CHICAGO (AP) — Dancing on the roof, microphone in hand as he lip-synched to “Twist and Shout,” Benny the Bull was putting on quite a performance as his tricked-out black van rolled through downtown Chicago.
It was not quite “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” and it won’t be coming to a theater near you. But as spoofs go, “Benny’s Day Off” is quite a production.
The story starring the Chicago Bulls’ mascot played out almost in real time on social media on a recent Monday, with scenes posted on Snapchat right after they were recorded throughout the day. The team also tweeted the effort while the crew headed to the next location, fans tuning in to see what Benny would do next.
“You’re only limited by your imagination,” Bulls digital content manager Luka Dukich said. “You can do a lot of damage with a phone these days.”
The NBA, including team and player accounts, has about 1.3 billion likes and followers over various social media platforms. The Bulls, by their own count, rank second to the Los Angeles Lakers among major North American sports franchises, with nearly 25 million followers across Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, YouTube and Instagram.
Snapchat has emerged as a major player in recent years, particularly when it comes to reaching younger fans. NBA associate vice president of social media Sam Farber said a “vast majority” who follow the league’s account are younger than 24.
“It’s really important for us to use that platform to reach that audience in an authentic way and we found that to be quite successful over the last couple of years,” he said.
The NBA’s relationship with Snapchat started in 2014 and expanded this season with more in-game content and behind-the-scenes coverage. The league can also post features that show the evolution of the crossover or players talking about the first time they dunked, for example, on the Snapchat Discover channel. It can produce live stories that capture the atmosphere at the arena.
It allows the dozens of players to show themselves in a different light. The same goes for the teams, whether they take a more serious and basketball-centric approach or try to have fun with it, like the Bulls.
“Benny’s Day Off” comes on the heels of a “Clue”-themed feature in late January that also starred their mascot. It had more than 60,000 views on Snapchat and an additional 55,000 on YouTube and Facebook in little more than two days after a marathon production that went from the United Center to a shop in Chinatown to a movie theater on the city’s North Side to the famed Second City comedy club before heading to Daley Plaza downtown.
BENNY’S NOT WELL
The shoot starts in a storage room just off the United Center floor that’s stuffed with costumes and uniforms.
The lights are out in Benny’s lair as shooting begins. The mascot is in bed on a pullout loveseat with a blanket — a Bulls blanket — pulled in tight, just like Ferris Bueller. Bulls entertainment assistant Tom Sargent leans over like Ferris’ parents.
“Benny, you don’t look too good,” he says. Benny shakes his head.
The cameraman is Dukich using his phone, the director Billy Bungeroth from Second City. Actors and actresses from the group pop up throughout the day.
They do several takes and eventually go with one that has the lights on in the room. In the second shot, it becomes clear that Benny is not skipping school like Ferris when Sargent mentions a “big meeting” and tells him to stay in bed. In the third shot, Sargent tells him to feel better and walks away. Benny whips out a sign that says: “Benny’s Day Off A Snapchat Film.” And with that, they’re off.
SPOOFING A CLASSIC
While the shoot lasts all day, the idea was months in the making.
The Bulls’ digital team started thinking about narratives for Snapchat before the season. Not long after that, they reached out to Second City and the brainstorming began.
They came up with a story where Benny was bored working odd jobs while the team was away. From there, they got another idea.
“Why doesn’t he have like a Ferris Bueller day out in the city?” Dukich said. “That evolution kind of was in the last two weeks. It’s amazing.”
The Bulls could only produce the story on a day when the team was off and on the road because they needed their Snapchat channel clear. Benny’s schedule also had to be open. The Second City crew had to be available, and the shoots at the shop in Chinatown and the movie theater had to be arranged.
Stories last only 24 hours on Snapchat, but the platform gives the Bulls a captive audience and the full attention of their viewers. And when it’s gone, well, the 4-minute, 55-second video lives on in full on YouTube and Facebook.
TOURING THE TOWN
Cut to a boardroom at the United Center.
Second City’s Jeffrey Murdoch is channeling Ben Stein as the economics teacher as he takes attendance.
“Bull? … Bull? … Bull? … Anyone,” he says in that “Bueller? … Bueller? … Bueller?” tone.
Sargent, seated at the head of a long table with the Bulls’ court painted on top, explains that Benny is sick.
Another nod to the movie happens in a parking lot across from the arena. This time, it’s the Ferrari scene.
There’s Benny, in the driver’s seat, lifting his left leg in and closing the door before the car peels off.
What viewers don’t see is Benny getting out and Sargent behind the wheel in the scene that makes the cut.
Oh, and about the car. Instead of a classic 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California, they’re using a vintage 1998 Lexus ES 300 that Bulls manager of corporate communications Ross Lipschultz purchased from his grandparents. Ferrari’s not a team sponsor; Lexus is and considers Ferrari a competitor.
“Which is fine,” Lipschultz said. “It’s up to them. They’re an official car sponsor so for cars we had to find a Lexus.”
BULL IN CHINATOWN
In Chinatown, Benny visits a gift shop. The bull in the China shop drops a large glass egg — which actually lands on a team employee lying on the floor off camera — before getting kicked out of the store.
There’s Benny, to the tune of “Danke Schoen,” standing outside a North Side movie theater and two “fans” freaking out as he passes them on an escalator. He buys two buckets of popcorn and spills them when he bumps into another “fan,” played by Second City’s Martin Morrow, trying to take a selfie with him.
Not long after, he’s shown leaning against the side of his van with a large image of him and the Bulls’ logo, before climbing onto the roof and sitting on top as it rolls through the Old Town neighborhood toward downtown.
There are no seatbelts up there, just some bars to hang onto. There are also speakers and a hatch that allows him to climb from his windowless compartment in the back to the roof.
Benny’s actual identity is kept secret from the public. He rarely utters a word when he’s in uniform, and if he does, it’s usually out of earshot from anyone but a Bulls staffer.
Yet, the reactions speak volumes.
There were smiles and laughs and people snapping pictures particularly as the van makes its way along Wells Street toward downtown. And there were glowing reviews on Twitter as the story unfolded.
“It’s awesome to have this platform and be able to do what we do here,” Dukich said.
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