Industry Guest Post: Brett Morris is a former Senior Vice President for Mark Cuban (MarkCubanCompanies.com) and former President/COO of esports innovator Super League Gaming (SuperLeague.com). He’s now a consultant in esports and other emerging technologies and can be reached at Brett@MorrisStrategic.com
Now that the NBA 2K League’s month-long combine is complete, the most important decision may not be who among the 70 thousand hopefuls will don the League’s official jerseys, but what the 17 team jerseys actually look like. To some, the jersey designs may seem trivial, but what they mean to the marketability of the new league could dictate the success of its first several years and potentially all esports. Here are eight critical questions and why their answers matter:
ONE: Will the dominant front graphic highlight the city/state name or the team mascot?
WHY IT MATTERS: I still contend that one of the biggest ways to attract a casual esport audience is by gaining “home team” fans, much like traditional sports. And in esports, the opportunity is massively untapped, regardless of game. With the Overwatch League first out of the gate with city-based franchises, I thought they were going to capture this initial market. I’m a huge fan of their League product, but they may have missed on the home city opportunity by their jersey design alone, which screamed the mascot logo/name much more than the city it represented. Intentional or not, you can’t even see “Los Angeles” on either the Valiant or Gladiators Overwatch jerseys.
TWO: Will the overall jersey construction lean toward NBA heritage or esport team norms?
WHY IT MATTERS: The traditional esport jerseys are easy to define — usually a slick, synthetic fabric, loud colors and patterns and as many team and sponsor logos as a Nascar driver suit. Can the NBA devise a short-sleeved jersey (as seen in many of the pictures here) that leans on its basketball tank heritage, or will it try to blend in with the rest of the esport franchises? A more wearable, sleeved version of an NBA jersey is something The Association has been searching for for decades. Adidas’ NBA sleeved jersey introduced in 2012 largely failed because the players weren’t comfortable wearing. But with esports athletes not needing the same mobility/performance as the NBA players, this could give the sleeved jersey concept an important second life.
THREE: What do the jersey sponsorship deals look like?
WHY IT MATTERS: Unlike most other esports, the jersey the real life players are wearing could mimic or closely resemble the same as in the game. At least I think they should. Will sponsorship deals include both in real life and in game? And if they do, that would set an interesting precedent for the other sport video games preparing for their recently announced inaugural seasons.
FOUR: Who will be the team jersey sponsors?
WHY IT MATTERS: By many accounts, including the GumGum Sports research cited in this article, this first season of NBA jersey sponsors has been successful. Not just for the teams which were reportedly asking anywhere between $5–10 million per year, but the sponsor media value ROI has exceeded expectations. However, I’d be surprised if any of them had the foresight to be included in the NBA 2K League when the deals were negotiated. Will they ask to be part of those deals and will any new sponsors create some confusion in the market, especially if the jersey designs are similar to the NBA on-court jerseys? And will the NBA ask the NBA 2K League to give priority in any deals to current NBA sponsors?
[Edit: One deal has already been completed between Cavs Legion Gaming and Hot Pockets.]
FIVE: Will the NBA allow a version resembling its existing jerseys?
WHY IT MATTERS: While the NBA 2K League teams have different logos than their parent clubs, all the primary color schemes are the same and the team names are closely related with many simply using a variety of “Gaming” or “Gaming Club” designations (i.e: Utah Jazz Gaming). The success of jerseys that closely resemble their NBA team’s jerseys is obvious, but will the NBA prohibit that from happening because the potential for confusion in the marketplace? Also, it’s important to note that while many sports franchises have invested in other esport teams, this will be the first to actually carry the parent team’s name.
SIX: Which type of player name will be on the back?
WHY IT MATTERS: Because the NBA 2K game was completely re-engineered to not involve artificial intelligence in the gameplay itself — it’s five actual players vs. five actual players — will the player names on the backs of jerseys be their actual name or their avatar name? Many of the players are only known online and in game by their gamer tags and esports tradition is to use them, but will the oddness of some of the names hurt the players’ and the League’s marketability to the casual fan? For example, one of the combine’s leader in points per game is “lightskinpapi” and one of the leaders in assist-to-turnover ratio is “vdh2677.”
SEVEN: Will there be a “female cut” jersey?
WHY IT MATTERS: Try finding an official women’s cut esport team jersey on the web — for any team or any league. Ridiculously, they are nearly impossible to find. The NFL still credits its fan base of nearly 50 percent females to its introduction of a women’s apparel line decades ago. And it’s hard to dismiss just about every bit of esports market research that identifies female players and fans as a massive market opportunity.
EIGHT: Will Nike be the jersey’s “official supplier?”
WHY IT MATTERS:Nike’s stamp of authenticity (and potential co-marketing) would be a major endorsement of esports (and potentially the players’ athletic skills). But would it be better to tap into the potential of hot streetwear brands like Supreme or Champion (yes, Champion’s super hot in street fashion these days) for this younger audience?
As we get closer to the launch of NBA 2K League, these questions will be answered.