The Most Viral Commercials in Sports
Remember back when commercials were just those irritating things that gave people the opportunity to grab a drink once for every seven to 10 minutes of television they watched?
Of course you do. Because, for the most part, that's what TV commercials still are.
However, over the last decade, the widespread rise and accessibility of the Internet has dramatically changed the way we do almost everything—advertising included.
The way we view commercials has changed, which is why so many commercials have changed.
When they were made strictly for television, appealing to and not offending the broadest audience possible was the main goal. Airtime isn't cheap, and taking a chance with comedy or controversy in front of a national audience is a real budget risk.
Today, a company can make a commercial, post it online for free and reach a very targeted audience. If an ad goes viral, that audience can be in the millions, even the tens of millions. All for nothing but the cost of production.
Viral videos have also had an impact on television advertising. Even a national commercial can go viral if it strikes the right chord with viewers—be it sentimental, comedic or controversial.
That's why advertisers seem to be taking more chances and getting more creative, hoping to get the most of their money by creating a successful TV ad that also makes its rounds on the web as well.
Here are 20 sports commercials that have gone viral in recent years.
Foot Locker and Nike: Who Is KD?
Even though he started to veer toward a substantially more physical game as the season wore on in 2012-13, Oklahoma City Thunder superstar Kevin Durant has always been known as one of the NBA's nice guys.
That nice-guy persona is in conflict with the vicious highlight-reel dunks he dishes out on the court. At least that's the premise of the "Who is KD?" ad, which was published in February 2013 and has nearly one million views.
Durant plays a part-time police detective, and he is on the trail of the dunking offender known only as "KD." He bears a striking resemblance to the police sketch, his initials are K.D., and he happens to be missing one shoe—the only physical evidence the Five-O has is a single shoe.
Durant looks hilariously guilty and piques the suspicion of a rogue referee who happens to be hanging around the police station. He is quickly dismissed by the police chief, who insists, "It can't be Kevin, he's the nicest guy in the NBA."
Oh, KD! You scamp, you.
Cristiano Ronaldo vs. Rafael Nadal
Men's tennis and soccer aren't usually American favorites when it comes to sports, but tennis great Rafael Nadal and superstar footballer Cristiano Ronaldo definitely have name recognition in the states.
This Nike commercial from 2012 features the two legends facing off in a relatively unconventional game of tennis at a country club. Unconventional in that Ronaldo beats Nadal without a racket—he returns serves and volleys using only his feet and head.
Nadal gets him back by beating him at soccer tennis, which I guess is just soccer with a net in the middle instead of at either end. Obviously the whole concept is ridiculous, but it's a lot of fun.
It has attracted almost 1.7 million views on YouTube to date.
Tim Tebow: They Said
Considering he hasn't held a full-time starting job on the football field since his college days at Florida, quarterback Tim Tebow has some magical way about him—can a human being be viral?
Not in the meningitis way, obviously. Like digital-age viral.
Tebow's anti-abortion commercial that he and his mother starred in was one of the most hotly discussed spots of 2010—being that it aired during the Super Bowl to an audience of around 100 million.
But Tebow's interesting take on his own history for FRS energy drink in early 2011 is more of a traditional viral video. His list of all the things "they said" he couldn't do has attracted over a million views on the various incarnations of it on YouTube.
ESPN: It's Not Crazy, It's Sports
Most of ESPN's SportsCenter commercials attract a huge audience online, but they don't get much airtime outside the various channels of the network. "It's Not Crazy, It's Sports" has attracted over three million views on YouTube, but it has also been airing regularly on television for a while.
The spot chronicles the sad tale of Michael Jordan. No, not that Michael Jordan; the other Michael Jordan. You get the sense that he's been referred to as the other for most of his adult life, and it's turned him into a sad shell of a man.
He's obviously gotten used to the disappointed looks on faces every time he arrives for an appointment or a restaurant reservation, receives a delivery to his home or meets his driver at the airport. He expects it, but you can tell it still stings a little.
