The NBA is finally back and to a wide array of fans, cheering their favorite stars on! But with COVID-19 measures in place, fans of the teams won't really be featured in the NBA bubble of Orlando, Florida as the league will now feature virtual fans thanks to Microsoft and Michelob Ultra. PopCulture.com got the chance to exclusively chat with Ricardo Marques, Vice President of Marketing for Michelob Ultra, who revealed the idea for virtual fans came two months ago when the pandemic was in its early stages.
"That's when we challenged our agency partners to think about different ways on how we could bring the fans closer to the game and the athletes closer to the fans in this new reality," Marques said while mentioning one of the partners who brought the "crazy idea" and "exciting vision" for the virtual fan experience. The idea was then brought to the NBA, who thought of doing something similar along the lines with Microsoft.
We’re bringing the in-arena experience to your living room...or basement...or wherever you watch the games. Follow us to learn how you can win #ULTRACourtside virtual seats for the biggest @NBA games of the season. pic.twitter.com/rgyjoKVKym— Michelob ULTRA (@MichelobULTRA) July 29, 2020
"That's when we brought this plan together in partnership with the NBA," Marques stated. "Microsoft teams together mold a new product that they developed, especially for this, together with Michelob Ultra to bring the courtside experience. You see cardboard fans at the stadiums. This is has nothing to do with that. People are able to hear the athletes, interact, discuss with people in their sections, sometimes celebrities hosting the halftime Q&A and hear everything around the game."
Some of the players and celebrities that have been featured in the virtual fan experience are Andre Drummond of the Cleveland Cavaliers, former NBA star Chris Bosh, NBA legend Shaquille O'Neal and hip-hop artist Lil Wayne. Michelob Ultra is also working with Jimmy Butler of the Miami Heat, who is featured in a commercial that was released in July. So far, the virtual fans have been a big hit for the NBA and Michelob Ultra.
"People have been loving it. It's great to see the reactions from the Michelob Courtside area," Marques said. "It’s rewarding not only for people going to the experience themselves but then also people watching at home. It brings the energy of the fans back into the game and makes the entire viewing experience a lot more enjoyable."
The question is how can fans get in on the action? They can register through ultracourtisde.com or follow Michelob Ultra on social media. Each game will have 300 virtual fans and it continues all the way through the NBA Finals. As far as next season goes, it's possible virtual fans could be featured at NBA games when fans can return to arenas.
"We're playing it week-by-week, day-by-day," Marques said. "We could imagine that in the future we could have a dedicated stream for even when venues come back where we could offer an exclusive experience for fans watching at home."