IDEA: Marketers and broadcasters have tried to sell U.S. audiences on football—i.e., the global, non-American kind—since before Pelé laced up his boots for the New York Cosmos. Now it's NBC Sports' turn—and it has skin in the game, having shelled out $250 million for the rights to three years of English Premier League matches.
New York ad agency The Brooklyn Brothers, whose creative director Guy Barnett is a British expat and big Tottenham Hotspur fan, is charged with attracting various audiences to the coverage, from existing fans of British clubs and Major League Soccer teams all the way down to NFL fans who may have never considered watching the other football. To appeal to the latter, the agency rolled out a five-minute Web film—cut into TV spots—starring Jason Sudeikis as an American football coach hired to manage Tottenham. It's a farce, full stop, as Sudeikis's Coach Lasso is gloriously, gum-smackingly ignorant of the beautiful game yet dives into the job with unabashed zeal.
"We have a character in Ted Lasso who can talk directly to that broader sports fan and help not only explain [the game] but bring the American attitude toward soccer in a funny way," said Barnett. "Jason was just brilliant. It was an improvisational tour de force."
COPYWRITING/TALENT: The agency worked on an initial script with Sudeikis and two of his friends—Joe Kelly, a Saturday Night Live writer, and Brendan Hunt, who also plays the assistant coach. "We worked on various setups, but a lot of it was improvised on the day. A lot of it was just amazing inventiveness by Jason," said Barnett.
The template for the film was the typical 60 Minutes segment, with a sit-down interview as the spine of the piece and footage from training and a press conference mixed in. "It's a day in the life of this coach as he tries to understand this not-so-complex game," said Barnett.
A bewildered Lasso tries to comprehend soccer's version of offside and tackling, and why there are ties but no playoffs. "If you tried to end a game in a tie in the United States, heck, that might be listed in Revelation as the cause for the apocalypse," he says. He spends one day not using his hands "out of respect toward the game" and embraces the players' nickname for him: Wanker. "I think it just means 'great.' Like, a nice guy. Kind heart," he says. On-screen copy at the end reads: "It's football. Just not as we know it. Premier League is on NBC."
FILMING/ART DIRECTION: Martin Granger of Moxie Pictures shot for two 10-hour days at Tottenham's training ground in London in late July. Tottenham was one of the few Premier League teams not traveling at the time and was able to make its first team available for filming. "They were extremely accommodating. Obviously they want their name known in the States," said Barnett.
Three cameras were rolling most of the time to catch the magic when it happened. The agency considered a couple of different looks for Lasso, eventually settling on classic Mike Ditka circa 1985, down to the mustache and sunglasses.
Hunt, meanwhile, is actually a huge Arsenal fan, "so I had great glee in dressing him up in Tottenham gear," Barnett added.
MEDIA: The campaign includes outdoor and digital, including a Facebook app that helps you pick a team to support. The Web film, living only on YouTube, got more than 3 million views in its first week, and is now approaching 5 million, largely thanks to Sudeikis's builtin audience from SNL. It's a formula that The Brooklyn Brothers also used for New Era in its Web series starring Alec Baldwin and John Krasinski.
"It's a very successful way of creating your own audience, as opposed to just paying for one," said Barnett.
Client: NBC Sports
Agency: The Brooklyn Brothers, New York
Creative Director: Guy Barnett
Agency Producer: Tina Lam
Executive Producer: Karol Zeno
Production Company: Moxie Pictures
Director: Martin Granger
Producer: Claire Jones