10 Ways The NBA 2K League Could Change All Sports Not Just Esports


NBA 2K League (Photo: Morris Strategic)

NBA 2K League (Photo: Morris Strategic)

The Next Level Industry Guest Post 012: Brett Morris is former President/COO of esports innovator Super League Gaming (SuperLeague.com)and former senior executive for Mark Cuban (MarkCubanCompanies.com). He can be reached at Brett@MorrisStrategic.com

The NBA 2K League is the most important venture for the future of sports. All sports.

Not just esports and not just the NBA. While it sounds like a bold statement here are 10 key reasons why it’s very easy to see how an innovative NBA 2K League will define and change a lot of what we know as sports fans, athletes and associated organizations.



/01 GAMEPLAN FOR OVER-THE-TOP PROGRAMMING, TELCOS, CABLE, PAYWALLS: With Millennials and Gen Z’ers as its focus, how will the NBA 2K League creatively sell media rights across apps, OTTs, Telcos, Cable, etc? 

The result could not only be a blueprint for future sport leagues, but actually dictate viewing habits for generations to come — especially when it comes to free versus paywall. 

While the NBA signed its most recent TV contract just a year ago, a lot has changed since then. With Apple, Amazon (its Twitch), Netflix, Hulu, Verizon, YouTube TV and others getting uber-competitive (and somewhat desperate at times) for premium content, the space couldn’t be hotter — especially for “live” and anything geared toward Millennials and Gen Z’ers.

The NBA 2K League media rights deal won’t be on the same planet, dollar-wise, as the NBA’s obviously, but it will be telling how the NBA is able to negotiate with the new/old players — for both 2K and the NBA’s future (are there elements they can tie together?). The NBA’s seasoned TV executives know the value and metrics of live TV better than anyone. 

The negotiations and learnings here will be massive data points for all sports. 

And, like the landmark Riot Games / BAMTECH deal (reported to be 6 years, $300 million), this is truly a digital first deal. Not to mention the possibilities in AR/VR which are just now taking shape.

/02 INDIA AND INTERNATIONAL MARKETING: The biggest hurdle to international expansion has always been, as Adam Silver once said, “the planes aren’t fast enough.” Obviously an online digital product, that mimics the game itself, changes the perspective, and provides for a much more economical means of marketing.

The NBA and NBA 2K already have deals with China’s Tencent — one of the world’s top 10 most valuable companies and builder of 2 new esports theme parks (yes, esport theme parks). And no league has had greater success overseas than the NBA, especially in China.

According to IHS Markit, China accounted for 57 percent of all online esports viewing globally last year. While the digital product isn’t the real thing, could it be? It’s easy to see how NBA 2K League teams based in NBA hot beds like India could come online soon. And who knows, the next “NBA star” in India could be an Indian-born 2K gamer, not an American shooting guard. Last season’s NBA Finals were the first ever broadcast in Hindi. 

The NBA and NBA 2K League’s impact in India alone (and their 1.2 billion population) could dictate, educate, and set the table for all sports leagues.

[Edit: Previous 2 part article on the Indian esports market as well as the NBA in China]



/03 INNOVATIONS IN BROADCAST COVERAGE: Imagine this: What if the TV hadn’t been invented and all we had was mobile phones to watch video

While this is just as much a task for the 2K programmers in Novato, CA, if I’m the NBA 2K League, this is how I’m thinking out of the gate. Even more: Gen Z’ers are consuming a tremendous amount of video in vertical formats on their phones, i.e. Snapchat Discover. While that’s hard to wrap a traditional TV producer’s head around, just imagine the opportunities for innovation — again, not just for NBA 2K League, but the Association itself and other sports leagues. 

Without any of the traditional “rules” of TV hindering a broadcast, imagine what types of innovations NBA 2K will come up with (I have some ideas!) and how each could possibly be used for traditional NBA broadcasts. The entire sports viewing landscape is evolving and the NBA and other leagues can use this as an incubator and testing ground for the next-gen fan.

What will the next “digital first down line” or “glow puck” be?


Dedicated Arena Rendering (Photo: Populous/Morris Strategic)

Dedicated Arena Rendering (Photo: Populous/Morris Strategic)

/04 NEW DEDICATED ARENAS WITH INTERACTIVE FAN EXPERIENCES (AND DYNAMIC PRICING): While the NBA 2K League will initially play its games at 1 main location, it’s easy to foresee how the expected success of the League could lead to brand new multi-use, several-thousand seat stadiums, geared for esports — especially since 2 other esport leagues starting in 2018 (Overwatch and League of Legends) will be city-based and looking for places to conduct live competitions. 

Just imagine the learnings from customization around gaming, the potential interactivity with the game and its players and the overall excitement and architecture of a dedicated, electric space. 

