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Volume 25 No. 25
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Sports Executives Dish On Converting Traditional Fans Over To Esports Movement

More than a few attendees of the first Lagardere Sports esports Rising conference noted that esports are an overnight sensation -- decades in the making. But beyond the massive grassroots movement, esports team owners with properties in traditional sports are looking to expand the games to fans of their other teams. Delaware North CMO Todd Merry said, “Being a convert myself, I’m loving it." But he added that it hasn’t been as smooth as he thought it would be. “I thought this would be easy, selling it to my executives and other sponsors and folks looking to get into esports,” he said. “We’ve spent over half of every meeting educating. A team is more like an organization. No, it’s not one title. Do they live at home? It’s much easier being a fan at events. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it.” When it comes to reaching new fans, 76ers VP/Strategy Akshay Khanna said, “Social media is the easy answer. Players, streamers, people who own teams have massive followings; that overlap works well. In-person events are helpful. My ah-ha moment was going to an event, and I became a true evangelist and true believer. ... Events are a great place to get people who aren’t fully bought in, then you get to them using social and digital.”

CROSSOVER EFFECT: Monumental Sports & Entertainment Dir of esports Business & Team Operations Grant Paranjape said that while hardcore esports fans will know the company’s Team Liquid, they’re trying to reach more people by activating through their other sports teams, such as the Wizards or Capitals. Paranjape: “We want to show those fans if you’re a fan of the Caps, you can be a fan of the Team Liquid.” Merry said they are being careful not to “beat (hockey) fans over the head” with esports, but he pointed out that traditional sports team owners “should be worried about those esports fans who aren’t going to watch your team.” He added, “We did research about fans, and it was amazing the number of people who came to our building for esports and had never come to (Boston’s TD Garden) before.” In a similar vein, Rockets Dir of esports Development Sebastian Park said, somewhat tongue in cheek: “I went to Madison Square Garden for the first time for a basketball game; I had been there for esports before. I told someone at MSG that ‘you put on a good show on the basketball side, too.’”

NBA AND ESPORTS: NBA owners and teams have been in the vanguard of adding esports teams. Khanna said, “The reason why the NBA is well-represented here: it’s one of the most progressive leagues. That starts with (Commissioner) Adam (Silver) and goes all the way down. Anecdotally, we have seen substantial pickup of fans who follow the Sixers and we’re now seeing more of them align with Team Digitas.” He added that the popular "NBA 2K" franchise is a good way to capture fans and casual gamers at the same time. “That is the perfect entrée into the game space,” he said. “Some may never play another game but 2K, but some will go on to play and watch other games.” The panel agreed that esports fans would likely watch, as they tend to follow gamers across titles and enjoy watching world-class competitors square off no matter what the game. Park said the NBA and esports can learn from each other when it comes to production values and data. “One thing esports can do more is more narrative explanation to make it easier to follow along,” he said. “If you haven’t played it’s hard to know who’s ahead. On the flip side, there’s something to say about the NBA having scoring available. The Rockets scored more 3’s than 2’s recently and it wasn’t known until the end of the game. It would’ve been useful to know that during the game but in Dota it would’ve been known and commented on.”

For more coverage of the business of esports, visit our partners, esportsobserver.com.