In this season like no other, the NFL is back. And while teams like the Seahawks might be playing in empty stadiums for now due to COVID-19, they’re finding new and innovative ways to connect with their fans like never before.
This fall, the Seahawks launched an experience called the Pregame Huddle, which uses Microsoft Teams to help fans get closer to the action virtually—all via a Surface Hub located at the end of the player tunnel. A select group of community members is invited to be part of the experience, hosted by Seahawks gameday emcee and radio host Gee Scott, where they can interact with the team, see pre-game videos, and watch the players warm up.
Any sense of normalcy and enjoying some routine is so valuable right now. Football Sunday and the Seahawks are providing that for me.Salina Lyons, lifelong Seahawks fan and cancer patient on the Pregame Huddle
When the Seahawks partnered with Microsoft to make the Pregame Huddle a reality, both organizations agreed that it was vital to celebrate local community heroes by offering them this kind of unprecedented on-field access to the team—not just so they could meet their favorite players, but also so they could share their own stories and talk about the important work they’re doing in the community.
Over the course of the season, the Seahawks have been inviting leaders from Black and Latinx community organizations, cancer survivors, first responders, essential workers, military service members, representatives from charities that the players support, and beyond.
This is very much a part of the ethos of the team, says Jeff Richards, VP of Marketing and Community Engagement for the Seahawks—and it stems from how owner Paul Allen sees the role of the team. “We need to be a good neighbor and address need,” says Richards. “We have to provide hope and inspiration and bring people together. That’s a huge piece of what we do.”
To that end, the Pregame Huddle is as much about building community and a sense of excitement for Seahawks fans as it is about doing the same for the players. The virtual events are an opportunity for them to form a deeper connection with the community in which they play. And for all of them, it’s a moment that transcends the many challenges of 2020.
“The excitement level and the energy and the connection with the people of this area has been unique and extraordinary.”
- Pete Carroll, head coach, Seattle Seahawks
In press conferences this season, Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson have both talked about the importance of the fan connection. It’s not just about giving the players that famed hometown advantage. It’s also a part of what makes being a player so rewarding. Richards notes that the Pregame Huddle has helped fill that void. “I can’t tell you how much the players miss that fun interaction on gameday. It’s part of their routine,” he says. “The feedback from the players is that this is so cool. It’s helped fill this hole … From guys like KJ Wright who’ve been here for a decade to the rookies—they say how great it is to have that connection. There are no fans like the 12s.”
Perhaps the biggest surprise is how much technology has actually fostered a deeper connection with the Seattle community this season. At the beginning of the season, Richards says he couldn’t wait for things to go back to “normal.” But in the last month or two, he’s started to see how this technology is very much here to stay beyond 2020.
“It opens up possibilities we couldn’t have seen before,” he says. “We can reach fans overseas, put on football skills clinics all over the world, and visit students in schools or kids in hospitals who can’t visit the stadium on gameday … Tools like Microsoft Teams allow us to reach more fans in a more meaningful way.”