RISE, an organization founded in 2015, and whose mission is to use sports to improve race relations, has always leveraged storytelling as a medium to engage audiences at events like Super Bowl. Its Champions of Change experience, which activated in 2019 and 2020 in-person at the big game, is a multi-layered immersion that allows attendees to explore social justice and sports and step into the shoes of sports figures. For Super Bowl LV, RISE transformed the activation into an explorable virtual platform that enhanced the storytelling qualities of the in-person experience with more interactivity.
“We’ve worked to recreate ‘Road to Progress,’ ‘Walk in Their Shoes,’ and the ‘Rise to Action’ zones in the virtual setting without the limitations of an in-person experience, so not thinking about what we’re missing, but thinking about what we’re gaining,” says Erin Pellegrino, vp-communications, events and marketing at RISE.
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Much like the in-person activation, the “Road to Progress” zone offers and historical context of athletes on the front lines of social justice—with even more examples than can fit in the live setting, including a decade-by-decade timeline. Clickable digital plaques feature athlete profiles going back as far as 1920, including Fritz Pollard, who in 1921 became the first African American coach in NFL history and later, the first African American quarterback in NFL history.
In “Walk in Their Shoes,” users enter a virtual locker room where they can click on uniforms and watch videos of participating sports figures like NFL, WNBA athletes and sportscasters telling their personal stories. In “Rise to Action,” users are invited to take a pledge to be a Champion of Change in a reflective sanctuary setting. A digital kiosk offers additional educational resources like downloadable curriculum and a glossary of race-related terms and concepts to support discussions. There’s also information on RISE’s Digital Learning Series.
And in an all-new “Champions of Change” gallery, users can explore a virtual gallery of young people and essays, poems and artwork created on race relations and social injustice. There is also a “Rise to Vote” section that offers guides and resources on registering to vote and voting, as well as answers to questions on voter suppression. As users click throughout the entire virtual experience, they earn points that are tallied at the top of the screen. As they earn points, they unlock features like a branded downloadable Zoom background.
Among the “gains” Pellegrino points out: The fact that the virtual platform can reach more audiences—significantly, during Black History Month—and that the organization can customize and change over content quickly. The new youth leadership gallery has added another customizable layer. Pepsi and NFL serve as RISE sponsors, and the new virtual experience attracted Pepsi as a sponsor of the activation for Super Bowl LV.
“We don’t feel we’ve lost anything on the content side,” Pellegrino says. “The education that you’re getting in ‘Road to Progress’ is every bit as intense and immersive as it is when you’re there with us in person. When you go into that locker room, it feels intimate and you can connect with these athletes and still do all the same actions that you could in person.”
In working with its partners on the program, RISE wanted to infuse one or more of the five senses into the virtual space to combat screen fatigue. Curated music plays throughout the experience and changes as users move from one zone to the next. Sound itself is an important component to the experience, from the music to voices and first-hand accounts that evoke empathy and emotion.
While Super Bowl served as a launching ground for the 2021 campaign from RISE, Champions of Change experiences will take place around the NCAA Basketball Final Four and USA Swimming Olympic Trials in 2021 with the virtual platform as the anchor, of course. Agencies: On Board Experiential (OBE); Think TRUE.