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:


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.

eSports Week In Review | eSports Youngest Sports TV Viewer, PWC's Real Research, Pro Hockey Invests


Twitch eSports Arena Presented By T-Mobile (Photo: Twitch)

Twitch eSports Arena Presented By T-Mobile (Photo: Twitch)

TNL Take: This biggest gaming conference in the US - E3 - revealed a ton of eSports related news and brand deals which will be looked at deeper.

This week, the next The Next Level was revealed, PWC released a realistic eSports revenue report, Pro Hockey investment increases, and as the sports tv viewer ages, eSports remains the youngest.


MONDAY 06/12

The Next The Next Level

The Next Level (Graphic: Jordan Fragen)

The Next Level (Graphic: Jordan Fragen)

PWC's 2017 Global Entertainment and Media Outlook (Photo: PWC)

PWC's 2017 Global Entertainment and Media Outlook (Photo: PWC)

EA Sports NHL 94 aka The Best Hockey Game Ever Made™ (Photo: Racketboy)

EA Sports NHL 94 aka The Best Hockey Game Ever Made™ (Photo: Racketboy)

TNL Infographic 046: Sports vs. eSports Viewership Ages (Source: Magna Global/Sports Business Journal/Nielsen Infographic: Jordan Fragen)

TNL Infographic 046: Sports vs. eSports Viewership Ages (Source: Magna Global/Sports Business Journal/Nielsen Infographic: Jordan Fragen)


Have a great weekend!

As Sports Viewers Skew Older, eSports Is Youngest


The eSports Audience: Younger Than Sports (Photo: Riot Games)

The eSports Audience: Younger Than Sports (Photo: Riot Games)

TNL Take: Recently Magna Global in a study for the SportsBusiness Journal used Nielsen data across 24 sports to analyze how the median viewership ages have changed from 2000-2016.

"Going gray: Sports TV viewers skew older" (Source/Photo: SportsBusiness Journal)

"Going gray: Sports TV viewers skew older" (Source/Photo: SportsBusiness Journal)

It's a great article filled with actual data and worth your time to read but a quick TL/DR:

  • Headline "Going gray: Sports TV viewers skew older"
  • The median age for Golf is ~60
  • The NHL saw the biggest increase in media age increase (+16 years) from 2000 to 49
  • 3 of the 4 major US sports leagues (NFL, MLB, NHL) are ~50 or higher

Why wouldn't they include eSports?

No data going back to 2000, only 1 data point from 2006 (MLG on USA Network) and no 100% apples-to-apples to comparison for eSports in 2016 yet. So all fair points.

But I was curious so I did it anyways.

Here's how Sports viewership on TV compares with eSports on TV: 

Before we get into the data a few HUGE caveats:

  • The Magna Global/SBJ data is quantitative Nielsen data over time. The 32 median age for eSports is based on Nielsen's 2016 eSports report which is a survey. So while not a true exact comparison, it's the closest publicly released data point available.
  • I won't even compare major Sports viewership vs. eSports - it's not even close
  • While eSports viewers are almost 2 decades younger than an NFL viewer, the ad revenue is the size of an ant compared to the blue whale money machine of football

So how close can we get to accurate data?

Let's say...you may hear some news shortly. But there are a 2 additional data points I can add:

  • There have been 50+ eSports programs on TV in the US from 2016 to today
  • The average of those 50+ programs is ~55% within the 18-49 demo

While that still doesn't give us a definitive median age for eSports on TV, the current data falls closely to the 32 survey age.

However, I didn't include this point in the chart to avoid confusing digital and TV - please stop that already - but in terms of media and eSports future, I believe it's important:


While the median age of eSports on TV is ~32, the media age on streaming platforms is even lower at 25


TV is a $70B+ industry in the US.  The NBA Finals draw 20M+ viewers - which has increased for the past 3 years. TV is not disappearing anytime soon especially with digital media mired in the  "programmatic/DSP/SSP, it's-not-adtech-its-martech, brand safety, what's-a-view-exactly" mud.

But if your target audience is 18-49 and you believe that moving (1) :30 second commercial spot for $250,000 to eSports is not worth your time - your competitors will.