The Home Depot and ESPN have a message for the world: COVID-19 doesn’t mean traditions are canceled; they just need to be reimagined. The brands have exemplified that mantra by redesigning the fan experiences they’ve built for consumers over the years around ESPN’s “College GameDay” broadcast. Rather than choosing one fan each week to receive an on-site VIP experience and appearance on the show tied to tailgating, The Home Depot and ESPN are bringing the action directly to fans’ doorsteps with pop-up “hostgate” activations featuring all the trappings of a traditional tailgate from the safety of home.
Each hostgate experience is delivered to one lucky fan whose team is playing that week, to be enjoyed with eight to 10 friends and family members, depending on state and local health guidelines. Those selected for the program serve as brand superfans, veterans or VIP customers of The Home Depot. The experience is set in motion each Friday, when the pop-up activation arrives at the fan’s home. The setup includes a tent, an appearance by the cheerleaders and mascot from their team and a backyard feast whipped up by a private chef on a Traeger grill, which highlights the brands’ vendor partner and is ultimately the fan’s to keep. The next morning, the official “College GameDay” bus arrives at the winner’s home. On board, the fan and guests enjoy a private viewing of the “College GameDay” broadcast, which features a variety of clips from their pop-up experience and effectively delivers their 15 minutes of fame. To boot, the private chef returns and creates a custom menu for the day, allowing the fan and their crew to kick back and relax. And did we mention the piles of swag included in the experience?
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“I think here we were given such a unique opportunity to take advantage of the situation and make a bigger impact on one very deserving family each week—something that we think is scalable,” says Heather Dade-Themelis, sports marketing lead at The Home Depot. “It’s so tough to keep some sense of normalcy in our lives, and here we’re able to give the family an incredible and unforgettable experience and maybe bring them back to that normal state they lived in prior to the pandemic.”
Adding to ESPN and The Home Depot’s “College GameDay” partnership this year is another way for fans to get psyched for game day in the COVID era: through augmented reality. The brands teamed up to create an AR app that allows users to place a 3D replica of the official “College GameDay” desk into their living rooms, backyards or anywhere they choose. The shareable experience is just one more way the brands reimagined fan engagement in 2020.
“This whole new virtual world is just opening up so many opportunities for us as a brand,” says Dade-Themelis. “Before at the ‘College GameDay’ broadcast, we were only able to engage those fans in an intimate way, so it was limited. Now we’re thinking about other virtual ways that we can go to markets and maybe it’s not just in the market where ‘College GameDay’ is, but looking at how can we bring that experience to fans all over the country in more of a virtual way? It’s exciting, it’s refreshing and there’s a lot to learn.” Agency: Octagon.