Ad of the Day: ESPN

Errol Morris brilliantly profiles the craziest fans around: those who cheer for their teams even in death

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.

CREDITS

Client: ESPN

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