Lighting Up the Game
How Drone Light Shows Are Revolutionizing Fan Experiences for the NFL, NBA, MLB, and MLS
Sports and drone light shows share a common DNA—both are exciting spectacles, filled with the unexpected, and possessing the power to evoke deep emotions in individuals of all ages.
With rising ticket prices and fierce competition within a crowded entertainment marketplace, sports teams and professional leagues are turning to drone light shows to enhance fan experiences, drive online engagement, create new marketing and sponsorship opportunities, and even fuel attendance.
To put it into baseball terms, drone light shows have become an exciting "five-tool player" on a marketing team's roster—an extraordinary talent capable of taking an organization to new heights—on and off the field—in several important ways.
Before we learn more about how this unprecedented mix of creativity and technology is currently disrupting the sports world and why the future holds even more promise, let's examine what it is about drone light shows that makes them so unique—and why these dazzling exhibitions are such a natural fit with the world of professional sports.
WHAT MAKES A DRONE LIGHT SHOW SUCH A UNIQUE EXPERIENCE?
A drone light show is like a synchronized visual symphony in the sky that evokes an almost childlike sense of wonder in people of all ages—few can fathom the size and scope of a show or how the images come to life and move with free-flowing beauty just a few hundred feet above their heads.
Drone light shows offer a bigger-than-life event—a shared experience with others in attendance, with surprises around every corner—much like attending your first game or a match in person.
HOW DRONE LIGHT SHOWS ENHANCE FAN EXPERIENCE
Whether they are part of the pre-game festivities, halftime show, or take place after the game as part of a special promotion, drone light shows are an opportunity to add a new dimension to the fan experience. They can draw people to the ballpark or stadium early and compel them to stay after the game ends. They evoke team pride, especially in growing cities experiencing their first professional team.
Drone light shows can make a stadium come alive. They generate excitement amongst the crowd, translating into players' momentum on the field. Like a digital "12th man" in football, there's just something about the size, scope, and, yes, beauty of a drone light show that creates an unforgettable stadium experience.
At a time when the home viewing experience is more immersive and less expensive than ever, drone light shows are in the premium category of live concerts. There is simply no substitute for seeing one in person.
Drone light shows have, to date, been used to create everything from team logos to championship banners and animated sequences that tell stories in the sky, to help celebrate everything from winning seasons to new stadium names and retirement tributes for storied players.
While drone light shows are still relatively new, the experience is already being extended through the use of Mixed Reality (MR) and Augmented Reality (AR), haptic feedback devices, integration with sensor-enabled lighting and digital displays, and other Internet of Things devices to create multisensory experiences.
With every new innovative idea, the lure of drone shows will grow—as will attendance at games and events where they are featured.
DRONE x SPORTS | MARKETING AND PARTNERSHIP OPPORTUNITIES
Used at brand launches by some of the biggest companies in the world, drone light shows have become popular with advertising agencies and marketing teams because they create an authentic emotional connection with audiences, create earned media opportunities, and drive unprecedented online engagement across social channels.
Drone shows are a powerful way to promote a partnership between teams and sponsors. In-stadium signage and traditional advertising don't make a statement like seeing brand and team logos recreated and animated in the sky hundreds of feet in the air—creating indelible images in the minds of fans who see it.
The potential for storytelling is limitless—corporate sponsors see the tremendous opportunities to connect with fans and build a strong bond between them and their products. A well-planned drone light show can engage fans online through QR codes or a combination of image recognition and geolocation—and repay them for sharing or engaging with content by providing special offers, discounts, or access to exclusive content.
SOCIAL MEDIA BUZZ
Sports teams enjoy a massive presence on social media channels—where fans share their thoughts with other fans and connect with their favorite players—but channels like TikTok, Instagram, and Twitter are chock full of distractions and non-stop scrolling—however drone light show content has the power to disrupt people's scrolling habits.
One of the most powerful characteristics of a drone light show is that the video content that emerges after a show can go viral—generating millions of likes and shares—and high levels of content engagement long after the live event. In a world of endless scrolling and swiping, the stunning size and scope of a drone show remains one of the few things that consistently gets people to stop and share.
When drone light show content gets posted to a team's social channels, it often ranks as the most viewed content of the day or week—frequently outpacing game highlights or other features.
CASE STUDY | THE NFL
Despite being, by far, the most prominent and influential American sports league, The NFL refuses to rest on its laurels. This is a league that likes to be first, and was an early adopter of drone light shows to celebrate its partners, sponsors, and fans.
CLIENT: National Football League
DATE: February 13, 2022
LOCATION: Inglewood/Los Angeles, CA
When it comes to live and televised spectacles, few, if any, rival the Super Bowl. Every year, fan expectations for pre-game, halftime, and post-game experiences increase exponentially; each year, the NFL delivers by consistently pushing the boundaries of what's possible on its highest-rated Sunday.
When the Los Angeles Rams met the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl 56, the NFL used a pre-game drone light show to up the hype and hoopla in a way that even made Hollywood take notice. The custom drone light show featured iconography born in LA, team logos, and animated player action sequences—and celebrated the host city of Inglewood. It was a chance to pump up a sports brand that remains on par with any multi-faceted entertainment company—but more importantly, positioned the league as an entertainment innovator that can seamlessly blend the digital and physical worlds and create an unprecedented experience.
