In the David vs Goliath chart battle of our time, Katie Norris documents the hard-fought, impressive but ultimately hilarious campaign by the indie underdogs for the top spot
Sports Team’s debut album Deep Down Happy was initially planned to be released in April, but just like many artists, the date was pushed back by the coronavirus pandemic. When the day rolled around, Lady Gaga’s Sixth LP Chromatica had been reigning strong at the Number one spot and appeared unmovable. Yet, Deep Down Happy’s release date a week later began what would become one of the biggest David and Goliath chart showdowns, filled with great moments as the indie band attempted the impossible.
Sports Team’s sights on the top spot had began with their initial announcement of the album back in February, boldly claiming that “The campaign for number 1 starts here” and as soon as it was released the band endeavoured to make this wish tangible. Frontman Alex Rice told NME that reaching Number One is “what it [the album] deserves” and reminisced about when the band hilariously posted a 50p betting slip for the band to have a Number One album in 2020. Despite the less than ideal release schedule, by June 2020 conditions were set that the guitar band would actually be in with a chance.
The Campaign for Number One
Restrained by lockdown, the campaign for Number One kicked off on all the band’s socials. Even with a staggering 81 million difference between their and Gaga’s Twitter followings, there was little to deter the band and their loyal fans, bringing to the table a persistence that gave them the chance to be the first group in four years to chart at Number One with their debut album. Things were looking up when Deep Down Happy was featured as BBC 6 music’s Album of the Day on the 8th of June, as the band became more inventive in their bid for Number One. Lead singer Alex Rice quickly designed a t-shirt to be included in a ‘chart battle bundle’, to encourage more sales of the album, with a design that acted as a humorous nod to their resourceful approach during this race. This was one of many bundles Sports Team put forward to raise sales, the t-shirt acting as a commercial self-mockery.
Alongside this, every platform which could be used to sell the album was being used. iTunes reduced their price to £3.99, and Amazon reduced the CD album to £4.99, making it no more than the price of a pint in London, a key selling point for the British guitar band. As they tweeted themselves, “iTunes is the battleground, welcome to 2006”, and the increased use of social media throughout the COVID-19 pandemic only supported the virtual nature of this battle.
Not being able to hold live shows to promote the album due to lockdown, Sports Team went on Zoom to hold a gig for Banquet Records. The band used Zoom as a way to recreate the live atmosphere of their gigs, keeping it “as accurate as possible so 90% drinking with friends, 10% playing new songs badly”. Held at 6:30 pm on the 11th of June, just two and a half hours after physical sales stopped counting, marking the final push for Number One. The efforts paid off as the gig’s popularity made the day the busiest mail order of the year so far for Banquet, selling tickets along with album bundles.
Reaching for the Stars
Though this journey began with self-promotional betting slips, the final push for number one was marked by high profile support and an ever-continuing, amusing enthusiasm. Amongst those that showed their support was Lewis Capaldi, who himself has mastered the art of occupying the Number One spot on the charts. Old indie heads The Wombats and even the TV fisherman Jeremy Wade got involved alongside others in showing their support for Sports Team. Having squeezed the fanbase dry and reached out to the big names, the only question left was: would Sports Team be the first group in four years to chart at Number One with their debut album?
Reflecting on the final moments the band took stock of the situation: “Gaga is 100 ahead and everything in our van and house that can be bundled, will be bundled. iTunes is the battleground. We have leaned on every friend we have, turned all meaningful relationships into meaningless sales, and written more IOUs than we could honour.”
The Near Miss
After a week full of campaigning, Sports Team were narrowly beaten in their race to number one by Lady Gaga’s sixth LP Chromatica, with a crushing 600 copies making up the difference. Being the UK’s fastest-selling album of 2020 so far, Chromatica was not to be stopped by the indie band. This picture was posted to the band’s socials accompanied by a humble music analogy to sum up their defeat: “It was Blur Vs Oasis, and we were Oasis” said Sports Team, “ [we] Took it closer than we had any right to. Will be paying back the IOUs well into our forties but fuck it. What a ride. Love you all”. Despite the heartbreaking end, the band’s efforts were rewarded in Scotland, where they placed Number One as a final hurrah.
Sports Team’s debut LP, Deep Down Happy, is available now via Universal Music Operations Limited
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