Saturday, June 15, 2024

‘Pulled off the impossible’: Behind the scenes of the Chargers’ Sims-themed schedule release

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Seconds into the Los Angeles Chargers‘ 2024 schedule release video, one thing becomes abundantly clear — this won’t be your ordinary NFL schedule unveiling.

It’s set in the world of “The Sims,” a life simulation video game series where players can create characters and control their lives through various objectives and tasks.

In the Chargers’ world, there’s a scene of John and Jim Harbaugh fighting, reminiscent of the movie “Step Brothers.” A portrait of Bill Belichick’s dog, who became a star during the 2020 NFL draft, is at a Foxborough retirement home.

Halfway through the video, Joe Burrow, wearing his Super Bowl suit, arrived at a 7-11 gas station manned by Ja’Marr Chase. In October 2023, the Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver posted a photo of the gas station on social media before wearing a 7-11 chain in game that month, a nod to his belief that he’s always open.

There are cameos from NBA players — most notably Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic, who stands with a horse behind a water well. Jokic has family-owned horses in Sombor, Serbia.

F1 racer and member of the Denver Broncos ownership group, Lewis Hamilton makes an appearance where he walks out of a “Ball Mart.” A group headed by Walmart heir Rob Walton bought the Broncos in 2022.

Taylor Swift appears at a window while Travis Kelce records an episode of the “New Heights” podcast with his brother, Jason, prompting Travis to join her in her private jet.

And that’s just a sampling of the many cameos and inside-NFL jokes featured in the video.

The attention to detail came to life through a collaboration of the Chargers social and video team working together, according to Jason Lavine, Chargers Vice President of Content & Production. As of Friday evening, the video has over 36 million views on X.

There were multiple factors of the video that Lavine believes resonated with audiences.

The Sims games have sold 200 million copies since the first game’s release in 2000. It was also announced in March that a Sims movie starring Margot Robbie is in the works.

“That helps us a tremendous amount too, just because it’s a part of, what we’re trying to do is be a part of the zeitgeist of culture,” Lavine said. “And we got very lucky that that movie was coming out. So we felt like we were a part of culture.”

Coming off the success of their anime-themed schedule release videos in the past two years, there was external talk about what the Chargers would do this year. Those videos went viral each time — last year’s eclipsed 20 million views on X — and set up a potential trilogy.

But they went in a different direction and wanted to show they could do it without anime, Lavine said.

“I thought they had figured out a way to take the success of anime and actually figured out a way to do just as well,” he said. “And I truly thought that was an impossible task. And I thought they had pulled off the impossible.”

Allie Raymond and Hannah Johnson, members of the Chargers’ social media team, pitched the idea in late February. Lavine said it was a resounding yes and an idea that fit the team’s mission when creating a schedule release.

Raymond and Johnson played the game and built out specific scenes and characters that are customizable mods.

David Bretto (Director, Creative Video), Tyler Pino (Sr. Director, Production) and Megan Julian (Director, Social Media and Content Performance) then took the raw assets that were recorded and pulled them together.

Lavine said a separate group of five to seven people part of a “joke team” worked to “build out concepts that then can be whittled down to what can flow and make for the best piece.” A smaller group of Raymond, Johnson, Bretto, Pino and Julian decided which ones would go in the video.

The challenge with The Sims is that there’s only so much customization that is possible. If done correctly, it can align as closely to what is intended for a character. Therefore, there could be a Sims world where a character reminiscent of Russell Wilson becomes upset when fellow Pittsburgh Steelers QB Justin Fields enters the room.

“It takes a lot of filming and redoing of things, because there’s only so much control you can have over these characters,” Lavine said. “They have a life of their own. That’s the point. So it takes an incredible amount of time to get it just right and fill the different angles and scenes you need to build these sequences.”

The original video was over five minutes long, but they were able to cut it down to its final length: 3 minutes and 20 seconds. According to the Chargers, a schedule release video has to be fast enough that people will be forced to go back and watch it.

Multiple views also increase the chance of fans identifying the many Easter eggs, like a 28-3 nod on the happy hour sign outside of a club where Atlanta Falcons QB Kirk Cousins is DJing or George Pickens watching himself get drafted by the Steelers in 2022

Easter eggs have been a strategy of the Chargers’ social team for five to six years, Lavine said. He added that the team believes the internet will have respect for the level of sophistication of their jokes.

“From an NFL fan standpoint … other fans can do nothing but tip their cap and smile because of the level of detail this team went to find jokes,” Lavine said. “And inside jokes that resonate with fan bases that are diehard fans, [and] the people who are casual football fans.”

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