Editor’s Letter: Game Recognizes Game

The inspiring story behind The Real Heroes Project, and why Adweek is so proud to be part of the historic campaign

- Credit by 72andSunny
Headshot of Lisa Granatstein

When the coronavirus shut the country down in March, it also halted professional sports. The NBA, NHL, MLB and others suspended their seasons. Top tennis tournaments, including the Miami Open and Wimbledon, were canceled, and the Olympic Games in Tokyo were paused until 2021. The implications were enormous for athletes, coaches, employees, fans and the bottom line. Everyone began to speculate about how games would be played in a post-pandemic world.

But the sports world was far from paralyzed. Teams connected to their communities with messages of hope, encouragement and charitable efforts. Sports marketers sought to do even more, and with Adweek’s mission to serve the marketing community, we were there to assist.

The result, The Real Heroes Project, is nothing short of historic. It began on March 27 with major leagues and sports marketers—including the NFL, NHL, NBA, MLB, Nascar, WWE, MLS, EA and Activision Blizzard—joining a “Sports United” Zoom call organized by Adweek, and led by chief chief community officer Nadine Dietz. That discussion inspired them all to band together for a celebration of front-line healthcare workers. NFL CMO Tim Ellis reached out to 72andSunny founder, creative chair Glenn Cole, whose agency had just partnered with the NFL on a #StayHomeStayStrong PSA, to lead the creative.

I was fortunate to be a part of that initial Zoom discussion and the ones that followed. It was remarkable to watch the inspiration and creative collaboration unfold. To witness the birth of such an unprecedented campaign by these marketing pros was powerful and Pretty. Damn. Cool.

The culmination of this effort is an expansive social campaign that kicks off today. Pro athletes taped the names of their healthcare heroes onto their own jerseys and thanked them for their hard work and personal sacrifice. Athletes, clubs and leagues will promote the individual videos on their own social channels. Then on Wednesday, May 6, timed to the start of National Nurses Week, the sports world will release a curated athlete PSA spot that will be promoted and shared far and wide by the leagues, teams, players, fans and Adweek.

In this special issue of Adweek, senior editor T.L. Stanley takes us behind the scenes to share the remarkable story of how the marketers, with 72andSunny, recruited world-famous athletes as well as front-line workers like Jill Cardone, a nurse in the emergency department of Hartford Hospital in Hartford, Conn., who works three 12-hour night shifts a week. She and others will be acknowledged in tributes by the New York Yankees’ Aaron Judge, New Orleans Saints’ Drew Brees, LA Galaxy’s Javier “Chicharito” Hernández, WWE’s John Cena and Hockey Hall of Famer Hayley Wickenheiser, among others.

“The goal is to deliver the hope and optimism that sports typically provides,” explained 72andSunny’s Cole. “Our belief is that a unified sports world can do more good and create more impact that any single brand could.”

We invite you to join the leagues in honoring these healthcare heroes by helping us socialize #TheRealHeroes. And we encourage you to grab some tape and a jersey and celebrate your own hero online, too.


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This story first appeared in the May 4, 2020, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

@lgranatstein lisa.granatstein@adweek.com Lisa Granatstein is the editor, svp, programming at Adweek.