Dick’s Sporting Goods Makes a Baseball Ad for the Ages

Inside Anomaly's masterful, single-take spot

IDEA: So much sports advertising is about glitz, glamour and superstars being superhuman. Dick's Sporting Goods wants no part of that. "You see Rory and Tiger out there hitting golf balls into cups from a hundred miles away. And that's cute and entertaining. But it's not what we're interested in," said Seth Jacobs, creative director at Dick's ad agency, Anomaly. Dick's is about real athletes in real sports moments. "It's the level underneath what you see on TV as a fan. It's the moments athletes know about," says Dick's brand vp Ryan Eckel. For this new spot, Anomaly focused on just such a moment: the dramatic tension after one pitch and before another late in a tied baseball game. Everything about the ad, from the talent to the way it's shot, is meant to feel real and remind the viewer how intense baseball can be. "There's a purity to these sports," said Eckel. "That's what we're trying to shine a light on."

COPYWRITING: The spot opens on a batter swinging through a pitch as the crowd cheers. The camera then sweeps around behind the catcher and begins to pick out player after player in the field, all of whom are making typical baseball chatter—offering words of motivation and strategy to their teammates.

After a pickoff throw to first base, the camera circles back around to the pitcher, all in one take, as he begins to throw—and the scene abruptly cuts to black. "Every pitch. Every inning. Every game. Every season starts at Dick's Sporting Goods," says the onscreen copy. "We want to show the strategy of baseball—what everyone is doing, not just the pitcher and the batter," said Jacobs. All of the players are athletes—not actors—and they didn't work from a script. "If you cast a real athlete, there's no line I'm going to write that will be better than what they would naturally say," said Jacobs.

ART DIRECTION/FILMING: @radical.media director Derek Cianfrance shot for two nights at Blair Field, a college park in Long Beach, Calif. In the end, they used a take from the first night, when a lifting fog gave the air an ethereal quality. Cianfrance used zooms—something of a forgotten art. "We were looking at old Westerns and the way they used zooms," Jacobs said. "We all felt if you could do it with zooms in one take, moving around on a dolly track, that you'd get a much more real, on-the-field feeling, instead of going all digital with spidercams and crazy stuff like that." Anomaly designed the uniforms from scratch—the fictional Rock City Ramblers and Ashland Aces—and went for "a glory-days-of-baseball look without being too retro," said Jacobs. (The players loved them so much, they stole them.) The 200 extras were multiplied in post to make a bigger crowd. The ad was shot on film and letterboxed to enhance the cinematic feel.

TALENT: The real star is the pitcher, Cody Buckel, a 20-year-old from Simi Valley, Calif., who is currently in spring training with the Texas Rangers. He radiates intensity. He did some acting in high school, but this was mostly about drawing on his experiences on the mound. "Sometimes I poke fun at commercials, like, 'That would never happen in baseball,'" Buckel told Adweek. "But this ad is very realistic. The feeling of a full crowd, the pressure of the moment—I've been in situations like that. It turned out pretty cool."

SOUND: Every player was miked. Underneath the players' chatter and the crowd noise, subtle dramatic music builds—discordant low- and high-pitched sounds, mostly strings—to ratchet up the tension. "That sets up the smash to black," said Jacobs. "It's important that you don't know what happens after the pitch. It's a cliffhanger. We show the moment honestly, and not anything afterward."

MEDIA: The spot is running on cable channels including ESPN, MLB Network and NBC Sports Network, as well as online.



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