ emotions as they react.Millisecond Data Transfers: Split-second feeds of video and audio came from fans’ homes, to the Orlando NBA Bubble, to the Secaucus NBA Production Center, back to fans.Spatial Audio & Video Design: 120 spatial audio contact microphones and a never-before-seen rail cam made reactions and interactions real-time.To get Courtside, fans scanned their Michelob ULTRA bottles to win virtual tickets to games live-broadcasted from the Orlando-based NBA Bubble. Bold calls-to-action across PR, in-store and digital trade, social, influencer, broadcast integrations, TVC and more led to the most visited URL in the brand’s history. Suddenly, the 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’s storyline. Dynamically themed game nights hosted by brand MCs captured press headlines, social conversation and 535,000 unique fans, who visited Courtside digitally. Each night, the virtual stands were filled with first responders, adoptable dogs or unsuspecting fans who found themselves “sitting” next to the likes of Lil Wayne, Shaq and even President Obama. Player-to-fan Courtside interactions were center stage in 124 games and 81.5 million hours of NBA coverage, blurring the line between physical and digital experience. And the power of game-changing innovation… literally changed the game for years to come.

Results: Michelob ULTRA Courtside changed the fate of the brand’s business as it navigated a year rife with disruption due to COVID-19. Michelob ULTRA sales grew 32%, due to on-bottle, scan-to-win ticket promotions, soaring cultural relevance and unprecedented brand exposure to a younger, more urban demographic. The campaign’s success was driven by more than 13 billion impressions and 81.5 million hours of NBA coverage. Courtside drove a substantial lift in all major mental availability metrics, including consideration (+4.3%), reach (+31%) and share of voice (+6%).In a year when distribution (physical availability) of Michelob ULTRA remained flat, the brand was the biggest share-gainer among beers in the industry. Michelob ULTRA gained +69 points of market share, towering over the declines of Miller Lite (-13 points) and Coors Light (-32 points).Today, Microsoft is applying insights from Courtside to workplaces, classrooms and entertainment venues to make them more fun, engaging and memorable. And the NBA is looking at the future of fan experience through the lens of Courtside.

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