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Fans have been sent into a frenzy over a video that purported to show legendary NFL quarterback Drew Brees getting struck by lightning while filming a commercial – which turned out to be a marketing stunt.
The former New Orleans Saints quarterback tweeted on Monday that he was “excited to be flying to a top-secret location” later in the week where he would be filming a promo for PointsBet, a sports betting app that markets itself in the US as being the “ultimate sportsbook for all things NFL”.
Mr Brees had apparently been filming the commercial for the sports betting company in Venezuela near the Catatumbo River, a region that sees large lightning bolts displayed an average of 297 days a year, according to an analysis published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society.
The unverified Twitter video that purported to show the lightning strike has been viewed nearly 400,000 times since it was shared early Friday. Mr Brees can be seen in the foreground of the video wearing a sweater with the number nine on it, while the iconic ripple of lightning over the Venezuelan river can be seen in the background.
A moment later, a large flash is seen on camera accompanied by a loud crack of thunder as the camera drops to the ground and a woman is heard shouting.
Hours after the video went viral, several reliable sports journalists reported that Mr Brees is unharmed and was not struck by lightning – sparking speculation that the clip was an elaborate PR stunt.
PointsBet did not immediately confirm whether the legendary football star had been struck in the filming of the commercial, writing in a Friday morning tweet that the company was “aware of the media coverage regarding PointsBet brand ambassador Drew Brees.”
“We are in communication with Brees’ team and will continue to monitor events throughout the coming hours. At this stage we will not be making any further comment,” said the company, which has been known to run promotions for “lightning bets”.
The sports betting company later released a second video of Mr Brees where he revealed it was all part of a ploy to plug the company’s “lightning bets”.
“Time to let you in on a little fun we’ve had with @drewbrees guys. He’s alive and well and “buzzing” for a weekend of free bets,” tweeted the company alongside the video where Mr Brees announces the company’s “free lightning bets” over the weekend. At the end of the video, the NFL star is seen jumping out of an ambulance before getting electrocuted by an animated lightning bolt.
“Anyway, I gotta get back to set, finish filming this commercial, hopefully lightning doesn’t strike twice,” he jests before getting ‘zapped’ by a fake lightning bolt.
Mr Brees also shared the original video on Instagram and Twitter, writing: “The lightning must’ve thought I was wearing a Falcons jersey, that’s why it tried to get me [laughing emoji] I’m fine…Who Dat!”
Before PointsBet had confirmed the publicity stunt, vetted reporters within the league began dismissing the viral video as a spoof.
ESPN reporter for the New Orleans Saints Katherine Terrell tweeted on Friday morning shortly after the news began making the rounds online that she had been in communication with the former NFL star and said that he was indeed “fine”.
“I just texted Drew Brees. He said he’s good and that he did not get struck by lightning,” tweeted Ms Terrell.
More sources who cover the New Orleans football team began sharing posts later on Friday morning that pushed back against the viral video’s narrative, also claiming that the NFL star was “fine” and had simply been caught up in a viral publicity stunt.
“He’s fine,” tweeted NewOrleans.Football’s Nick Under on Friday morning, calling the video nothing more than a “spoof” in a follow up tweet.
“Drew Brees is fine. Nothing to worry about with that video floating around this morning,” tweeted Nola.com’s Luke Johnson.
The reaction to the company’s attempt to make a campaign go viral seemed to backfire, as critics of ill-conceived antic gained immediate and widespread condemnation from the Twitter-sphere.
“AWFUL ATTEMPT AT MARKETING. DO BETTER,” reviewed one commenter, while another called the “marketing ploy” simply “terrible”.
Competitors of the online betting company seemed to fare better from the backlash that PointsBet was receiving, with one commentor writing: “this is the best FanDuel promo I have ever seen. Thank you FanDuel. I can’t wait to use FanDuel for all my future legal betting. FanDuel.”
Gaming Society shared a meme that poked fun at their rival’s ill thought out marketing scheme, with a caption that read, “If you’re looking for somewhere else to bet,” with a link to their website.