Poor guy. He had the name first.
JENGA: Style Points
I actually wasn't even sure Jenga, the quintessential drinking party game of the '90s, even still existed.
Although I do vaguely remember their commercials—a bunch of attractive late-20-somethings gathered around the table, laughing and cheering as if they were engaging in the funnest activity that ever existed in the entire history of the word.
I suppose everything is more fun with friends…when you're loaded.
Hey! But apparently it does still exist, and NBA stars like Blake Griffin and Kevin Love are pretty good at it. It's all special effects—and maybe a whole lot of superglue—but they managed to make Jenga look fun again.
This commercial attracted nearly 1.7 million views on YouTube since early 2012. Are we going to have a whole new generation of drunken Jenga parties? If so, I am in.
Peyton Manning for MasterCard
Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning is a seasoned corporate shill. It seems there are no limits to the number of products he's willing to endorse and no shortage of companies that are willing to pay big bucks for that Manning magic.
Over the years, he's done relatively entertaining commercials for Sprint, Oreo, Gatorade and DirecTV. More recently, he's played Papa John's irritating sidekick, goading him to give away free pizzas until he screams "uncle" and relents.
But aside from the fictional United Way commercial Manning did on Saturday Night Live, his spots for MasterCard were by far his best work. Manning did several of them over a few years, and this is definitely the most memorable of the bunch.
"Cut that meat! Cut that meat! Cut that meat!" Seriously, that still makes me laugh to this day. And considering the commercials have millions of views and are always posted and re-posted on YouTube, I suspect I'm not the only one who enjoys Manning's cheerleading shenanigans.
Foot Locker and Nike: Alternate Ending
How this commercial only has 1.3 million views on YouTube is a wonder. "Alternate Ending" stars the Houston Rockets' famously bearded James Harden as the leader of an entourage with some strict rules about shoes.
As long as Foot Locker is "bringing new heat every day," members are expected to do the same. When "D" shows up wearing the same kicks two days in a row, he gets a stern warning about what happened to poor Maurice—he got traded to Kris Humphries' entourage for a similar offense.
Then we find out Humphries' entourage is just three unqualified guys, one being Maurice, in a sparsely finished apartment working on a time machine.
He's riding the guys to get it finished, obviously eager to travel back to the time when he was a relatively unknown NBA role player, rather than the idiot ex-husband of Kim Kardashian who is universally reviled.
Humphries' appearance in this commercial made me hate him a little less. Plus, the never-ending hubbub surrounding Kardashian and Kanye West has made me hate her a lot more.
So even if the time machine doesn't work out, Humphries is finally trending positively—at least by comparison.
Since being drafted No. 1 overall out of Kentucky in 2010, things haven't gone quite as well for John Wall as he may have imagined. But obviously he's rich and famous and plays basketball for a living, so it could be worse.
But it's like his NBA career peaked when he famously Dougied as he was introduced to the hometown crowd in Washington that fall. It's been kind of a mixed bag for Wall since then, and the Wizards have been continuously in the toilet as a team.
At least he's still feeling the love and collecting the paychecks from Adidas. In April 2013, Wall starred alongside Damian Lillard, Jrue Holiday and A$AP Rocky in the viral ad "#QuickAintFair."
It's not likely to appeal to squares that think rap music and saggy pants are the biggest problems facing America today—but it's one of my personal favorites, and it has amassed over 2.2 million views in just two months.
Nike's "#CountOnKobe" commercial managed to attract over three million viewers on YouTube since being aired in January 2013.
The concept that the Earth essentially exists only because Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant does what he does will no do doubt infuriate his hordes of haters. Not that it takes a lot to get that group riled up.
The ad's overarching message is that there are very few things in this world you can count on. The sun shining. The grass growing. Chickens clucking. Philosophers pondering. Bakers baking. Rain falling. Snakes biting. And Kobe Bryant dominating.
Subtle like a sledgehammer—just like Bryant himself.
