Exclusive: TNL and Wunderman eSports and March Madness Brand Study


2017 NCAA Champions UNC Tar Heels (Photo: Bob Donnon)

2017 NCAA Champions UNC Tar Heels (Photo: Bob Donnon)

TNL Take: Last year, Wunderman analyzed the March Madness fan during the tournament and what Brands they engaged with and purchased

With the explosion of eSports investment from Pro Sports teams, dozens of colleges providing scholarships and 30+ Brands investing in Q1 2017 alone; what does the eSports fan look like, what does the combined March Madness and eSports fan look like and how can Brands take advantage of this unique marketing opportunity?

The Next Level and Wunderman partnered on the first research study to find out who exactly was this March Madness and eSports audience, the overlap of this audience and how Brands could best benefit from investing in both the NCAA Tournament and eSports content.

The research study combined Wunderman’s audience research data, along with what these audiences were talking about on Social platforms and layered on top of their purchase behavior.

Here’s what we found:


The 2016 study showed that the average March Madness fan is primarily a 35-39 year old male, married with children and an income between $75K-$100K

The current study showed that the combined March Madness and eSports audience was even younger, had a higher annual income, but the most unique data point was that it wasn’t just the expected young males -  but young families as well.     

Young Families had a 201 index and having 3+ children in the Household also over indexed at 172.

Looking at the combined audience’s top 5 Brands buying preferences – Matchbox, Jiffy, Kodak, Dirt Devil and Magic Chef - essentially family based products, supports using both March Madness and eSports combined to reach this audience.



As the average eSports fan is typically a young male between 18-34, not surprisingly, Alcohol greatly over indexes for this category.

The eSports Audience is 3x more likely to purchase Jack Daniels (174 Index) vs. just the March Madness Audience (60 Index).

Budweiser is twice as likely to be bought by the eSports audience (123 Index) than the March Madness audience (63 Index), however by advertising to both audiences at the same time, it would increase Budweiser’s overall purchase intent by 12%.

“The brands that have bought into eSports are amazed not only at the ROI but that it's with the audience that’s just not consuming media in the ‘traditional’ manner.  What was amazing about the research was that when you combine eSports with your March Madness investment, not only do you get the eSports audience, but it actually influences overall purchase intent when combined with the March Madness fan” - Manny Anekal



According to Kantar Media, in 2016 the Auto Industry spent over $250M on March Madness representing the top Brand category with 18% of total Ad spend.

Auto Brands have finally realized the value of the eSports audience and the past year has seen deals with Audi and Subaru and a renewal between Turtle Wax and top team OpTic Gaming. Now car companies can use eSports to leverage their NCAA sponsorship and media investment.

Mini Cooper has double the purchase intent (260 Index) for the eSports audience vs. the March Madness audience alone (119 Index); however by including an eSports buy during the same time, Mini Cooper increases it’s overall purchase intent for the combined audience by 38%.

Buick, which is one of the biggest Auto ad spenders during March Madness, would increase reaching previous Buick buyers by 26% by also including eSports during tournament time.

“eSports is unique in that it offers brands an opportunity to connect with an increasingly hard-to-reach audience. When done right, the paybacks can be enormous but the trick is relevance. This is a community of very savvy gamers and they don’t want any distractions. The brands who succeed are those that truly understand this audience, how to reach them and can prove their commitment to the community.” - Jamie Gutfreund, Global CMO, Wunderman


TL/DR: Leverage eSports to augment your March Madness spend, target your exact audience, increase overall purchase intent, and greater ROI per overall investment compared with TV alone.

Time To Kill The "eSports Beats Sports Viewers" Stat


No eSports Isn't Beating The NBA In Viewers (Graphic: Riot)

TNL Take: If you read any Mainstream Media article on eSports, it pretty much starts like this:

Part 1: What’s eSports? It’s kids playing video games and getting paid for it. Can you believe it!

Part 2: Insert latest SuperData or Newzoo - nothing against those companies - projections on market size and revenue estimates.

