As President of Motion Picture Group (MGM) Jonathan Glickman puts it, the “Rocky” movies have separated themselves as “the preeminent sports movie franchise.” With a narrative throughout all eight films that chronicles the trials of underdog boxers, it seems natural that athletes have taken such a liking to it.
It also seems natural that after the critical and box-office success of 2015’s “Creed” starring Michael B. Jordan, and the original Rocky, Sylvester Stallone, professional and college teams from all over the world were incredibly excited to get an advance look at the sequel.
“Athletes from all walks of life can identify with that story of being doubted and having the odds against them,” Glickman said. “The tagline for the original ‘Rocky’ in 1976 was ‘His whole life was a million to one shot.’ Athletes ever since have been taking inspiration from the stories in the films to achieve athletic greatness in real life.
For that reason, MGM started offering advance screenings of the film in the weeks leading up to its November release to teams that needed or wanted some extra motivation. A University Michigan alum himself, Glickman saw a great place to steer this campaign by giving the Wolverines football team a chance to see the movie prior to their game against Penn State. The idea worked, seemingly, as Michigan rolled to a 42-7 win.
“With U of M being my alma mater, I was very excited to offer the chance to screen the movie for coach Harbaugh and members of the team,” Glickman stated. “It was admittedly very cool to see the movie get them riled up and then to see them get that victory against Penn State.”
MGM’s communications team reached out to several other professional teams, athletes and colleges to work with them on screening programs, and had a few request information about the screening as well. The list included Alabama and Georgia football, Michigan State, Virginia — coach Tony Bennett is a “Rocky” savant — and the Kansas men’s basketball team, which was also given a preview screening.
Got to see a sneak preview of @creedmovie two weeks before it comes out 🎬🥊
— Michigan State Basketball (@MSU_Basketball) November 9, 2018
Perhaps most notably, the Philadelphia 76ers screened the movie early and integrated the movie into the reveal of their 2018-19 city edition jerseys, which pay homage to Philly’s history in the boxing world.
MGM also worked closely with the NBA to have as many as 13 teams engage with the film and even worked with Brooklyn Nets guard Spencer Dinwoodie to design custom-made shoes, a pair of which were worn against the Sixers on Thanksgiving weekend and were auctioned off to charity.
MGM collaborated with ESPN and the NBA to create a custom open with Michael B. Jordan for LeBron James’ return to Cleveland during Thanksgiving week, which was the most-viewed regular-season game in at least four years on ESPN.
The film was also used in other contexts by teams who were granted advance screenings.
In this vein, the Sacramento Kings, Minnesota Timberwolves and Milwaukee Bucks screened the movie for local at-risk youth in an effort to inspire them to overcome their own adversity. The Nets used the film to partner with their Brooklyn Boxing initiative to bring young boxers in to experience the film, and light middleweight champion Caleb Truax held a screening for youth programs in his native Minneapolis.
The campaign seemingly paid off as “Creed 2” had the largest Thanksgiving weekend opening ever for a live-action title by grossing $55 million. Expect MGM and other studios to continue with this style of campaign and tapping directly into athletes to market sports movies in the future.
“If pro athletes see a movie and tweet or post positively about it, then that’s a huge win for us,” added Glickman. “Not only does that get the message out about the film to the rather large followings that these teams and players have, but it gives us a direct line to what is ultimately our target audience, and it establishes a line of credibility when high-level athletes identify with stories like the one in ‘Creed 2.’”