It's often said that being a sports fan is a lifelong commitment. In fact, it's so much more than that.
ESPN and Wieden + Kennedy in New York take their excellent "It's not crazy, it's sports" campaign into posthumous territory today with an online documentary titled "Team Spirit" (posted below), directed by Errol Morris, that explores one of the most peculiar—OK, craziest—sports topics around: fans who take their favorite teams with them to the grave.
The eight-minute film, posted to ESPN's YouTube page, looks at the unlikely trend of sports-themed funerals—i.e., burials, wakes and cremations in which the deceased's favorite team plays a starring role. It's bizarre stuff. We get a look at Baltimore Orioles-branded caskets. We hear about a Steelers fan's dying wish, fulfilled by an enterprising funeral home, to appear at his wake in a recliner instead of a casket, covered by his favorite Steelers blanket, with a Steelers game playing on TV across the room. (He wanted to look "like he just fell asleep watching the game," we're told.) We see a Nascar fan finally getting to experience the rush of riding around a Nascar track—as ashes inside an urn.
It's an odd and unsettling topic, to be sure. But in Morris' skillful hands, it becomes (by the end—it takes a while to build) a surprisingly poignant expression of just what sports means to people, how it somehow creates ultimate meaning out of what is seemingly arbitrary. The Oscar winner uses his Interrotron (his disarming camera with a two-way mirror that allows his subjects to look him in the eye and look directly into the camera at the same time) to interview funeral directors, tombstone makers and fans. He extracts, as usual, intimate testimonials which, as they accumulate, manage to make behavior that at first seems freakish and loser-like appear quietly honorable and deeply human.
Morris, who is heard asking his subjects questions throughout, achieves the perfect tone—bemused yet respectful, lighthearted yet heartfelt. The film is shot and scored beautifully, with artful title cards and graphics and playful music. This mitigates the creepy factor and allows the viewer to embrace these oddball characters without prejudice. Their obsessions, while remaining in the realm of the weird, become charmingly so—quirks of passion of the kind so wonderfully peculiar to human nature.
It's also just about the perfect expression of the ESPN tagline, "It's not crazy, it's sports," which paid off well in previous spots but even more so here. (It's about as far as you can go without changing the line to, "It is crazy, it's sports.") The film will be promoted on ESPN's TV properties with 15-, 30- and 60-second "trailers." Asked if ESPN was concerned about the dark subject matter, svp of marketing Carol Kruse told Adweek: "I can see why someone might think the topic is morbid, but we see this as the ultimate expression of fandom for an avid sports fan. As it says in the spot, 'People always say when you're a fan, you are a fan for life…but that might be a little shortsighted.'"
This film is anything but.
Project: "It's Not Crazy, It's Sports" – "Team Spirit"
Agency: Wieden + Kennedy, New York
Executive Creative Directors: Ian Reichenthal, Scott Vitrone
Creative Directors: Brandon Henderson, Stuart Jennings
Art Director: Cyrus Coulter
Copywriter: Dave Canning
Head of Content Production: Lora Schulson
Executive Producer, ESPN: Temma Shoaf
Senior Producer: Jesse Wann
Director of Business Affairs: Sara Jagielski
Business Affairs Manager: Angel Cielo
Group Account Director: Brandon Pracht
Account Director: Casey Bernard
Account Supervisors: Brian D'Entremont, Katie Hoak
Account Executives: Mark Williams, Alex Scaros
Production Manager: Julie Knight
Designer: Darren Philip
Stop Motion Animation: Jamie Carreiro
Production: Moxie Pictures
Director: Errol Morris
Executive Producer: Robert Fernandez
Producer: Julie Ahlberg
Production Supervisor: Dina Piscatelli
Director of Photography: Robert Chappell
Editorial: Rock Paper Scissors
Editor: Grant Surmi
Assistant Editor: Victoria Lesiw
Executive Producer: Eve Kornblum
Producer: Melanie Gagliano
Conform, Retouching: Eddie Reina
Animation, Art Direction: Elastic
Art Director, Designer: Jeremy Landman
Producer: Jamie McBriety
Animator: Alan Chen
150 Proof: Retouching
Retouchers: Chris McLelland, Jesse Corinella
Sound Mixing: Sonic Union
Mixer: Steve Rosen
Telecine: Company 3
Colorist: Tom Poole
Music Composition (:60, :30, :15, Short Film): Kusiak Music
Composers: John Kusiak & P. Andrew Willis
Additional Music Track (Short Film): Paper Drum
Composer: Adam Crystal
Vice President, Sports Marketing: Aaron Taylor
Senior Director, Sports Marketing: Jeff Gonyo
Brand Manager, Brand Development: AJ Mazza
Coordinator, Brand Development: Anna Rogers