The Overwatch League is seeing more interest from bidders in this round of media rights negotiations, according to Commissioner Pete Vlastelica, a positive sign for the property and a possible indicator of change afoot.
The second-year esports outfit has media deals with ABC/ESPN for linear TV and Twitch for digital streaming. Those deals started in 2018, the first year of the league’s existence, and expire after its second year. The league is in the market discussing possible renewals or new deals, and sources say the property has several options developing.
During the Grand Finals weekend in Philadelphia just over a week ago, Vlastelica declined to disclose who the league is talking to or when new deals will be announced. But he conceded that the property has seen an increase in interest from media companies.
“We’re kind of in the thick of it now, but so far the conversations have been great, and I think it’s safe to say there is more interest this time around than in our first rights cycle two years ago,” said Vlastelica, who has a media background, having joined Activision Blizzard Esports from Fox Sports. “We’re into more serious conversations now than we had then, which is very encouraging.”
The league would not disclose if it’s using an outside agency in the media rights talks.
The Twitch deal has been reported as worth $90 million over two years, for an average of $45 million annually, although those figures have never been confirmed. The financial structure of the ABC partnership has not been disclosed.
Vlastelica said the interest is both from well-known streaming platforms, new digital platforms and legacy media companies. While the exact bidders were not known, competitors to the Amazon-owned Twitch, such as the Microsoft-owned Mixer, have been stepping up their spending in the gaming space to chip away at Twitch’s market share. New streaming platforms also are emerging, like the recently announced Venn Network, which its founders say is starting to bid on undisclosed esports properties.
For the 2019 regular season, Overwatch League averaged 313,000 viewers globally and 95,000 in the U.S., according to Nielsen, up 18% and 34% annually, respectively. The league is touting its youthful demo, citing Nielsen data that shows it averaged 55,000 viewers in the U.S. in the 18-34 demo, with a median age of 24.
For the 2019 Grand Finals, ABC earned a 0.2 final rating and 300,000 viewers, while the event hovered around 250,000 viewers on the main league Twitch stream. The league had not issued official numbers before deadline.
The league shares media revenue with teams, so the next deals are crucial, since most of the league’s franchises are still working to become profitable. Team revenue will rise next year when the league’s 20 franchises start hosting homestands regularly, but a boost in media rights dollars would be a welcome development.
While a renewal with Twitch would be logical in many respects, the platform has started trying to broaden its base beyond the gaming and esports world. Some industry experts have questioned whether it will want to pay the same amount or more for a renewal.
“There are new kinds of dedicated streaming platforms that need content, and traditional media companies trying to build digital businesses, and they know that live content is a great way to build a platform,” Vlastelica said.
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