Nike: Earl and Tiger
In April 2010, just under six months after Tiger Woods was involved in a late-night car accident which would change his life forever, Nike released the commercial "Earl and Tiger."
The eerie commercial featured the voice of Earl Woods, who died in 2006, seemingly giving his son a lecture from the great beyond with audio spliced together from an interview he gave in 2004.
It was first released online and began airing on television just as Woods was set to make his return to golf at the 2010 Masters. Reaction to the spot, much like reaction to the man himself, was mixed and polarized.
Controversy always drives web traffic, and in this case it's driven just under four million views Nike's way.
Ray Lewis for Old Spice
Old Spice commercials have been going viral for years.
In fact, some of their older spots featuring Isaiah Mustafa, a.k.a. the Old Spice Guy, have racked up 25 to 45 million views on YouTube. Eventually they shifted to comedy aimed directly at their demographic: men.
Former NFL player-turned-actor Terry Crews is their latest star to go viral, but sometime in between, recently retired linebacker Ray Lewis had a stint as their pitchman.
Lewis did a few commercials for the company, but none can hold a candle to this one, which co-stars a friendly bear.
Lewis: "Hi, I'm Ray Lewis! Women want me. Men wanna be me. And animals wanna learn how to talk so they can hang out with me. Do you wanna know why?"
Lewis: "Old Spice Showtime deodorant."
Bear: "That makes sense."
Now that you mention it, that does make sense.
My Time Is Now: Mario Balotelli and the Nike Barbershop
Even if you're among the most casual of soccer fans, you've probably heard of AC Milan footballer Mario Balotelli. He's only 22 years old, but he already has an impressively rich history of wreaking havoc.
The Nike "My Time is Now" ad subtly recognizes everything we know about Balotelli and answers the one question that is always raised when he makes international headlines for his antics: Why?
When Balotelli sits down and his barber asks him what he wants, he poignantly responds, "To be remembered." After a number of ridiculous styles, he finally settles on a mohawk—by far the least outrageous of all the looks.
Irony. Comedy. Balotelli. What's not to love? Since being published on YouTube about a year ago, the commercial is currently closing in on four million views.
David Beckham for H&M
There are no fewer than 30 million sets of eyeballs that have ogled soccer stud David Beckham's baller bod in his commercials for H&M on YouTube.
Although, considering he starred in one of the most buzzed-about, and scantily clad, Super Bowl commercials of 2012, that number is probably well above 100 million. Beckham's spot in 2012 was so popular that it spawned this Guy Ritchie-directed short film for H&M in 2013.
As a woman, and a fan, I can say that the plot is pretty freaking solid. Becks starts off mostly clothed, but through a series of glorious mishaps, he ends up soaking wet in nothing but his underwear.
Sorry if this one doesn't appeal to you fellas, but over 10 million viewers can't be wrong.
State Farm: Discount Double Check
If you're not sick to death of Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers' dispute at the State Farm office over the intellectual property rights to his touchdown dance, well then you obviously don't watch football. Or television. Or the Internet.
I can't believe these things even went viral, considering how often they were on television. These commercials in their various forms aired around the clock throughout his stint as their spokesman. That being said, they were wildly popular and pretty funny the first few dozen times you saw them.
Although, despite B.J. Raji's impressive dance moves, the original incarnation is still the most memorable. Rodgers seems genuinely distressed when he finds out State Farm's discount double check move looks an awful lot like his famous touchdown dance.
He tries to clear up the situation, but he is met with nothing but skepticism and mockery. Even the crazy cheesehead guy at the end, who obviously knows who he is, sides with the insurance giant.
No wonder Rodgers is always so surly.
NHL: History Will Be Made
The NHL has produced a series of commercials starring superstars of the past like Mario Lemieux, Steve Yzerman, Ray Bourque, Mark Messier and, of course, the great Wayne Gretzky.
The "History Will Be Made" concept looks back on one of the defining moments in the careers of players who have defined the game and asks "What if?"
"What if Mario wasn't so super?"
"What if Stevie Y never inspired Hockeytown?"
