The Minnesota Vikings might be 2-2 going into Week 5 of the 2019 season, but that hasn’t stopped them from making plays off the field. To start off the year, Minnesota partnered with long-time partner PepsiCo, Inc. to unveil a commemorative cup that’s both scan-able and augmented-reality inspired. Since transitioning to a more digital-savvy organization, the Vikings have been experimenting with the unprecedented – and haven’t caused a turnover yet.
“It was something that no other team had really taken exactly this approach,” said Scott Kegley, the Vikings’ executive director of digital media and innovation. “I think there’s some teams who have done some really interesting things with AR over the years, but I think that this one really fits with what we are trying to do.”
The Vikings’ rush into AR technology didn’t happen overnight. Ahead of the 2016 season, Minnesota revamped its antiquated mobile applications, promoting more digital-friendly ticketing options. Kegley says that going 99% digital in 2016 helped the organization prepare for its next venture.
This transformation led the Vikings to develop a relationship with London-based Zappar, a company that specializes in creating AR experiences for brands. The first project that the club worked with Zappar on was on its 2017 playbook. With the augmented reality tab on the Vikings’ mobile app, Kegley says that stories – such as receiver Adam Thielen’s childhood – could appear in real-time. The Vikings have released this digital playbook every season since – and was even nominated for “Best Use of Augmented Reality” at the 2019 Shorty Awards, which honors the year’s best social-media work.
“It was about two years that we had been doing that,” said Kegley. “So we [were] talking to [Vikings’ Senior Manager of Corporate Partnership Glenn Isralsky] and some of the folks on our partnerships team about some ways that we could get partners involved, what might make sense – and really just wanted to change it a little bit since it had just been two years of doing a similar concept.”
To kick off summer, PepsiCo introduced its Instagram-specific #SummerGram campaign. Featuring hundreds of AR filters and digital stickers, Isralsky was blown away by its innovativeness. Months later, PepsiCo’s “Always Be Celebrating” campaign before the NFL season featured both fans and NFL players celebrating their touchdown dances. This led Kegley and Isralsky to begin brainstorming similar promotions they could pursue with their partner.
Before the start of the season, the duo began recording player celebrations on a green screen – the idea being that they could place them on cups and be seen on the Vikings’ app. Courtesy of Zappar, it inserted a scan-code onto the cups. Through the team’s mobile app, people can scan the code, where a Vikings player rolls out of the cup. The game-like experience then sees the player – depending on their position – dodging tackles on offense or making defensive stops.
Once the player crosses the goal-line, the celebration begins – both on-screen and in person. As they begin their gloating, the user can click on them and start their own showboating. The app will record the conversation, which then gives people the option to share it on social media.
Thus far, both Kegley and Isralsky are blown away by the interest this commemorative cup is generating. Through two home games, people have spent a combined 13.5 hours on the app – and 1:34 seconds per session on it. They are even playing outside of the stadium, regardless of the Vikings’ schedule that given week.
“It’s living on and the consumer’s taking it home,” said Dawnette Snyder, Pepsi’s field marketing manager. “They can continue to engage with the Zappar app even at home. So they went to the game on Sunday, now they’ve got the cup at home and when we play next week on the road [against the New York Giants on Oct. 6] they can still link and celebrate as the team plays – it’s a real added benefit to this product.”
The Vikings started the 2019 season expecting their AR-equipped cups to last through their 10-game homestand at U.S. Bank Stadium. But with fan interest not waning, Isralsky says that there are plans to make the cups a retail product. With this eventual expansion, both he and Kegley are happy that what they invented for the in-game fan experience is now extending outside into their visitors’ daily lives.
“We really want to bring the stadium experience to anybody,” said Isralsky. “Whether you’re going to a quick trip or another store to get your Pepsi, buy this cup and you can share that experience at home as well.”
“We have a large number of game attendees who – it might be their one and only time at the stadium over the course of the year,” said Kegley. “We really treat everything that we do at the game as if this is the only time that we see [the fans] come in the doors – we really want to make it a memorable experience for you.”