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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.



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.

Daniel is a writer at Front Office Sports, primarily covering sponsorship marketing and technology trends in the sports industry. Currently a Data Scientist at Bell Canada, Daniel has also worked at IMG and Wasserman in both strategy and consulting capacities.

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.



*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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Reuters Adds Esports Wire, Expands Coverage of the Growing Industry

The burgeoning industry gets another boost to its coverage.

Adam White



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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MLS Jumps on the Esports Train



With eMLS, the league becomes the second to have a dedicated esports league.

MLS has partnered with EA Sports to create the first ever eMLS Cup. Photo Credits: Major League Soccer

If you’ve ever played a match of FIFA on your Play Station or Xbox, you’re probably very well aware of how intense it can get along with how skilled many of online players are. With the release of FIFA 18 by EA Sports and growth in competitive gaming, MLS has taken a big step and partnered with EA sports to create an eSports league that will be known as eMLS, where the some of the best gamers can battle one-another for the very first eMLS Cup.

While the details are currently limited, with more planned to be released in greater detail in the coming weeks, there’s plenty to look forward to already. The cup will take place in April at the PAX East Gaming Convention in Boston, MA (April 5–8, 2018), a popular and largely successful event that showcases the world of gaming.

The event will feature some of the best FIFA players in both the United States and Canada, and will explicitly feature MLS teams and players. 19 of the 23 MLS clubs will be participating, and each club will have a player representing them that they will recruit. The winners of the eMLS cup will be headed to the FIFA eWorld Cup in August and compete against others for the title of the world’s best FIFA player.

MLS clubs from both the USA and Canada will be participating, and they include:

· Chicago Fire

· Colorado Rapids

· Columbus Crew SC

· FC Dallas

· Houston Dynamo

· LA Galaxy

· Minnesota United FC

· Montreal Impact

· New England Revolution

· New York City FC

· New York Red Bulls

· Orlando City SC

· Philadelphia Union

· Portland Timbers

· San Jose Earthquakes

· Seattle Sounders FC

· Sporting Kansas City

· Toronto FC

· Vancouver Whitecaps FC

Soccer is the world’s favorite sport. Gaming is a widely loved hobby. The MLS mixing the two together and joining the growing world of eSports, in conjunction with the fact that The FIFA eWorld Cup is the most popular gaming competition, will surely have an impact in continuing to spread the soccer footprint across America.

Based on the available information, eMLS will be similar to the NBA 2K League in that it is emphasizing ways to build connections between fans and gamers.

MLS Business Ventures President and Managing Director Gary Stevenson weighed in, stating, “This step forward into competitive gaming is a key component in our partnership with EA Sports to promote deeper engagement and connections between MLS Supporters and millions of FIFA Players around the world.”

The eSports industry is booming, revenue regarding it is showing signs of significant growth, and the MLS has jumped on the train. As we watch this trend in popularity continue to grow, it will be exciting to see what other organizations follow suit and how this can turn into additional opportunity for them. The doors to this new and fascinating world of sports business are continuing to open for aspiring professionals to entertain in their pursuit of making their mark in the business.

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

Front Office Sports is a leading multi-platform publication and industry resource that covers the intersection of business and sports.

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