In fact, check out some of these architectural concepts, from the global architecture firm Populous here. Could these new arenas be used for other sports leagues, like the BIG 3 (3-on-3 basketball), MMA events, beach volleyball or EDM concerts?

Also, without the historical fan expectations, combined with the purchasing habits of gaming fans, could this also be the beginning of a U.S. arena ticketing model that is 100 percent variable, or even dynamic, pricing?



/05 SLEEVED JERSEYS, NEW MERCHANDISING OPPORTUNITIES, STREETWEAR: The market for collectible sneakers is estimated to be valued at $1 billion. The NBA and its players (and obviously Jordan) have the most influence over the success of that market.

Know who gets nearly zero revenue from that market?  The NBA or other sports leagues. The main reason behind the NBA introducing sleeved jerseys with Adidas several years ago was finding “something available to our fans that they would feel more comfortable wearing,” Silver said. Unfortunately, it wasn’t comfortable for the players. Sleeves won’t matter for the competitive gamer and there’s no reason their “official jersey” can’t have them.

Will the saturation of the collectible sneaker market open up the possibility of new collectible goods and the desire for something new and exciting? Imagine opening up the new NBA 2K League (or other sports league) team jersey designs to streetwear brands like Supreme, Bathing Ape (BAPE), Anti Social Social Club, etc. 

While NBA-licensed merchandise has always been a major revenue generator for the Association, the NBA 2K League could surprise here from day one and jumpstart a streetwear/collectible category no other league has conquered.



/06 RE-THINKING SPORTS MEDIA AND JOURNALISM: Millennials and Gen Z’ers have eight-second attention spans, prefer highly visual/video content (i.e. don’t read), spend 5 hours daily on mobile, and an insatiable desire to share content and achievements. Go to ESPN.com or any other current sports media site or app, including the NBA’s Turner-produced media sites, and they fulfill very few of these needs. 

It’s time for sports leagues to start with a blank slate/screen and come up with a new media network that is 100 percent custom-engineered for their bite-sized consumption habits.


/07 SOCIAL PROMOTION/CURRENCY TIED TO PLAYER CONTRACTS AND PLAYER VALUE: The success of the NBA 2K League will have a lot to do with the social promotion by its own players and not the League beating its own chest, especially with a Gen Z market where “authenticity” can make or break a product. 

When the League selects its first 85 players, surely presence on social media, especially YouTube and Twitch, will play a part in the selection. It should also play a part in the player’s contract. 

Right next to PPG will be YTS (YouTube subscribers) and IF (Instagram followers). NBA 2K YouTuber Chris Smoove has 3.7 million subscribers. Major League Baseball, as an entire league, has 943,000. I can only imagine that number would be much higher if Aaron Judge was contractually obligated to have a fan channel (and rewarded based on his audience numbers).



/08 CITY-BASED SPORTS MARKETING: There’s a massive, and very important, difference between all esports leagues and events conducted in the U.S. to date and many in 2018.

For the first time ever, the three main esport leagues (NBA 2K, Overwatch and League of Legends) will be city-based. Esports fans will have their own “home team” to root for.

Obviously this creates enormous opportunities but none greater on the marketing front — especially as directed to a younger generation. And none bigger for the casual fan. 

With every fan of the League 100 percent mobile, just imagine the possibilities for the League’s Rewards/Loyalty programs and the connections to local retailers. While many sports league’s have attempted similar local connections, the NBA 2K League’s audience will be the perfect incubator for success and failures to come.

/09 TIME FOR NEW “AMATEUR” SPORTS ORGANIZATIONS: Both the NCAA and Olympics have discussed opportunities in esports as possible inclusions to their existing structures - and the NBA has had its share of issues with both (from the one-and-done NCAA rule, to Olympic scheduling and revenues).

My advice: Stay away and start anew — for both the League, Association and other sports leagues. The possibilities are endless. Having dealt with both on major sports projects, I can tell you they are nothing more than unaccountable bureaucrats hiding behind the walls of amateurism, as I’ve explained in the past here.



/10: UNRESTRICTED MINOR LEAGUE, PLAYER DEVELOPMENT THINKING: The loudest chatter in the NBA 2K world these days is who the initial 85 players will be.

What will happen to the next several hundred that don’t make the cut, but pretty damn close. How will teams develop their rosters?

Not surprisingly, the NBA and other leagues have similar issues here, but ones that are also deeply governed by player unions and collective bargaining agreements.

The NBA 2K League has a chance to rewrite the script/rules, without burden, and could possibly come up with an innovative way for other leagues to learn from. Especially whether or not such a developmental league should be owned by parent clubs or independent organizations.