Why E LEAGUE's Ratings Do and Don't Matter


(Photo: Turner)

TNL Take: I've probably spent more time thinking about E LEAGUE than any person not getting a paycheck from Turner.

And that's all good.

Turner took by far the biggest gamble a US based Media company has made in eSports and I hope that over time we look back at this like what the 1936 Berlin Olympics did for TV - and not another Terra Nova.

While I've spent the majority of the coverage on the ratings, ultimately that may not even matter.

But let's start with why they do.


/01 Ratings Do Matter

Ratings and viewership matter for one reason.


If you don't hit your numbers, there are a million people selling content for Brands to partner with. 

So how did E LEAGUE do?

E LEAGUE Season 1 TV Ratings (Graphic: The Next Level)

For Season 1, E LEAGUE averaged 255,000 Total Viewers on TBS - or the same as Week 1 which makes the reference I used in my first analysis back in June in The Next Level 009 still applicable.

E LEAGUE vs. Big Bang Theory (Photo: The Next Level)

I don't know what Turner promised their Brand clients but I just can't believe it delivered the audience guarantee.

The other side - how much more revenue can you make with 1.2M more viewers?

But what's more troubling is the decline in the 2nd half of the season. 

Did Valve's gambling ban really have that much of an effect?

Whether it did or not, there's still a 10% decline post ban and the Finals showing the biggest drop to date.

For perspective, if Week 3 didn't go against the NBA Finals, E LEAGUE's Finals would have had the worst ratings of the Season.

On a Saturday afternoon no less vs. the Friday graveyard slot.

From the analysts I've spoken with - whom I'd rely on for their perspective here - and various random public polls, it seems to have come down to a mix of:

Gambling Ban + Format + Time Change + EU Teams + Too Much Counter-Strike

Ill let you decide which was the most important factor.


What about Twitch?

 E LEAGUE Season 1 Twitch Viewership (Graphic: The Next Level)

Because the Twitch feed wasn't the main feed it's understandable why the viewership was so low and pretty much negligible in the US.

But why would you see the exact opposite reaction to TV and see a surge in viewership?

I have no idea.


From a Brand perspective, there’s usually one clear sign of a successful Ad program:


Unfortunately that’s also not the best gauge as I’ve already addressed due to the major concern for Gaming for the past decade:

"That was awesome. We’re going to do something else now. Thanks!"

E LEAGUE will also be tough to analyze as the Big 3 – Arby’s, Buffalo Wild Wings and Credit Karma - all signed a Two-Season agreement.

Let’s see if a few of the late additions like Geico and Dominos come back for Round 2.

I've analyzed viewership enough so let's get to the potentially more important part.


/02 Ratings Don't Matter

Anytime I speak with someone at a Professional Sports team, at a high level the eSports opportunity is:

Marketing + Monetization

Similarly, you can look at Turner’s eSports experiment in the same manner.

While the first focused on the monetization, what if E LEAGUE was a grand marketing scheme for Turner overall?

Here's Turner's marketing moves over the past few years:


Let's throw some numbers out.


  • E LEAGUE costs at $10M - $20M.
  • Revenue at $5M - $10M.
  • And for easy math leaves us with a $10M loss.

What's a $10M loss for Turner?


Almost nothing as Turner generated $10B in revenue in 2015.


Now lets expand Marketing to leverage eSports content across Time Warner's asset portfolio. Some ideas just for fun:

Cartoon Network: Cartoon/Anime/Short Form Video or even cross promotion - like this partnership with Machinima.

Bleacher Report: Scores, News, Editorial, Podcast - Check, Check, Check and Check and all already in place.

HBO: Real Sports did a story on eSports back in 2013. Someone’s going to do the Hard Knocks for eSports and Vice type content – if it’s not Vice themselves. Also documentaries. 

WB: Film and TV potential.

Sports Teams: Turner no longer owns the Atlanta Hawks or Thrashers  but could have been leveraged just as European soccer teams have.

Theme Parks: Time Warner also no longer owns Six Flags but another point tied to events and core audience.

WB Games: WB already tried to make a successful eSport title with Infinite Crisis but failed for many reasons. Now imagine if there was full Time Warner support across all these touch points?


If all that sounds familiar about another mult-billion dollar media company – it is.


And Ill be covering that company soon.


Lots of credit to the Turner team for putting on a fantastic production and willing to make the first move.


Let's see what's in store for Season 2.