Part 3: More people watched League of Legends than [Insert Sport of your choice]

For those that don’t know anything about eSports, the first two parts are totally fine for a new audience – although you know my thoughts on eSports projections.

 It’s Part 3 that I have the biggest issue with. Why?

Because it’s completely wrong.

Go ahead and Google “League of Legends beats NBA Finals” and see the results you get. I’ll even make it easier for you, here are the first four:

Results For "League of Legends Beats NBA Finals" (Photo: Google)

Now those aren’t just tiny gaming sites or some random blogs – is that term still used? – no, these are national if not international media organizations.



USA Today's League of Legends Headline (Photo: USA Today)



ESPN's League of Legends Headline (Photo: USA Today)


Kotaku's League of Legends Headline (Photo: USA Today)


Why would large media companies make statements like these?

Simple: It makes a great headline… and they don’t understand eSports metrics.

Here’s the reality.



When reporting on any TV or sports viewership data – be it the NFL or Mr. Robot – there’s a standard metric that’s been used for a very long time: Nielsen.

Nielsen’s viewership data is based on the “average” number of viewers who watched the entire program or event. It’s not the total viewers in the first hour, the last hour or even the maximum during one particular moment – it’s the average over the whole game.

Here are the Nielsen numbers for the most recent 2016 Sports Championships or Finals:

2016 Sports Championships and Finals Nielsen Ratings (Chart: The Next Level)


So does Nielsen measure eSports?

It’ doesn’t.

That’s why most reported eSports viewership data is all over the place: Maximum concurrent users, total minutes consumed, most social posts, engagement metrics, tickets sold, number of hot dogs consumed, etc.

So you can’t really compare Sports TV content with digital eSports content.

Yet the media still does.



Here’s a little secret that pretty much only people who work in the industry know: depending on the eSports game, the international viewership could be anywhere from 25% up to 75%.

The Nielsen viewer numbers don’t count how many people in the Ukraine watched the NBA Finals. It's only US viewers.  But eSports viewership data is global.

Another reason you can’t compare TV Sports vs. digital eSports.



The reality is that it’s really hard to make an apples-to-apples comparison between Sports and eSports viewership.

But I’m going to show you what I think is closer to reality.

There is always one stat that gets used for the #1 eSports game in the world: League of Legends. The headlines are usually “League of Legends Beats/More/Watched than [Insert Sport Here]”.

So let’s try to get this as close to Nielsen metrics as we possible can for some comparison:


  • The 2016 League of Legends Finals had a peak of 14.7M viewers.  That means at one given moment, ~15M people were watching. I’ll be very generous and let’s assume that the PEAK viewers was the actual AVERAGE over the entire game.


  • The Finals were between two South Korean teams – SKT and Samsung Galaxy. I’ll be very generous again and say that 50% of the US watched - but it’s probably much lower.


Taking those 3 factors into account, the relevant “Nielsen eSports Viewership” for the 2016 League of Legends Finals would be 7M – NOT 43M.


So has a League of Legends Finals ever beat the NBA Finals, The World Series or any other Sport in viewership?

Here’s how they stack up based on 2016:

2016 US Viewers: Sports vs. LoL (Source: The Next Level   Graphic: Jordan Fragen)

As you can see, eSports viewership as a whole in the US has a while to go to catch up to other sports.

Before the hate mail starts pouring in, what does this actually mean?

  • Is League of Legends over? No.
  • Is eSports a lie? No.
  • Is eSports dead? No.

Does eSports have a future? YES.

 As I’ve said many times “I don’t care about the next 12 months – I care about the next 12 years”.

I want to see eSports flourish, implement a healthy infrastructure and an ecosystem where players, teams and publishers can all benefit.  I hope that everyone from billionaires to sports teams to venture capitalists don’t expect The Next Big Thing tomorrow.  There's a massive global opportunity ahead.


Let’s not burst the bubble before we’ve even started