"What if Bourque didn't believe in one more year?
"What if Messier didn't lift an entire city?"
"What if there was no Greatness?"
Every moment is one which would've changed the course of hockey history dramatically if it never happened. The spots struck a chord with millions of fans who have viewed them on YouTube.
They've also inspired countless parodies, some of which are actually really funny—a rarity with online fan parodies.
Nike: No Cup Is Safe
There was a ton of buzz surrounding the Nike commercial "No Cup Is Safe" when it was released in January 2013. The spot starred Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy as they tried to top each other with increasingly difficult shots.
The concept is very clever, and the trash talk between the two is funny and competitive without being mean. It really portrays an idealistic version of a mentor/protege relationship between them that doesn't exist in real life but obviously struck just the right note with viewers.
The commercial quickly amassed over 10 million views on YouTube.
Unfortunately, the spot lost a little of its magic when it was reported by ESPN that the two of them didn't even shoot it together. Scheduling conflicts were unable to be resolved, so Woods and McIlroy each filmed their parts with actors filling in for the other.
Thanks, ESPN. How about for an encore you go down to the mall in December and let all the kids lined up to see Santa know that he doesn't exist.
Madden Forever: Black and Yellow
The Madden NFL 13 commercials starring then-Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis and actor Paul Rudd were absolutely hilarious, and they aired through the entire 2012 season.
There were a series of different spots, but in "Madden Forever: Black and Yellow" Rudd outs himself as a Pittsburgh Steelers fan. A really annoying Steelers fan who slurps his drink and needles Lewis about respecting a team that he spent his entire career trying to do just the opposite to on the field.
Despite being down "like six games" to Lewis, Rudd insists on singing the repetitive Wiz Khalifa song "Black and Yellow," which has become the team's anthem.
He even launches into a little dance number as a wide-eyed Lewis just stares in disbelief.
The odd-couple thing has been done and redone countless times over the years, but Lewis and Rudd definitely nail the dynamic—this video alone as attracted nearly two million views on YouTube.
I'd like to suggest a movie version.
Kobe vs. Messi: Legends on Board
What do you get when you cast two of the world's biggest superstar athletes in one commercial? One seriously viral video.
That's what Turkish Airlines got when they cast the Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant and Barcelona's Lionel Messi in this commercial which was published in December 2012. In addition to airing on television, the spot has reached 105 million views on YouTube to date.
Considering Bryant's reputation for being a bit prickly, he has no problem being adorable in this commercial as he battles with Messi for the attention of a conflicted young fan seeking an autograph.
Turns out kids are really distracted, and in the end they both lose out to a surprise last-minute foe that no child can resist.
Vote for Victor
Maybe it's because he went undrafted in 2010 and was playing for $540,000 in 2012, despite emerging as one of the premier wide receivers in the game, but the New York Giants' Victor Cruz really wanted to make the Pro Bowl last season.
He probably would have made it either way, but Cruz launched a Facebook and Twitter campaign, #ProBowlCatch, to encourage his fans to vote. He posted three impressive campaign videos that made an already strong case stronger.
In his videos, Cruz outran and caught a pass fired from a passing machine, one fired from a cannon and one dropped out of an airplane. They attracted millions of views and ultimately earned Cruz a nice Hawaiian vacation in January.
There are few professional athletes more polarizing than Miami Heat superstar LeBron James—and that's today. Back in 2010 when he filmed the Nike commercial "Rise," LeBron hate was at an all-time high thanks to his infamous "Decision."
That, coupled with the fact that James' tolerance of said haters was at an all-time low, made for a mighty epic commercial that immediately went viral and spawned countless spoofs. Just like the man himself, people seemed to love it or hate it.
In the spot, a defiant LeBron repeatedly asks the question: "What should I do?" First he cops to making some mistakes, but then he quickly shifts into attack mode. He sarcastically asks about all the ridiculous ways he could bend over backward to make you happy.
James takes shots at Charles Barkley, Michael Jordan and everyone else who felt the need to voice their displeasure over his life decisions.
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