When we look back at the past year in sports amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the memories that will stick with people most may be the images of empty stadiums.
With crowd noise pumped in over the speakers and on television, it sounded like a normal game, but the absence of the fans was an ever-present reminder of the artificial atmosphere. Many teams, including the Broncos, gave fans the opportunity to appear in the stadium in cutout form as they sold thousands of cutouts to support charitable efforts.
But no team had a more memorable crowd of cutouts in their stadium than the one the Broncos had in the south stands, as the residents of South Park came to Empower Field at Mile High.
The campaign by the Comedy Central show was an extremely successful one, too, as it recently won several honors from Adweek, including Best Sports-Related Experiential Activation, Best Use of Out-of-Home Media in an Experiential Activation and Best Experiential Activation Less than $1 Million.
"Comedy Central could have very easily rested on South Park's long-standing popularity to drive excitement for its pandemic-themed special," Adweek's David Griner, Shannon Miller and T.L. Stanley wrote. "Instead, it went a step further by turning a typically unassuming element of lockdown-era sports—the fake stand-in "audience"—into a giant marketing activation. When football fans tuned in to watch the Denver Broncos play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, they saw the town of South Park (all wearing masks, of course) occupying the stands at Empower Field at Mile High stadium thanks to 1,000 cardboard cutouts. The stunt went viral, made headlines and generated a massive 4 billion impressions."
With the stadium cleared for full-capacity games in 2021, Empower Field at Mile High will have louder fans in those seats, thank goodness, but part of us will surely miss seeing Stan, Kyle, Cartman, Kenny and all their friends in the crowd.
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The Broncos placed in the top half of the league in Bill Barnwell's ranking of the top offseasons by team. Denver's moves to bolster their cornerback grouping and keep Justin Simmons on a long-term contract were among his favorites. "New general manager George Paton was able to get an extension done with star safety Justin Simmons, who signed a four-year, $61 million contract," Barnwell wrote. "Paton added to the secondary by signing Ronald Darby from Washington and Kyle Fuller from the Bears, and he used the No. 9 overall pick on Patrick Surtain. After trying to get by at cornerback last season, Vic Fangio might have one of the league's best secondaries on paper."