Entertainment Lions For Sport > Innovation in Sports Entertainment


FCB NEW YORK, New York / AB INBEV / 2022


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Why is this work relevant for Sport Entertainment?

Michelob ULTRA has been reminding people that “It’s only worth it if you enjoy it”, pushing the boundaries of technology and entertainment, with ideas like Courtside.

McEnroe vs. McEnroe took it to another level. Using never-before-seen technology, we bent physics and rewrote geometry, creating a match that blurred the real and digital worlds.

While many brands celebrate athletes’ legacies, no brand has enabled the athlete to play against theirs. All while challenging the win-at-all-costs mentality plaguing modern sports.

McEnroe vs. McEnroe served up unmissable entertainment for millions of people, in an hour-long ESPN special.

Not something advertising does every day.


“You cannot be serious.”

- John McEnroe, 1981

Albeit unintentionally, McEnroe was onto something. Sports are too serious. A win-at-all-costs mentality is causing many athletes to buckle under the pressure. For over 7 years, Michelob ULTRA has counterbalanced the world of performance, reminding people that “it’s only worth it if you enjoy it”. Brand Acts like Courtside have put joy firmly in the spotlight.

Michelob ULTRA’s distinct positioning around joy has helped the brand grow from the 5th to the 2nd biggest beer in the country. This despite struggles for the wider light-beer category, which have seen it decline 3%–4% per year since 2013.

But despite recent success, category competition is relentless. Sales are driven heavily by cultural relevance.

So Michelob ULTRA would need to further cultural relevance by doubling down on its distinct positioning. Grabbing people’s attention and reminding them that joy is not just an afterthought.

Describe the creative idea

John McEnroe.

Not the first person who comes to mind when you think of joy in sports. He was his own toughest critic, a fierce competitor, well known for his angry on-court outbursts.

But later in life, John found joy. He finally realized “It’s only worth it if you enjoy it.”

So to challenge the win-at-all-costs mentality in modern sports, Michelob ULTRA challenged this living legend to face off against his own legacy, and embrace the joy he denied himself as a player.

Athletes often look back and reflect on their legacy. We provided McEnroe with an opportunity to play against it.

Tennis met science fiction as Michelob ULTRA created the first human vs. A.I. tennis match.

McEnroe went head-to-head against full A.I. versions of himself from the past, broadcast globally on ESPN.

A man famous for breaking rackets broke new ground.

Yes. We’re being serious.

Describe the strategy

Michelob ULTRA appeals to drinkers who enjoy an active lifestyle and like to balance that with a better-for-you beverage.

To continue the brand’s growth, we needed to further our cultural relevance with this audience. Michelob ULTRA needed to double down on its distinctive positioning: “It’s only worth it if you enjoy it.” We needed to go beyond what anybody would expect.

In John McEnroe, we found the perfect partner. The last person who comes to mind when you think of joy in sports was the perfect partner to level up the brand’s commitment to joy. In a never-before-seen sporting event, Michelob ULTRA would remind us all to enjoy the journey by giving McEnroe the chance to relive his.

McEnroe’s cultural relevance extends well beyond the game, opening up new audiences for the brand. And ESPN was specifically chosen as broadcast partner, synonymous with creating must-see moments in sports culture.

Describe the execution

Michelob ULTRA created the world’s first real vs. virtual tennis match. A never-before-seen technological feat that enabled John McEnroe to play a real match against his toughest opponent. Himself.

Artificial Intelligence, Unreal MetaHuman technology, and machine learning created fully A.I. versions of McEnroe from five pivotal career moments. Carefully orchestrated robotic arms simulated young McEnroe’s ball strokes, allowing real McEnroe to play a match against himself, with the avatars moving around the court and returning the ball.

To witness the event, fans responded to a CRM callout. Next, a VIP premiere was held with press and influencers in attendance. And then McEnroe vs. McEnroe was launched to the world. Calls-to-action across PR, digital trade, social, influencer, broadcast integrations, and TVC encouraged consumers to watch the live broadcast on ESPN linear and streaming.

Joy took center stage as McEnroe vs. McEnroe reminded us all to enjoy the journey.

Describe the outcome

This campaign launched only a few weeks ago, but it already looks set to become Michelob ULTRA’s next cultural juggernaut.

McEnroe vs. McEnroe has already surpassed all expectations. It’s been talked about in over 30 countries, has a 99% positive social sentiment, and ESPN liked it so much they gave us one hour of free media: showing the inherent cultural relevance and talkability of the idea.

The media reaction has been beyond our expectations. With over 120 media placements, the sentiment is summed up by Sports Illustrated, “This could be the future of sports”, and Yahoo!, “Reinventing Sports Entertainment.”

Importantly, the idea is also working for the brand. Since launch, organic searches for “Michelob ULTRA” have grown by 95%.

In research, the idea outperformed beer-industry benchmarks for attention and likability, both key relevance pillars.

And insight from the campaign is paving the way for revolutionary approaches in gaming and entertainment.

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