NBA 2K League and the Jersey Opportunity

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.

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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.

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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.]

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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.

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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.”

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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.

Australia and Esports: The Challenges and Opportunity

Industry Guest Post: Dave Harris has spent over 15 years in traditional sports with his last major role being General Manager at National Rugby League.  Dave is currently the Managing Director of Guinevere Capital Esports & Entertainment with a portfolio including LG Dire Wolves, Supa-Stellar, SCG Esports High Performance Centre and The Next Gamer.


In Part 1, we looked at Australian esports focused on broadcasting partners, live events and Non-Endemic brands. In Part 2, we'll look at the challenges as well as the opportunity ahead.

 

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CHALLENGES

Infrastructure - Australia has a relatively small population (~24 million) spread across the world’s 6th largest country (5% of the world’s land area).  This combination of factors has meant the internet infrastructure has not been developed to the level one would expect for a first world country. 

Isolation - Aside from the infrastructure, the isolation of the country itself from the rest of the world means online completion against other countries (aside from the other main player in the Oceania region, New Zealand) isn’t practical.  This isn’t a technology problem but a “speed of light” problem due to the distances involved.

Developing under the microscope – There are many “developing regions” around the world but Australia is one with English as its native language, meaning that when something goes wrong - it is often pasted and debated in social media across NA, EU and beyond.  Aussie teams and players also sometimes generate international social media exposure by following the Australian tradition of not being intimidated by big name opposition (and making a point of telling them)

 

Gfinity In Australia (Photo: Joe Brady)

Gfinity In Australia (Photo: Joe Brady)

OPPORTUNITY

While its isolation and sparse population is in many ways a challenge, it means the Australian market is often used as a testing ground for western markets by global technology, sport and entertainment groups.  Twitter has run a number of esports broadcasts and collaborations with organisations such as Riot Oceania.  In traditional sport the country has also managed to “punch above its weight” over the years through innovation and the formation of programs such as the Australian Institute of Sport.  Without the same depth of talent in a small population, there is an imperative to develop and make the most of the talent which is present rather than having a “churn and burn” approach used elsewhere.

Playing Talent – Using Renegades in CS:GO as an example, Australian talent has previously felt the need to relocate overseas to be competitive.  Damien Chok is another example having won approximately $1m in 2017 playing DOTA2 - including winning The International with Chinese team Newbee.  However, with more direct access into global competition being opened up to Oceania, developing and playing domestically has become viable.  Some Australian teams are already managing to break through as top performers on the international stage such as Kanga Esports in Paladins.

Casting – One area Australia does over index in is casting where using League of Legends as an example, many of the biggest names are Australian such as Chris “PapaSmithy” Smith, Julian “Pastrytime” Carr and Max “Atlus” Anderson or cut their teeth in the region such as Indiana “Froskurinn” Black, Matthew “Fish” Stewart and many more.

Research & Education – The recently opened Esports High Performance Centre in the Sydney Cricket Ground precinct is an initiative mirroring the successful traditional sports model for developing talent.  A partnership is in place with the University of Technology Sydney sports science faculty with a number of programs being translated from their work and research from the sports world.  Similar facilities have been proposed by other Australian organisations including Legacy Esports at the Adelaide Crows base. 

Borderless Esports – Australia is a logical base to launch from into other underdeveloped market such as India and South Africa (through strong existing sporting links) or regional neighbours such as Malaysia and Philippines (with considerable internet penetration, English fluency and population).  The pyramid is upside down in esports compared to traditional sports, with amateur play financing professional leagues rather than vice versa.  The Australian population is not going to provide the same player base and opportunities that can be used to develop the scale that can be achieved elsewhere.

Governance – A global challenge of the industry is the perceived fragmentation and lack of governance, particularly when it comes to sponsors and governmental support.  The Esports Games Association Australia launched in late 2017 as a member based body aiming to unify the local industry using best practice principals from traditional sports governance.  Being at an earlier stage of the cycle, the opportunity is available to implement a self-governance system for key stakeholders in Australia.

 

CONCLUSION

While Australia has only just started its esports journey into the mainstream, there is a lot of optimism that the gap with other regions can be closed avoiding the pitfalls that have been experienced elsewhere.  Huge opportunities still remain in the region while people may feel they have missed the boat in other places.  2018 is going to be an exciting year down under and worth keeping an eye on!

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.

eSports and Music: The Next Opportunity

ESPORTS AND MUSIC: THE NEXT OPPORTUNITY

Electric Daisy Carnival 2016 (Photo: EDC)

TNL Take: The pace of evolution in eSports has been astonishing even to me.

Outside of the massive moves last week, the Business news continues to flow.

For perspective, I've delayed releasing the TNL 2017 Collegiate eSports Report, 2016 China eSports VC Investment Analysis, 5 Major Brand Deals and a slew of other news simply to focus on these recent big deals. 

On Saturday night, at a perfectly timed announcement before he went to perform in front of a massive TwitchCon 2016 audience; Superstar, Multi-Millionaire DJ Steve Aoki announced he was investing in Vegas based eSports organization ROGUE.  

DJ Steve Aoki Invests In ROGUE (Photo: ROGUE)

Aoki has said many times he's a lifelong gamer and was even at PAX East this year, so the investment is not out of the ordinary.

This is what is interesting.

ROGUE, unlike recent purchases of Dignitas and Team Liquid which were both established many years ago; were only formed 5 months ago. Further, ROGUE only has 2 teams, of which both of them are primarily European.

My guess is the Vegas connection and the opportunity to get in early is what triggered this deal. Oh, and I don't think he needed to take out a loan.

Aoki made $23M in 2015 alone.

DJ Steve Aoki at Hakkasan (Photo: Hakkasan)

Why would Aoki make this investment?

Because the music "industry" as per the days of Fleetwood Mac, Michael Jackson and Britney Spears - is dead.

The smart people in the music industry - and Aoki is one the smartest combined with the most hard working - knows he can leverage his music, clothing line and slew of other business's with eSports. Aoki even released a Mobile game a while back.

DJ Steve Aoki At E3 (Photo: Doritos)

Aoki wasn't the only person in the music industry making noise this weekend.

Tracy Lauren Marrow - who I would know as making the amazing 1991 album OG. Original Gangster as Ice-T - or you may know as the undercover narcotics officer Fin on Law and Order: SVU, turned into Counter-Strike commentator at ESL One in New York by providing analysis on why Team Liquid beat Fnatic.

Just click this and listen to him go off.

BTW, if this is some crazy GEICO promotion, as they coincidentally sponsor Team Liquid and had Ice-T in a recent commercial- Seriously, you guys rule.

And there was actually a third.

As I was naturally raiding the Red Bull in the VIP area at ESL One New York, I look to my left and there was a personal Hip Hop Hero of mine, Pusha-T. I won't share any of our conversation but it was a dream come true for me. Check out his Instagram Stories for his thoughts on eSports or my Tweet featuring the World's Worst Selfie Ever Taken.

So to this end - I absolutely know there's an opportunity between Music and eSports.

On the mountain that is currently the "I Need To Dig Into This Deeper" pile, Ill add this.

But know of any US city that hosts plenty of World Class DJ's, looking for the young demographic and more importantly, would kill for idle time at their many, real estate locations in between eSports Events?

I can name one.