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Executives Bullish On a Bright Future for the NBA 2K League

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The accessibility of the sport and the countless opportunities for partnerships will be key for success.

Founder, Majority Owner, Chariman and CEO of Monumental Sports & Entertainment Ted Leonsis (Photo courtesy of Jason Stein)


Last week, Ted Leonsis, Founder and Chairman of Monumental Sports and Entertainment, hosted the Esports & Wizards NBA 2K League Global Summit. MSE showcased this event to a worldwide audience through Twitch and other live OTT platforms, including MSE owned, Monumental Sports Network.

This event elucidated the multiple opportunities for brands and sponsors to partner with MSE, NBA 2K League and the rapidly growing esports industry.

“Esports will be the largest participatory activity, surpassing all other sports because it’s worldwide,” said Leonsis. “No limits to the NBA and the brand building opportunities presented through NBA 2K league and esports!”

MSE and many others across the NBA have realized the potential of esports and have already begun to move into the community with the NBA 2K League.

As the inaugural season of the NBA 2K League approaches, brands and sponsors are looking for ways to get involved with this innovative initiative.

“The most important thing you can do is create brand authenticity and the NBA 2K League presents a ground floor opportunity for new sponsors with endless opportunities for sponsorship activations,” said MSE Director of Esports, Grant Parajanepe.

Through various digital activations, brands will be able to integrate themselves with the 2K League, individuals teams and players social accounts, helping generate a personalized fan experience.

We are all familiar with the phrase “Content is King,” and MSE sees many partnership opportunities for co-branded content through the 2K league platform.

MSE will have a production team to create unique content to showcase the launch and journey of the Wizards esports franchise. From behind the scenes content of the foundation of the Wizards esports team to exclusive live training sessions, fan conversations, and Q&A with players, the co-branding content opportunities are endless.

Multiple ways to help display partners brands. (Photo courtesy of Monumental Sports and Entertainment)

Managing Director of NBA 2K League, Brendan Donohue emphasized the games global appeal and added, “Partners, Brands, and sponsors love partnering with a game that is ‘E’ for everyone and a safe rating allows for all audiences to engage.”

One way brands can activate through the NBA 2K League is with Virtual Courtside Signage activated throughout the Regular season and Playoffs.

An average NBA 2K game depending on in-game settings can be roughly 25 minutes or longer giving brands plenty of time to activate their brand in a highly engaged manner.

With a long season full of games, practice and other virtual events, brands will have many of the same opportunities seen throughout traditional sports venues.

Another way brands can activate through NBA 2K League. (Photo courtesy of Monumental Sports and Entertainment)

These virtual signs will appear throughout the game courtside and will have a rotational signage system helping to generate more activations as the game is being played.

Another partnership opportunity is through the virtual MyCareer Player as sponsors can activate through a virtual patch as well as through other in-game digital opportunities.

Photo courtesy of Monumental Sports and Entertainment

Also keep in mind that out of the 17 teams in the 2K League the Washington Wizard, Dallas Mavericks, Memphis Grizzlies, and Indiana Pacers are the only 4 teams without in-game jersey sponsorship patches.

Could these four teams be waiting to find the right partnership for not only on the physical court but the virtual court as well?

“It is a brand new audience and we will have some crossover with our traditional fans, but esports allows us to reach new segment of fans and it provides a huge opportunity.” –Zach Leonsis, MSE’s General Manager and Senior Vice President, Strategic Initiatives

The new audience the league will draw is attractive to brands and sponsors, as the NBA 2K League provides a familiar structure with a unique and futuristic twist for partners. Twitch and other OTT platforms will be extremely influential in helping MSE and the 2K League reach this brand new global audience.


This piece has been presented to you by SMU’s Master of Science in Sport Management.


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Digital Media

How a Successful Sports Creative Agency Is Preparing For a Jump To Esports

With esports, the opportunity to support coverage through digital content is key to the success for the emerging industry.

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*Team Infographics is proud partner of Front Office Sports

The continuing growth of esports all over the globe has been reflected in the number of fans engaging with their favorite games and teams on social media. With the number of esports fans on social media reportedly close to 385 million, competitive video gaming now has a larger social media following than the National Football League.

As esports organizations expand, so will their social media needs. Just like how football fans love to see up to the minute statistics or stunning motion graphics depicting tournament results, fans of games like League of Legends (LoL), Overwatch, Counter Strike: Global Offensive and NBA2K expect the same kind of quality in their social content.

For going on six years, Team Infographics (TI) has worked with professional sports teams and college athletic departments to help them develop unique graphics and video, alongside their publishing tools similar to a CMS system like WordPress. Now, they are preparing for a move into the world of competitive video gaming. TI art director Joe Centeno explains what led the company to explore a venture into esports.

