Activision Blizzard’s two city-based esports leagues are seeing positive signs in ticket sales for early season events, but sources conceded that market results have been mixed heading into this crucial year.
The franchised Overwatch and Call of Duty leagues are embarking on new traditional sport models that include city-based teams hosting events and traveling globally for away games. Ticket revenue has thus turned into an integral revenue stream for franchises.
CDL’s season opener last weekend in Minneapolis was slated to sell out The Armory for all three days of action, with a total of 10,000 fans in attendance, according to the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal, an affiliated publication. That event was hosted by the Minnesota Rokkr, which is owned by the Minnesota Vikings’ Wilf family. Meanwhile, New York Excelsior owner Scott Wilpon said the OWL season opener his team is hosting next month is expected to sell out the 2,200-seat Hammerstein Ballroom.
Those early highlights have Pete Vlastelica, CEO of Activision Blizzard Esports and OWL commissioner, feeling cautiously optimistic about ticket sales this season.
“The early events that are coming up the soonest are tracking really well, which is encouraging,” said Vlastelica, who added that a few teams are closing in on sellouts for their first home events. “We will be making sellout announcements this year, and that’s an accomplishment.”
All OWL teams are hosting at least two homestands in 2020. OWL teams receive 50 percent of league revenue from ticket sales, media rights, merchandise and sponsorship, among other items. Most OWL teams have yet to turn a profit, but this is the first year for them to earn ticket revenue.
While Vlastelica was buoyed by early season ticket sales, he admitted that some teams are doing better than others. A separate source noted that some teams have benefited on tickets sales from building up their staffs with executives who have experience in running events.
“Teams are learning; it’s the first time a lot of organizations have had to do this in any capacity,” Vlastelica said. “Some of our teams are owned by traditional sports organizations but not all, so it’s a steep learning curve.”
Teams can set their own pricing on tickets. The Houston Outlaws’ single-day tickets for their first homestand this season cost between $50 and $90, the Boston Uprising’s are $40-$150 and the Philadelphia Fusion’s are $45-$150.
Wilpon, whose family owns the New York Mets, said Excelsior is pacing toward a sellout for the league opener despite not discounting any tickets or doing any paid advertising.
“Local markets represent a huge competitive advantage as we launch and grow this business; it easily differentiates our brand in a pretty crowded landscape and really gives us purpose and focus as an organization,” he said. “We have a massive consumer base in New York that’s already interested in gaming, and this gives them a reason to support us — the value of that alone can’t be overstated.”
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