When the NFL canceled its in-person Pro Bowl for the first time in more than 60 years, long-time partner EA SPORTS was quick to step in with a solution - transform the Pro Bowl into an all-virtual event, enabling the League to keep it on the NFL calendar while also engaging a new generation of NFL fans who live on social. The result: an all-virtual Pro Bowl played in Madden NFL 21, the first-ever major sporting event to go virtual, reigniting widespread interest in the Pro Bowl and turning the brand-new way to play into an entertaining and star-studded must-watch sports experience. Main objectives included:
Generate mass awareness, while engaging digital natives online
Demonstrate how the collaboration is transforming sports consumption
Drive appointment-setting through multiple channels and beats
Secure mass tune-in with support from top talent
To build momentum over 3+ months, the team conceptualized an extended campaign to engage fans, influencers and media. The multi-phased campaign included a narrative-setting announcement of EA SPORTS and NFL collaborating to transform the first major sporting event, the introduction of new ways for fans to dictate Pro Bowl roster additions through Video Game Numbers Challenge, which empowered fans to send their favorite players to the Pro Bowl by scoring touchdowns in Madden NFL, and leveraging the power of celebrity by unveiling top NFL athletes and entertainers representing the AFC and NFC, including Snoop Dogg and Marshawn Lynch.
The team took a holistic approach to generate awareness for the event across channels and key audiences:
Created engaging, original social content across EA platforms
Activated larger media buys with key partners including ESPN and NFL Network to promote tune-in with a mass audience
Conducted widespread press outreach across key media verticals including NFL/sports, sports business, entertainment/lifestyle, and gaming/tech to generate significant coverage for each beat and to drive tune-in for the event
Leveraged top talent including Kyler Murray, Jamal Adams, Bubba Wallace, and Charissa Thompson to promote their role in the event via media interviews with Complex, The Ringer, Sports Illustrated and EXTRA, driving top-tier national media coverage and social conversation
Partnered with notable streamers, including Ninja, FaZe Swagg and AustinShow, to organize and promote engaging virtual watch parties on Twitch, to engage a gaming-obsessed audience
Collaborated with the NFL to cross-promote all Pro Bowl announcements and the main event - including push notifications, NFL Network programming and more, while engaging 28 NFL teams to simultaneously livestream the event from their channels
The main event resulted in an epic virtual experience, with players and celebrities showcasing their Madden skills by facing off with the official Pro Bowl rosters in Madden NFL 21 to decide the outcome of this year’s game. Star NFL players and celebrities including Deshaun Watson, Snoop Dogg, Derrick Henry, and Keyshawn Johnson represented the AFC, while Kyler Murray, Bubba Wallace, Marshawn Lynch, and Jamal Adams represented the NFC. Ahead of the Pro Bowl, each competitor was provided with required tech including an Xbox and Bose headphones, in order to communicate with their teammates and trash talk opponents, with producers recording the action as players lit up the scoreboard in real time.
As part of the virtual presentation, EA SPORTS also conceptualized a fully digital, mock event studio, featuring Pro Bowl creative and multiple hi-res monitors, toggling between in-game action and pre-recorded Pro Bowl content. Charissa Thompson and Michael Strahan served as hosts, handing off the action to a new head-to-head matchup in 5-minute quarters of Madden 21. Pregame and halftime programming included video tributes and encouragement for both teams from real-world Pro Bowl players, as well as a Madden ratings segment with NFL legends Chad Johnson and Michael Vick.
The NFC team, led by MVP and star QB Kyler Murray, crushed their AFC opponents by winning every quarter, claiming the victory, 32–12. The game also featured multiple viral moments - including Bubba Wallace dominating Keyshawn Johnson and Marshawn Lynch so excited about an interception that he fell to the ground while breaking his gaming chair.
The virtual Pro Bowl shattered multiple records, with fans engaging across digital platforms:
The event generated 3.5M live views, a 121K combined average minute audience and trended on Twitter in the US
Ranked as #1 most-viewed event on digital platforms in Madden NFL history
Ranked as #1 highest viewed Madden live stream in NFL YouTube history
Ranked as #6 highest viewed live stream in NFL YouTube history
Fans engaged on social with 317K+ posts driven by top viral moments like Marshawn Lynch breaking his chair in excitement, and Snoop Dogg’s running commentary
This year’s Pro Bowl also brought in younger fans to NFL Network with the re-air of the event up +36% in 18-34 viewership as compared to last year
From a PR perspective, across both pre and post-game initiatives, including the initial announcement to transform the event, the Video Game Numbers Challenge, celebrity and talent lineup unveils and overall tune-in, the Pro Bowl generated over 1,200 earned media and broadcast placements with 74.9M UPVD. Top media coverage included pieces from CBS Sports, Sports Illustrated, ESPN, Complex, The Ringer, Bleacher Report, Reuters, NBC Sports, USA Today, Engadget, GameSpot, and many more.
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