Monumental Sports & Entertainment Senior VP/Strategic Initiatives Zach Leonsis predicted that the NBA will add int'l teams to its NBA 2K League in the near future during a panel discussion on Thursday afternoon at SBJ HQ in Charlotte.
The panel, which included Leonsis, NBA President of Team Marketing & Business Operations and Chief Innovation Officer Amy Brooks, MGM Resorts Int’l President of Interactive Gaming Scott Butera and ESPN Exec VP/Programming & Scheduling Burke Magnus, talked about the future of the NBA, how the league and its partners can innovate the game moving forward, and it's int'l plans. The discussion was attended by business execs gathered in the city ahead of the NBA All-Star Game.
Leonsis said of the NBA 2K League possibly adding int'l teams in the near future, "It could be the first of the four leagues to really have international franchises, which is really a perfect characteristic of esports.”
However, when asked about the future potential of int'l NBA franchises, Brooks was hesitant to say whether the league would expand overseas. "We’re looking at the challenge of where we play and how we get there and how long it takes as a hurdle. However, there are some markets in North America, as well," she said. "Obviously, we’ve played games in Mexico City, we’ve talked about the development of that market. The interest in Asia is amazing, but the time difference is a challenge for putting a team there. To Zach’s point, though, we can do that with an NBA 2K team."
MGM's Butera deadpanned, "Why go to China when you could go to Vegas?"
Panelists also discussed how the industry can personalize viewing experiences for fans, how sports betting will change things going forward, and how teams can improve the in-arena experience.
Brooks said the NBA is looking at ways to better understand what fans want when they attend games, and how to cater the experience to fit those desires. “You’re going to see this notion of personalization," she said. "Not just come to the streaming product or a broadcast product, but in-arena."
Leonsis said one example that has been discussed by MS&E is adding sports betting capacities to Capital One Arena. He added, "We do imagine one day potentially having a brick-and-mortar sports book at our building. … It’s a challenge but it’s not an insurmountable one."
Magnus said a major priority for ESPN is how to monetize its audiences, primarily through personalization and alternative feeds. "We aren’t precious about how we get people to come, we just want them to come," he said. Meanwhile, Butera mentioned esports and its “enormous” potential as something the sports industry, MGM included, can learn from. "Even in markets where you don’t have an actual real live money wager in game, you can still make a lot of money," he said. "Fortnite is free to play, and it makes $1B in revenue, so I think there are applications that we can do that are like that."