“When we started looking into esports and following what these tournaments were doing and how they were getting covered, we immediately recognized how similar it was to Sundays in the NFL or Saturdays in college football, in what we now refer to as analog sports. We knew we could help these teams with the type of content they are looking for like we do with our current partners.”

While esports fans are very similar to traditional sports fans in terms of the content that they expect, creatives making content for esports social channels should be aware of the difference in social voice used to cover these events.

“In following different events we’ve noticed they can take a little bit more chance in the way it’s covered. Whether because it’s a younger demographic, or just because it’s competitive video gaming. When you watch the way they are broadcast and the way they cover these tournaments, it’s definitely different. In the office, we liken it to a WWE event or a UFC event, but it is its own unique tone and voice. So we’re excited that this could lead to some styles of content that might not be accepted so easily for example on the NFL stage.”

After helping create content for one of the world’s biggest esports competitions for a number of months now, Centeno and TI have learned quite a bit about the world of esports.

For starters, they’ve learned the importance of being fully immersed yourself in the realm of esports.

Having that esports expertise and knowledge of the competitive gaming world. You can’t just watch one event and say ‘okay I get it now,’ because you probably won’t. You’ve got to completely dive into it. You’ve got to understand not only how the tournaments operate and how they are covered, but being aware of how teams, players, and fans interact before, after and during tournaments is just as important. Being able to follow gameplay, recognizing the importance of online communities and being comfortable with the unique vocabulary and culture surrounding these global tournaments is essential to being able to build content that will be accepted as authentic and genuine.”

Second, Centeno and crew are aware that esports content creators must be ready for the “always on” nature of the business

“There’s so much opportunity to cover these events that if you have an internal team, great. You’ll be able to do a good job of covering it every weekend and every tournament. If you don’t, or if you just need help with the immediacy of some of these things,…Like when a match is over, they need to put out stats the same way that traditional sports teams do. Their audience needs the exact same type of info. They need to know who won, who was the player of the game, and where does their team stand overall in this tournament. “

Finally, their observations of the space have helped them see a unique opportunity to zero in on the stories of professional gamers.

“When covering traditional sports, you see marketers covering what teams accomplish as a whole. Where esports are going to differ is they’ll have specific players they can try to help build up as this new superstar in the world of that game. We know we can help with that. We can help that specific person create content, maybe about their training regimen or the teams training facilities, and match info leading to upcoming games. We have the opportunity to explore his/her personality and make him or her a superstar. We can help these players go from being well known within the gaming community to being household names like NBA or FIFA superstars are known all over the sports world.”

Moving forward, Centeno and the TI brain trust hope to expand their portfolio of esports partnerships into leagues like the newly formed NBA 2K League and the just announced EA Sports NHL league.

To see more of TI’s work within the realm of esports, follow them on Twitter.

*Team Infographics is proud partner of Front Office Sports

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Why the NBA, NHL, MLS, and NFL Are In On Esports

Esports at the league level is here to stay, it just depends in what capacity.

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The NBA 2K League helped set the dominoes in motion. (Photo via Sports Illustrated)

Recently, all the major American sports leagues (save for the MLB) have announced either esports leagues or tournaments: the MLS with eMLS, the NFL with the Madden NFL 18 Club Championship, the NHL with an unnamed NHL 18 league, and most notably, the NBA with the NBA 2K League.

This boom coincides with a phenomenon that I’ve referenced before in relation to esports – we are clearly in the growth stage of the product lifecycle, where there are many entrants, few incumbents, and many variations on the product. We have yet to see the standard streamlining of products – where dominant firms eventually experience continued growth in sales, consolidate, and when a dominant design emerges.

We are still very far from that point – indeed, esports organizations have yet to turn a profit, and it may take years for them to do so.


How Leagues Can Use Esports

What makes the traditional leagues’ esports ventures unique is that they are not standalone businesses. With that said, their future will be wholly driven by their goals: is esports a way to drive the existing business, or can it eventually operate as a standalone business?

In the former case, profit doesn’t matter – as long as the 2K league is driving ticket and jersey sales, the NBA is happy!

In the latter case, profit still should not matter. The optimal long-term growth strategy (and to be clear, esports is a long-term strategy) involves taking a loss in the short-term in favor of long-term profits.

In either case, we should expect the leagues to take a hit with esports – meaning that they are either in great financial condition (true for some), or are simply drinking the esports Kool-Aid. The former strategy is likely to reap greater overall profits in the short term, while the latter strategy could have a greater ceiling.

With that said, because of the nature of the games on which these leagues and tournaments are based on, the ceiling of league-backed esports is fundamentally tapped. If leagues are aware of this, it is probable that the strategy that they are pursuing is the former, in which case esports becomes a way to complement the existing products.