DATE: April 28, 2023
LOCATION: Bonner Springs, KS
Travis Kelce of the Kansas City Chiefs has a bigger-than-life personality—something T-Mobile wanted to leverage at the All-Pro tight end's big draft party—and delivering a 300 drone light show was a chance for the brand to connect with its football-loving audience, and the NFL to showcase one of its most marketable players.
CASE STUDY | THE NBA
The NBA and its teams practically wrote the book on in-game hype and hoopla—filling every timeout or break in the action with fan-immersive activities that pushed the industry forward and made attending live games something unexpected.
Although NBA basketball games are played in indoor arenas, an environment not conducive to massive drone light shows—that has not stopped the league from taking advantage of the tremendous marketing reach drone light shows offer—from pre-game hype to post-game celebrations, the league sees value in what these spectacles offer their fans and the brand.
THE 2022 NBA DRAFT
CLIENT: National Basketball Association
DATE: June 23, 2022
LOCATION: Jersey City, NJ/ New York, New York
The NBA Draft has become one of the association's marquee events - taking its place right alongside the Finals and All-Star Weekend as a moment to capture the sports world's undivided attention.
With more and more players coming from outside the United States, the NBA was looking for ways to make an impact with a growing global audience - and showcase the event's home in the mecca of basketball, New York City.
Everything about the 500-drone light show (one of the first ever viewable from NYC) felt like an arrival. The future superstars were coming to their new teams—and new technology—with a healthy dose of creativity enabled the league to deliver larger-than-life images in the sky that nobody had ever seen. It was a chance for the NBA to shine globally in a bold fashion using a new medium to tell its brand story.
CASE STUDY | MLS SOCCER
Major League Soccer has rapidly expanded over the past several years, with brand new teams opening up in cities nationwide. That means there's a need to connect with fans and new sponsors as they build relationships in their new communities.
As a new team building your fanbase, driving season ticket sales, corporate partnerships, and sponsorships is critical—everything from luxury suite sales to stadium naming rights are in play as the community wraps its arms around the franchise that has put down stakes in its community—drone light shows offer a unique opportunity to engage fans and build lasting emotional connections.
CLIENT: Charlotte FC
DATE: October 21, 2023
LOCATION: Charlotte, NC
On a crisp October night in 2023, Charlotte FC of the MLS planned a drone light show to show appreciation for their loyal and rapidly growing fan base that had supported them for the past three years. The halftime drone light show celebrated the Queen City's team spectacularly—and ignited the crowd at perhaps the most anticipated matchup of the season.
Suddenly, a drone light show meant to say thank you to fans became a source of inspiration that fueled the team in the second half, leading to a victory and Charlotte's first-ever playoff berth. Fans continued rallying behind the spectacle of the drone light show across social media channels for weeks after the season ended.
CLIENT: The Los Angeles Football Club and BMO Bank
DATE: March 3, 2023
LOCATION: Los Angeles, CA
LAFC of the MLS wanted to make a statement and demonstrate their appreciation to their most loyal supporters and sponsors in spectacular fashion—and BMO was seeking a way to build buzz around their naming rights for LAFC Stadium and signal their presence in LA's business community.
They accomplished both of these goals and captured the attention of LA's usually jaded passer-by, who couldn't help but be captivated by the massive drone light show visible across the downtown area—and that drove massive engagement across social channels, generating excitement within the fanbase and creating buzz for the team and fueled brand awareness for BMO in the region.
CASE STUDY | MLB
Major League Baseball (MLB), the world's first-ever established professional sports league in 1876, is the world's premier baseball league—and their teams are embracing cutting-edge technologies, including drone light shows, to engage their fans, drive attendance at parks, celebrate milestones, and show why they are still America's favorite summer pastime.
CLIENT: Detroit Tigers
DATE: October 1, 2023
LOCATION: Detroit, MI
In 2022, the venerable Detroit Tigers franchise used a drone light show to show their respect for a living legend of the game, Miguel Cabrera, on the night of his retirement. As family, friends, and thousands of fans looked to the skies, the future Hall of Fame player and his fans were treated to a bespoke drone show celebrating Miggy's achievements as a Tiger and his life in and out of baseball.
The show was a tremendous success with the Tigers faithful and Miggy's fans worldwide—generating earned media attention, massive engagement, and accolades across social channels for weeks after the game ended. Detroit's show for Cabrera demonstrated how to use a new medium to celebrate a player's retirement sensationally—and create lasting memories for its fans.
The Next Generation is Coming
Consider all the different ways this article presents that sports franchises have used drone light shows to accomplish a variety of their goals and objectives—from engaging fans to celebrating milestones and victories to promoting their brands and marquee events—yet the true potential for these technology-driven spectacles remains to be unlocked.
As we continue to innovate, create new ways to bridge the physical and digital worlds, and help our franchise partners make lasting connections with their fans, drone light shows will continue to evolve and become immersive multisensory experiences that deliver unprecedented and often unexpected returns—they will continue to transform fan experiences along with brand marketing and advertising in the NFL, NBA, MLB, and MLS.