Decathlon, one of the largest sporting equipment retailers in Belgium, provided the inmates with clothes and equipment (bikes, trainers …) to cycle on Zwift, a virtual world where 3 million cyclists race and ride together.
The Breakaway: project
Together with the non-profit organization De Rode Antraciet, we selected 6 prisoners in the maximum security prison of Oudenaarde in Belgium to ride together in a jail-based eCycling team. For the first time, prisoners in Belgium were connected to the outside world thanks to sports and an internet connection. We put their schedules online on decathlonbreakaway.be so everyone could join their rides and take their wheel. Enabling them to ride with people from the outside world for the first time.
On Zwift the prisoners stayed anonymous, and they started cycling under the name of John Doe. For the first time ever, the inmates could practice sports together with people from all over the world. As anonymous athletes instead of being labeled a prisoner or outcast.
To train , the prisoners received a personal training program, including ride-alongs. These training sessions allowed them to race against other Belgian and international cyclists on the Zwift platform. The ride-alongs were announced on Facebook, giving the opportunity to everyone in the Zwift community to join the ride. We even had some famous sportsmen and sportswomen joining, like John McAvoy, a notorious ex-bank robber who turned his life around and now is a professional triathlete.
In a special final event Team Breakaway had to beat Team Justice, amongst which our federal Minister of Justice was participating. A real race commentator hosted the live stream Facebook event. And although in the end, Team Breakaway had to surrender, they did prove to us all that sports can be the ultimate freedom provider.
The whole project was documented in a 4-episode podcast series (in Dutch), that focuses on how being able to participate in this e-cycling initiative changed the inmates’ mental health and their lookout on life in- and outside the prison.
The Breakaway: results
Despite a limited media budget, the social and digital campaign reached more than 1.3 million people on Facebook & Instagram, 1.5 million on YouTube, and 122.000 by email, with engagement metrics (view-through rates, opening rates) surpassing usual campaign benchmarks.
The campaign was picked up in PR by 32 different national and international radio, TV and news stations, resulting in an additional reach of more than 4 million people.
The project has received nearly 50 national and international advertising awards, including the highly prestigious Grand Prix for Creative Strategy and Grand Prix for PR at the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity.
One specific result made Decathlon and BBDO really proud. Following the campaign's success and the positive feedback it received from specialised psychologists, the Belgian Ministry of Justice decided to roll out the eCycling program in 35 other prisons in Belgium in the years to come.