ESPORTS AND NBA 2K SPONSORS: DON'T WAIT, INNOVATE
Yesterday, on a call with the CMO of a top 50 brand, I realized how important the launch of the NBA 2K League is. Regarding all of his company’s esports sponsorship plans, he said: “We’re going to wait and see what happens with the NBA League?”
I politely mused to myself, “Wait for what?” and responded to him with all the impressive projections, demographics, audience numbers, etc. that all of us in the esports industry have been stuffing our PowerPoint decks with for years.
But looking back a day later, I completely understand the value of his comment in several ways. While the NBA 2K League is a different game type and audience than League of Legends’ NA LCS and Overwatch League (both of which have larger existing audiences as well), the entire “esports” category is being considered as one — for better or worse.
And it’s the NBA 2K League that’s easiest to explain to the neophyte. While many of us are in the daily trenches of the industry, most executives of major brands still “just don’t get esports” (as partly evidenced by former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue’s comments this week).
But they do know the game of basketball, and a CMO explaining a 5v5 digital version of it to the CEO or board of a public company is infinitely much easier than trying to explain Soldier 76, Super Minions and Summoner’s Rift.
Additionally, I also questioned “why wait?” The opportunity to be a leader in the space — with the three, franchise-based leagues launching in the coming months — is now. What I realized is, that’s our responsibility. As embedded in esports as we are, we need to show uneasy, unfamiliar sponsors how to get involved and how to innovate — especially in a meaningful and 100 percent authentic way.
Take the NBA 2K League launch, for example. My head spins thinking about all the amazing sponsor activations the League could do to launch it.
Obviously there’s a ton to consider regarding existing NBA sponsors, budgets, timelines, etc., but just throwing out a few top-of-mind ideas — purely for fun, brainstorming and discussion sake (so please add to the discussion):
1. BEING “SCOUTED” BADGE: Unless you follow NBA 2K players and content creators, you have no idea that the most chatter regarding the upcoming league is about who the first 85 players (17 teams, 5 players each) will be. While scouting (and the upcoming in-game tryout mode) will be a big task for NBA 2K teams, what if they added a layer of transparency and started identifying those being scouted — and sold that sponsorship? Instant authenticity for that sponsor, but also some risk, because not everyone will be prospects.
2. FEMALE NBA 2K PLAYER: While there may or may not be a female player in the initial top 85, identify the best female prospects now. The marketability and PR opportunities of that person and the brand associated with her would be off the charts, especially in a demo looking for more female participation.
3. SEASON TICKETS: The first season of the NBA 2K League will be played in studios (locations TBD), not in respective team cities or arenas, but I still think there’s an opportunity to identify the most hardcore fans in each city — now. And nothing says hardcore fan like a limited-number season ticket package with its share of exclusive offers, tchotchkes, etc.
4. POSTERS: While not innovative, the kid’s bedroom wall poster (as illustrated above) may be the most valuable tool in the early days of marketing the new leagues, teams and players. Get them out now. Don’t forget the many opportunities to connect the digital world with the real world.
5. ANYTHING GUERRILLA, VIRAL,CITY-BASED: Paste up the graffiti. Create an “Army.” Have the mayor introduce the city to its first gaming team. Now with city-based teams there are a million possibilities here.
6. CHAMPIONSHIP TROPHY SPONSOR, DESIGN (see illustration above): There’s nothing more exciting to an NBA fan than the Larry O’Brien trophy. The time is now to introduce what the players and teams are fighting for in the NBA 2K League. Heck, Dr. Pepper is reportedly paying $35 Million, per season, for the naming rights of the College Football National Championship trophy.