Chicago Bulls Channel Agency-Like Approach To Create A Lauri Markkanen Animated Video

Two years ago, the Chicago Bulls’ digital staff struck up a conversation around a crowd-sourced artwork project that engaged the Windy City faithful.

At the time, the Bulls had an on-going relationship with local creator Travis Brooks for the team’s #BMOLoopaBulls campaign. It was a loopable creative series tied with corporate sponsor and Chicago-based BMO Harris Bank.

With that in mind, as Luka Dukich described to Sports Business Chronicle, the Bulls thought, wouldn’t it be cool to make a Bulls highlight video where fans were involved, and we could somehow use the artwork from fans to put everything together?

The Senior Digital Content Manager said that the team already had someone in Brooks who had the creative skill set to strip a highlight video down into hundreds of frames, put fans’ drawings over it and finally stitch it back together.

It was an unique idea that had been sitting in the digital team’s hip pocket for the better part of 18 months, Dukich said. He added that the Bulls have continuously strived to be “trail blazers in the digital space” and produce content that hasn’t been done before. With the size of Chicago’s audience, he said, the team has also felt a bigger responsibility to provide fans with thumb-stopping content that they want to engage with.

So, when the Bulls sat down with its corporate sponsors at the beginning of the current season, the partnerships team — together with the marketing and digital staffs — finally floated the idea to Sprite.

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“They absolutely loved it,” Dukich said of the brand partner. “They said, ‘It totally fits our brand. It’s fun, it’s artsy, it’s different. We want to go in with you guys on this’.”

As Sprite came on board, it was now just a matter of determining how to actually create the piece of art, complete with hand-drawn fan illustrations, audio and visual effects.

Said Dukich: “An idea is only an idea until you’re able to make it into existence. It’s a big testament to Sprite that they came into this with us. It was a totally unknown. We didn’t know how it was going to work, but we decided to give it a shot and see what we could come up with.”

After scouring Bulls highlight footage, Dukich and his colleagues honed in on a pre-game between the legs dunk from rookie Lauri Markkanen, one of the team’s most popular videos in terms of numbers and engagement. Now was Brooks’ time to work his magic around the 23-second video. He chopped it up into hundreds of individual still frames and printed them out onto white pieces of paper, essentially creating an “adult coloring book,” Dukich said.

Before soliciting the help of Bulls’ fans, team employees participated in drawing on between 100 and 150 of the printouts, with Brooks then stitching them all back together into a video. The test worked, but somehow getting fans involved and submitting their drawings was a minor sticking point.

Online submissions meant people had to print off a frame, draw on it, scan the image back into their computer and send it. The idea, along with others, wasn’t going to work. Ultimately, the Bulls landed on building a fully-integrated pre-game activation.

Prior to the team’s game against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Fri., Feb. 9, a Bulls and Sprite-branded activation appeared in the United Center’s new 19,000-square-foot atrium. A 9:30 p.m. ET start time proved to work in the Bulls’ favor as fans appeared to arrive early, Dukich said.

Hundreds of printouts were available for fans to draw on with colored pencils, markers and crayons. As everyone conducted their drawings, Sprite brand ambassadors dished out product as well. The team’s test video was looping nearby on a screen, so fans could better understand the end goal. Dukich and his colleagues’ worries of having to talk fans into participating were a non-issue as some spent 15 to 20 minutes drawing on the Markkanen image.

In total, the Bulls received over 500 illustrations that the digital staff eventually condensed to around 100 to 150. With license approval from Sprite, Brooks — who Dukich called “a genius” — layered in complimentary music to the creative.

“It was a crazy, time-intensive process that turned out and worked,” said Dukich, who added that the response from fans has been “insanely positive.”

In March, the animated video was the Bulls’ second-most viewed on Instagram (over 92,000) and one of the top videos on Facebook, too, clocking in at more than 420,000 views and 100,000 total minutes.

“This was a passion project for us that we thought would be cool and we went and did something that was a little bit outside the box. I think we were awarded by the fans appreciating it and really liking the creative,” Dukich said.

When asked if a time-intensive project like the Markkanen animated video, which included collaboration from a number of internal departments and shifting responsibilities, is worth it, Dukich said it is when there’s buy-in from all parties involved and it’s a piece of creative that’s “next level” and “going to push the envelope.” The video is one example of “the ambitiousness and spirit of the Bulls, that people are willing to try things that may or may not work,” he commented.

Dukich explained that historically in many sports organizations, the groups that came together for this sponsored video and integrated activation — including corporate partnerships, digital, marketing, creative, activation and communications — operate in silos where everyone does his or her own job, and that’s it. Yet, for this type of project to come to fruition, as he said, everyone had to acknowledge the bigger picture.

“We all recognize we’re under this Bulls banner and all working towards that same goal,” remarked Dukich, saying that the leg work needed to pull off the creative didn’t scare off the team.

“It really is this full agency-like model approach where we work with a partner like Sprite. It’s not just the partnerships team coming to us too. … We’re in direct contact with the client sitting at the table with us throughout the process, from the ideation stage to finished product and then figuring out how we’re going to distribute this. Everyone is involved. That agency approach has really helped to elevate our content.”

Below is a 60-second clip highlighting the video’s creation.

About Mark J. Burns

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