By Barry Janoff
February 9, 2017: Calling it "a unique opportunity to develop something truly special for our fans and the young and growing eSports community," the NBA and Take-Two Interactive Software have unveiled plans to launch the NBA2K eLeague.
The pro competitive gaming league is intended to “bring together the best basketball gamers in the world."
According to the NBA and Take Two, this would be the first official eSports league operated by a U.S. professional sports league. They also said the "groundbreaking competitive gaming league" would consist of teams operated by actual NBA franchises.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver said that "all 30 teams have expressed interest in creating e-versions of themselves for the NBA2K eLeague," which is scheduled to begin in 2018.
"We believe we have a unique opportunity to develop something truly special for our fans and the young and growing eSports community," Silver said in a statement. "We look forward to combining our best-in-class NBA sports team operators with Take-Two’s competitive gaming expertise to create a brand new league experience."
The formation of the NBA2K eLeague comes as eSports is in a decidedly upward growth period.
In 2016, the eSports economy hit $493 million, a 52% growth over the previous year, according to research and marketing firm NewZoo, San Francisco. eSports events reached 148 million "enthusiasts" and another 144 million "occasional" viewers last year.
One key reason for the NBA to move into the eSports category: "Of the 80 million American basketball fans, 9.6 million are also into eSports," according to NewZoo. "(And) basketball clubs investing in eSports have the potential to reach 10.3 million new eSports fans currently not into basketball."
Among NBA-related people already in the eSports space via investment and/or participation are Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, Shaquille O'Neal, Magic Johnson, owners of the Philadelphia 76ers and media companies Turner Sports and ESPN.
The news of the NBA2K e-League comes a week after Electronic Arts Competitive Gaming Division revealed broadcast partnership deals with ESPN, NFL Network and Univision to "bring the competitive gaming experience to a broader, global audience."
EA said its alliance with ESPN would "mark the first time the network has ever aired an eSports event in the United States."
The FIFA Ultimate Team Championship Series Paris Regional Final aired on ESPN this past weekend (with additional coverage on ESPN2, ESPN Deportes and ESPN3).
EA said it was extending its broadcast partnership with NFL Network and Univision following the success of the Madden Classic tournament broadcast on both networks this past December.
The deal includes the three remaining Madden NFL EA Majors tournaments this season: Madden Bowl, Madden Challenge and the Madden Championship, starting this weekend.
The NBA alliance with Take-Two dates back to 1999. Since then, the NBA 2K series has sold more than 68 million units worldwide, according to Take-Two.
"We believe we have a unique opportunity to develop something truly special for our fans and the young and growing eSports community."
NBA 2K17, the most recent release, has sold nearly 7 million units since its release this past September and is on track to become 2K’s highest-selling sports title ever, according to the company.
"We are proud to expand our strong relationship with the NBA and co-create the NBA 2K eLeague," Strauss Zelnick, chairman and CEO for Take-Two, said in a statement. "Through the NBA 2K series, which is renowned throughout the world for capturing the authenticity of the NBA and the passion of its fans, we have a proven track record of highly successful collaboration.
"With this new venture, Take-Two and the NBA aim to fuel the accelerating growth of eSports and take the thrill of competition to exciting new heights."
eSports Nearing NFL, MBA, MLB Levels In Marketing, Money
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