What Does Esports "Success" Look Like For Sports Leagues

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


I can guarantee you this: The five major U.S. sports leagues and the respective game publishers will see tremendous success as a result of their upcoming esports league journeys.

How to measure that success in the mid to long-term is obvious - increased game sales, sponsorship dollars, in-game purchases, viewership numbers, ticket sales, etc.

But how to evaluate in the short-term? What will set the table for long-term prosperity?

One measurement I use with many of the start-ups I’ve worked with lies in answering this one question:

“If you could caption one photo ‘Success’ (in this case, ‘Esports Success’), in your Instagram feed 2–3 years from now, what would that photo look like?”

For the sports video games and their leagues, the expected answer would be something along the lines of a photo of a rowdy, packed-to-the-brim stadium for an esports event or a capture of a headline outlining 2K’s micro transactions windfall.

But while each would be great, I strongly believe they may be too shortsighted.

I believe the photo mock-up below of a father and son in their respective Knicks/Knicks Gaming jerseys is the ideal “success” story:

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At first glance, you may think I’m crazy. The father and son aren’t even at an event. There aren’t any sponsors. There are only two people.

But the simplicity of this photo best illustrates what’s fueled every major success in sports — from Super Bowl LII, to $12 billion baseball broadcast deals, to $100 million player contracts — and that’s 2 words:

Shared experiences.

  • You want sponsorship dollars, focus on shared experiences.
  • You want a spike in game downloads and in-game purchases, focus on shared experiences.
  • You want viewers and increased loyalty, focus on shared experiences.

While the phrase may be cliché to some in traditional sports marketing, it may be unfamiliar yet more important to many in esports.

Bottom line, shared experiences drive revenues.

For example, nine hypotheticals looking at that photo:

  1. Isn’t that dad more prone to buying his kid a Knicks Gaming jersey versus an Overwatch jersey come birthday present time? Even if the kid spends more time playing Overwatch.
  2. Come tomorrow morning, isn’t that kid more likely to share with his dad NBA 2K League highlights than League of Legends highlights?
  3. Will that dad ignore his kid’s in-game purchases on his credit card because he’s a Knicks fan too? 
  4. Won’t that dad be more excited to take his kid to a game at Madison Square Garden, knowing that it’s also the home of the Knicks Gaming team? That kid will be more excited to go too.
  5. Won’t that dad be more proud to tell his New York City co-workers that his son is draft eligible by the Knicks gaming team than the Rocket League team? And thus encourage him to play more NBA2K.
  6. Won’t that kid go to the local restaurant/bar with his dad to watch both the Knicks NBA game and the Knicks NBA2K game on TVs side-by-side?
  7. That dad will surely attend the NBA 2K League finals with his Knicks jersey and his kid.
  8. When that kid isn’t sure if he should use his allowance to buy Overwatch or the NBA 2K League update, which do you think his dad will recommend?
  9. Won’t that dad be more apt to tell other parents the experience he’s had with NBA2K rather than another game like Fortnite - which his kid loves?

So what does all this mean?

Put best by Brian Solis, author of The End of Business As Usual:

“This is the time to define an experience, what it should be, what it should feel like, what it should evoke. Because, if you’re not creating the experiences you want people to have and share, then your brand and the impressions that are formed as a result are theirs to define.”

What success looks like for the five major sports leagues and the game publishers starts with what shared experiences look like. In these early days of esports for sports leagues, we have the opportunity to focus on getting these shared experiences right.

EA, Disney, NFL Sign Multi-Year Distribution Deal For Madden Esports

TNL Take: It's not even February and we've seen several major announcements related to esports media rights and sports leagues:

Now ESPN/Disney, NFL and EA have signed a multi-year exclusive distribution deal for Madden esports. The deal starts with this past weekend's Madden 18 Club Championship which involved all 32 NFL Club Champions and the upcoming Madden 18 Ultimate League this Spring.

Programming will be shown on numerous channels within ESPN and Disney networks: 

  • ESPNEWS: Madden NFL 18 Club Championship
  • ESPN 2/Deports: Madden NFL 17 Club Championship Finals
  • ESPN2: Ultimate League Championship
  • Disney XD/ESPN VOD: Episodic and shoulder content

The agreement shows that EA Sports and the NFL believe that there's a dearth of content during the NFL offseason and this is one way to engage the audience and potentially bring in younger viewers.

