By Barry Janoff
October 13, 2016: The power of eSports, which has been ramping up over the past few years, continues to grow, to the point where the number of players, fans and marketing and media impact is nearing NFL, NBA and MLB levels.
Among U.S. men ages 21 to 35, eSports "is as popular as baseball & ice hockey," with 22% watching eSports frequently, according to Why Sports And Brands Want To Be In eSports, a new study from research, consulting and marketing firm NewZoo, San Francisco.
Occasional viewers in the U.S. will reach 144 million this year, with 148 million enthusiasts. Those numbers will grow to 212 million casual viewers and 215 million enthusiasts in 2019, according to NewZoo.
Translating that into dollars and cents, revenue is expected to reach $493 million this year and top $1.1 billion in 2019, per NewZoo.
A separate study from NewZoo, supported by a report from Juniper Research, indicted that eSports audiences worldwide could reach NFL levels by 2017.
Looking at demographics, 56% of football fans in the U.S. are over the age of 35 vs. 27% for eSports, per NewZoo, an audience that skews younger and to the liking of many marketers.
Mainstream, non-endemic brands in the eSports landscape include Coca-Cola, Xfinity, Buffalo Wild Wings, General Mills, Vodafone, Sansung, Arby’s, Intel, MasterCard and Geico.
Turner Sports, ESPN, Fox, BBC, Yahoo and Sky Sports are among the media companies that have invested in the eSports category.
The study was conducted among more than 60,000 invite-only respondents from 27 countries.
Stressing the connection between eSports and some of the major pro leagues in the U.S., the study shows that 9.6 million eSports enthusiasts in the U.S. also watch basketball and that 6.6 million baseball fans who also are eSports fans.
Concurrently, 76% of eSports enthusiasts said that their eSports viewing is "taking away from hours they used to spend on viewing sports."
The study shows a great opportunity for eSports investors, brands and supports to reach pro sports fans in the U.S. Of an estimated 20 million eSports fans in the U.S., six million "do not watch baseball, basketball, hockey or football," per Why Sports And Brands Want To Be In eSports.
Among other observations in the study, 10.3 million eSports followers do not watch basketball, including 53% ages 21-25; and 13.4 million eSports followers do not watch baseball.
The study comes as the 2016-17 NBA season is about to begin and the 2016 MLB post-season is nearing the World Series.
The connection between eSports and the NBA is, perhaps, more solid than with other U.S. pro sports.
Recently, owners of the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers acquired eSports teams Dignitas and Apex. That followed in the footsteps of owners for the Golden State Warriors (Peter Gruber) and Washington Wizards (Ted Leonsis), who have invested in eSports properties.
Others with NBA-eSports ties include Shaquille O’Neal, Rick Fox, Jeremy Lin, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and Magic Johnson, who was part of an ownership group that recently acquired the Team Liquid eSports franchise.
In September, the Professional eSports Assn. was formed with the goal to "create a pro eSports league where owners and players work together to create the most compelling and competitive matches for all eSports fans," following the playbook of the owner-operated league "on a scale of the NBA."
If eSports would generate as much revenues per fan as the NBA, "it would be a $2.5 billion business today," according to the NewZoo study.
The study shows that 9.6 million eSports enthusiasts in the U.S. also watch basketball and that 6.6 million baseball fans who also are eSports fans.
Also last month, AEG, which owns, operates or oversees sports and entertainment venues, teams and platforms globally, and ESL, arguably the biggest and most influential eSports-specific organization in the world, signed a "strategic long-term global partnership" that will align each company's assets to further broaden the worldwide reach of eSports.
According to both groups, the partnership will enable ESL to utilize AEG's global network of more than 120 clubs, theaters, arenas and stadiums for qualifying events, tournaments, and world championships.
AEG venues include the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, London's O2 Arena, the Oracle Arena in Oakland and Staples Center in Los Angeles.
"The eSports industry is primed for incredible growth and we are thrilled to become an owner of such a storied franchise as Team Dignitas," Josh Harris, managing general partner for the Sixers, said when the eSports acquisition was revealed. "There is a tremendous opportunity to leverage the infrastructure, resources and experience of the Sixers organization to support these exciting teams as they continue to compete at the highest levels across multiple games.
"We see our entrance into eSports as a natural extension of our expanding interests in traditional sports and entertainment and are confident that our involvement will accelerate the already rapid pace of growth in eSports as a whole," said Harris.
ELeague, the pro eSports organization formed in partnership between Turner and WME | IMG, is in its second season featuring Valve’s Counter Strike: Global Offensive. Marketing partners include Domino’s, Credit Karma, Arby’s, Buffalo Wild Wings and HyperX.
“We’ve been very pleased with the performance of ELeague and the significant levels of engagement with our content across all platforms in our first season," Christina Alejandre, GM for ELeague and vp eSports, Turner Sports, said a statement. "In our second season, we’ve enhanced the schedule to make the stakes even higher from a competitive standpoint, while also creating an opportunity for a more open field.
"We believe this new format will keep our audience engaged with our content from the opening week through the grand finals and be more accommodating to team and player schedules," said Alejandre.
Among other findings in Why Sports And Brands Want To Be In eSports:
• 65% of eSports enthusiasts in the U.S. actively use Instagram vs. 44% of online population
• 35% of people aligned with eSports have a Spotify subscription vs. 13% of the online population
• 52% of eSports followers have an HBO subscription vs. 29% of the online population.
PHOTOS COURTESY NEWZOO
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