When life gives you lemons, the saying goes, make lemonade.
That's exactly what Zalgiris Kaunas has done by offering fans who cannot attend Zalgirio Arena currently a uniquely enhanced virtual game experience that has become a hit after debuting for the team's recent Turkish Airlines EuroLeague home games against Real Madrid and CSKA Moscow.
The 1,000 fans who paid to be part of the virtual game package not only rated the experience highly – giving it 4.5 out of 5 stars for organization and 4.3 for entertainment value – but asked the club to keep it going for all games in the future, even when Zalgirio Arena can again welcome its usual sellout crowds!
The initiative flowed from the club's conviction that its fans fill Zalgirio Arena not just to watch the games, but to feel a remarkable unity over their mutual love of Zalgiris and basketball. Feeling that fans deserved to continue feeling that unity despite the circumstances, the club's conviction turned into a new project – a virtual game experience to connect and unite fans online.
The virtual events, hosted by Zalgirio Arena floor announcer Andrius Ziurauskas, start even before the game does, with the first of several quizzes that come with prizes from club sponsors. Prior to tipoff, Ziurauskas also delivers his famously energetic lineup presentations straight from his home. There are more quizzes between halftime and a lottery exclusive to the virtual ticket holders, plus an online meeting with special guests after the game. So far, the participants have had the opportunity to ask questions of Zalgiris Kaunas GM Paulius Motiejunas and injured forward Patricio Garino. They were also given the chance to provide questions for head coach Martin Schiller in the live press conference after the game.
Another central attraction was fans connecting and communicating with each other. The chat function was very popular throughout the entirety of the virtual event: fans discussed the game, socialized, wrote chants and sent their support from behind the screen. A post-event poll showed that 40% of the participants were watching the game alone, so the virtual experience allowed them to band together and become a part of a big Zalgiris community.
A good number of activations were included in the package, but the game broadcast was not one of them, as fans watched the broadcast live on their TVs.
The reaction from the fans was overwhelmingly positive. Zalgiris Kaunas uses a platform that is limited to 1,000 participants, and the tickets, priced at €10 apiece, sold out quickly. A survey after the first game showed very positive numbers:
• 30% of the attendees were Lithuanians living abroad who rarely attend games in person and cherished the unique opportunity to support the team among fellow fans;
• The organization of the event was rated 4.5 out of 5 stars and its entertainment value 4.3 out of 5;
• 90% of respondents said that they would most probably purchase a virtual ticket again, while 87% said they would most probably recommend the activity to friends;
• The fans also provided many suggestions on how to improve the experience and improve the content. Among their suggestions was a proposition to offer the virtual game experience for the team's away games, as well, and Lithuanians abroad asked that the experience continues beyond the pandemic for those who cannot be at Zalgirio Arena.
After implementing some of the suggestions, the club is planning to continue the project at least as long as the games are played without spectators. Virtual tickets have not only kept fans engaged, but also allowed them to feel close to the team and each other in these times when keeping distance matters so much, and also provided the club with valuable information on how to serve them better along the way.