The most recent Madden esports TV program finished #1 for 2017 - however that was shown on The CW which is in more homes. 

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Here is the interesting question: For Madden 18, the content is also available digitally via several properties including Twitch, YouTube Gaming, Facebook, Twitter and Mixer.

Will Madden 19 see an exclusive digital partner?

Time will tell.

Esports Week In Review | Amazon and the NFL, NBA 2K League Branding, Rocket League Ratings Score

ESPORTS WEEK IN REVIEW | AMAZON AND THE NFL, NBA 2K LEAGUE BRANDING, ROCKET LEAGUE'S RATINGS SCORE

Esports Week In Review

Esports Week In Review

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Have a great weekend!

Amazon + NFL + Twitch + Esports = The Opportunity

AMAZON + NFL + TWITCH + ESPORTS = THE OPPORTUNITY

Last Week The NFL Thursday Game Was On Twitch (Photo: EA Sports)

Last Week The NFL Thursday Game Was On Twitch (Photo: EA Sports)

TNL Take: If you follow me on Twitter you can easily see my Amazon obsession. In the ever changing retail and digital landscape, either you're with Amazon or good luck.

This past Thursday saw a unique collaboration between the NFL and Amazon owned Twitch - not the NFL Amazon Video Thursday night deal but the ability to watch the Falcons vs. Saints game on Twitch for free.

Before we get into the performance, a quick recap of what's been covered already:

-Amazon's Twitch Prime Move Is Genius

-EA Madden, NFL, Amazon, Mobile And ESports

-Amazon + Ticketing + ESports = Opportunity

 

So what's this all mean?

 

Here are a few ways it ties together:

 

/01 IN GAME CONTENT

Twitch Prime In Game Content (Photo: Amazon)

Twitch Prime In Game Content (Photo: Amazon)

One of the genius elements of Twitch Prime is getting exclusive in game content like Madden card packs on a weekly basis. However as this is based on Amazon Video's deal there isn't the true in game content integration that Twitch has.

Until now.

I'd be surprised if Amazon would move their NFL content tied to Amazon Video off the platform onto Twitch for free but it does give a peek into what could work for future seasons.

 

/02 TICKETING

Ticket Fairy Powers TwitchCon 2017 Tickets (Photo: Twitch)

Ticket Fairy Powers TwitchCon 2017 Tickets (Photo: Twitch)

I still believe that Amazon will make a move into the ticketing vertical as it's another area ripe for disruption. In fact, as called out previously, Twitch did use the Ticket Fairy for TwitchCon 2017 tickets.

Purchase an NFL Ticket and get Prime for 6 months for free?

Buy an NFL Ticket and get exclusive in game content?

NFL Ticket purchase via Amazon gives you NFL Thursday night access for Free?

There are many ways this can play out.

 

/03 MERCHANDISING

NFL Merchandise On Amazon (Photo: Amazon)

NFL Merchandise On Amazon (Photo: Amazon)

Amazon is the #1 US online retailer and Top 10 overall retailer in the world. 1-hour Amazon Prime delivery is magic. Now combine this with the points above. 

Buy Amazon NFL Merchandise for exclusive in game content?

Purchase Amazon NFL Merchandise and then receive discount on NFL tickets?

Many more opportunities here as well.

 

/04 ESPORTS

All of this can be tied together for esports as well. While the examples above can drive engagement for Madden competitive gaming, this could easily translate to other titles and genre's.

Amazon recently snapped up the rights to the US Open in the UK and further adds fuel to the speculation that they will be bidding for English Premier League rights as well. FIFA esports anyone?

While there's no league affiliation, the integration of in game content, merchandising and events could translate to Amazon's suite of games to be released from their game studios.

So how did the first NFL game on Twitch perform? 

Not so well with ~10K Average Concurrent Viewership for the game.

For perspective, the Madden NFL Club Championship with the Miami Dolphins drew about 1/3 of that viewership...for esports. More than likely it had to with little promotion or marketing vs. the potential lack of audience.

 

While it may seem that the whole is greater than sum of its parts, this will still require the blessing of any sports league for full integration.

Hopefully that won't be an obstacle.