On whether leagues are planning to use esports to augment their existing products, Sam Riber, Senior Vice President of esports at MKTG says much of the intention is to do so:

“While it exists as a standalone property, a league’s esports offering is ultimately intended to support the league while remaining relevant in interest areas that are important to consumers/their fan base… It can also provide the opportunity to cross sell existing league partners or secure new partners to the eSports offering. Depending on the league and partner, the gaming property may even allow brands typically excluded from base league sponsorship investment (due to category exclusivity) the chance to secure an association/connection to the league through the esports platform.”

Riber’s point – that esports can act as a value-add, or as an additional asset for existing sponsors while also attracting new sponsors (acting as a “foot in the door”), is tremendously important. It is likely that sponsorship will be the primary driver of revenue for leagues’ esports ventures in the near future – and using it in conjunction with sponsorships for their existing products is one way to support overall league growth.


The Target Market

As I alluded to earlier, leagues should enter into this with the assumption that their viewership will not match that of games such as League of Legends or Dota. In fact, given the differences between the games and their audiences, the hope should be to draw from the pool of fans who play the respective games, rather than the general pool of esports fans (i.e.: eMLS should expect to draw from FIFA 18 fans, rather than LoL fans). In this sense, these ventures may expand the esports market further. This is great for esports as a whole!

While there may be some overlap between fans of different games, the inherent differences (including less teamwork, more randomness, etc.) between sports games and popular esports games will reduce the likelihood of a fan following both games.

A useful way to visualize this may be through a Venn diagram:

Where leagues would be targeting either “both” or “video game fans”.

For the leagues, it will be important to determine whether or not the popularity of the games itself will be enough to sustain an esports league. NBA 2K, the most popular sports franchise in the world, has a relatively small gamer base, and it’s highly unlikely that a majority of these gamers will follow the league.

That said – if the entire purpose of this is to prop up their existing product (as I suspect), then this might be a moot point, and the league may only need to generate a sufficient following, rather than a consistently high revenue stream.


Cable TV and Esports

While it has yet to happen for most sports, leagues are also aware of the potential of a cable TV doom.

To be fair, leagues are already starting to hedge their bets through streaming: via outlets such as Facebook, Amazon, and Twitter – but the traditional cable bundle has always been profitable to leagues. In linear programming, options are limited, relative to streaming, where options are seemingly limitless. With cable TV, viewers are more likely to watch, and stay, during the entire broadcast.

This means that, with a shift towards streaming, total viewership could increase, while the rate of people watching through to the end of the broadcast could decrease. In doing so, the number of, what would be traditionally thought of as the “hardcore fans”, could also decrease.

However, the internet (and its vast sea of knowledge) has also given rise to a completely different type of hardcore fan – one that does not necessarily watch all their team’s games, but can recite every stat about each player on their team, watches highlights on Instagram, attends games, and buys merchandise. While these fans will not help leagues with their broadcast revenue, they do provide value in other ways.

An esports league precisely targets these fans. In providing another channel for league-related entertainment, fans are provided with an opportunity to “go deeper” into their sport of interest, hence becoming more likely to become the internet-age hardcore fan.

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Esports

Reuters Adds Esports Wire, Expands Coverage of the Growing Industry

The burgeoning industry gets another boost to its coverage.

Adam White

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People watch the League of Legends 2017 World Championships Grand Final esports match between Samsung Galaxy and SK Telecom T1 at the Beijing National Stadium in Beijing, China, November 4, 2017. Picture taken November 4, 2017. REUTERS/Thomas Peter TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY – RC1CAEE1C340

With the esports industry expected to bring in over $1.5 billion dollars in revenue by 2020 according to newzoo, it’s no wonder why everyone wants to get in on the action.

The latest company to do so is multimedia news provider Reuters, who have launched a new wire service devoted to coverage of esports. The Reuters Esports Wire will feature global coverage of the competitive gaming industry, including breaking news, player acquisitions, sponsorship deals and coverage of the largest esports tournaments.

The Reuters Esports Wire is targeted towards a younger demographic and is designed to be consumed easily across any of Reuters platforms. Working with Field Level Media, Reuters will provide unique, in-depth coverage of the industry.

”Esports has grown increasingly popular around the world and demand for coverage of the sport has never been stronger,” said Josh Duboff, Reuters Senior Product Manager, Sports & Entertainment Verticals. “This offers us a unique opportunity to be at the forefront of offering coverage of the sport to global media customers as they see a rising interest in the competitive gaming industry from their audiences.”

As advertisers jump on board, and esports continues to become less taboo for the average fan, expect to see revenue and conversation around the industry to continue to grow.

This piece has been presented to you by SMU’s Master of Science in Sport Management.

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