On November 20, Atlanta rapper Big Boi surprised the Atlanta Hawks crowd and told two fans to get out of his seats: a pair of big, fuzzy ones on the sideline.
The seats are part of a Budweiser activation at the Hawks’ State Farm Arena, an opportunity for fans drinking the beer company’s Big Boi Tall Boy 25 oz. cans to win. Most nights, Big Boi isn’t at the games, but that Wednesday night was an opportunity for the three parties to amplify their promotions.
“That’s how we think, what elevates the experience,” Hawks Chief Revenue Officer Andrew Saltzman said. “Brands are always challenging us to deliver things to our customers that you can’t buy and that’s what this is. To be able to integrate Big Boi, a huge Hawks fan and Atlanta’s own, was super fun for us.”
The seats alone deliver an experience most fans can’t even buy. Saltzman said the organization is sold out of courtside seat inventory. With the seats sitting behind the basket, they have plenty of TV visibility and the furry covering makes them eye-catching anywhere from within the arena.
Originally, the promotion around the Big Boi cans was only going to be a few games – sans Big Boi appearance – but since it has expanded to include the Big Boi surprise and been extended several games. While Big Boi might not be back for future fans who win the opportunity to sit in the seats, that appearance helps boost what it was all about.
“He’s such an icon and for him to be part of the promotion and in our arena and interview on Fox Sports Southeast was great,” Saltzman said. “Just look at the smiles on his face, he was so into it. There was good theater about it and it was real and true to Atlanta.”
The activation is part of a larger trend for the Hawks, Budweiser – and the rest of sports – as they move away from signage-based sponsorships toward more authentic partnerships.
Anheuser-Busch Director of Budweiser Sports Matt Davis said while the company is always looking for ways to activate authentically with teams, the Hawks have been great with coming to the company with big ideas to get fans excited about the brands. He said the Big Boi chairs – and Big Boi’s appearance – are meant to surprise and delight with, as Saltzman said, an “amazing experience, something money can’t buy.”
“A few years ago, Budweiser was all about putting in signage,” Davis said. “But recently, we’ve evolved from being a billboard sponsor to be a meaningful part of the story. What can we do with stadiums and fanbases.”
Budweiser also recently released a can with a Biggie Smalls-inspired crown, rather than its own iconic crown, in conjunction with the Brooklyn Nets launching their City Edition jersey in partnership with the Biggie Smalls estate. The company used the status as presenting sponsor of the City Edition jersey to also become the official domestic beer of the Nets.
If these Budweiser activations seem fairly simple, it’s because they are meant to be.
“If you do it right, it should be simple,” Davis said. “Sometimes we get lost in the webs of complex activation.”
Saltzman said while the Hawks were presented an opportunity with the Big Boi and Budweiser collaboration cans which are exclusive to Georgia, the ability to use local legends in markets across the country is ripe.
“The first thing is to understand the market and what makes it tick,” he said. “Every market has its icons, their celebrities. We don’t want to be in the business of hanging signs but have truly impactful marketing as brands continue to struggle with how to reach younger consumers.
“There’s more coming to us to say we know in this experience economy in sports and entertainment … how we can capture that energy?”