“The coronavirus has wreaked havoc with live sports programming and sports fans everywhere. Television networks are scrambling to fill the programming void without basketball, baseball, hockey, soccer and other live sports. To fill the programming void (but not the ad revenue void), ESPN, Fox Sports and other networks have been airing replays, sports-themed movies, documentaries and esports. Esports is competitive video gaming, usually played by professional gamers and watched by spectators.
Esports on TV |
Although esports is primarily available for viewing online, televising live esports is not new. Over the past five years, a number of cable and broadcast networks have televised esports, including ESPN2, ESPNU, ESPN Deportes, DisneyXD. The NFL Network, TBS, CW and even CBS. In July 2017, CBS televised Candy Crush Saga in prime time and averaged four million viewers.
In recent weeks, more esports contests have been appearing on television. ESPN created a branded ESPN Esports Day which included 12 hours of programming on April 5. Included in the programming were televised virtual games from Madden NFL20, Formula 1 Esports Virtual Grand Prix, Rocket League (which combines soccer with rocket-powered cars) and the opening round of a 16-team NBA 2K20 tournament event. For the NBA 2K20 tournament, players included NBA stars (and video game aficionados) Kevin Durant, Donovan Mitchell (both recovering from the coronavirus), Trae Young and the tournament winner, Devin Booker. Booker won $100,000 to be donated to coronavirus relief efforts.
Fox Sports has also been televising esports on their networks, including a Madden 20 tournament featuring former quarterback Michael Vick and other NFL players. Derwin James, a safety on the Los Angeles Chargers, won the eight-player tournament, defeating Vick in the championship game. FS1 also televised an eNASCAR pro Invitational iRacing Series that averaged an impressive 903,000 viewers. Up next on Fox Sports is the inaugural eMLS Tournament.
Esports Online |
With the coronavirus and persons quarantined, esports has been flourishing online. As reported by StreamLabs and Stream Hatchet, Twitch, YouTube and Facebook all reported significant increases with online viewing in first quarter 2020. As an example, Amazon’s Twitch reached a record high 3.1 billion hours watched, up 17% from the previous quarter. Twitch also reported a 33% growth in unique channels and record high in average concurrent viewing with 1.4 million.
In first quarter 2020, YouTube reported 1.1 billion hours watched, an increase of 13% when compared to fourth quarter 2019. YouTube also reported a record high 500,000 concurrent viewers during the quarter. Facebook Gaming also had a strong quarter, reaching 554 million hours. This growth in gaming was validated by Verizon, which reported that, since the quarantine, video game usage in the U.S during peak hours grew by 75%. By comparison, overall web traffic was up by 20%, video streaming usage increased by 12% and social media usage was flat. Twitter said conversations about esports grew by 71% during the second half of March (when the coronavirus pandemic impacted live TV sports), compared to the first two weeks of the month.
Esports’ popularity has been on the upswing for years. According to NewZoo’s latest Global esports Market Report from February 2020, global revenue will reach $1.1 billion in 2020 with China the largest market ($385 million). This is an increase of 15.7% from 2019 and more than double the revenue of 2016. NewZoo projects revenue to surpass $1.5 billion in 2023. Sponsorship is the largest revenue source, contributing 58% to the total, followed by media rights at 17% and merchandise/ticket sales at 11%.
Globally, the awareness of esports has also grown substantially. In 2020, 1.955 billion people were aware of esports, compare to 1.1 billion in 2016. The esports audience will reach 495 million worldwide in 2020, with 223 million defined as frequent viewers/enthusiasts and 272 million occasional viewers. This is a sizeable increase from 2016, when there were 121 million frequent viewers/enthusiasts and 160 million occasional viewers. Its projected by 2022 there will be close to 300 million frequent viewers/enthusiasts to esports.
A McKinsey report said in the U.S., there are over 20 million esports fans, 83% are male and 84% are younger than 35. Among U.S. men under age 25, 38% are esports fans and on average watch nearly one hour of esports each day. Furthermore, 10% of esports fans report watching over 20 hours per week, although only 13% responded that esports is the only sport they watch. Among 18-34 viewers, the League of Legends is now the third most popular professional sports league after the NBA and NFL.
Video gamers between the ages of 18-25 spend 77% more time watching other players online than watching broadcast sports. A Nielsen analysis found over 60% of esports fans on Twitch do not watch linear TV on a weekly basis at all and half don’t have a paid TV subscription. The people in this age group are among the lightest viewers of television, are heavy users of streaming content, grew up playing video games and are a popular demographic to target among advertisers.
Since esports has a desirable viewing demographic and is growing in popularity, more “blue-chip” advertisers are sponsoring events. There are many opportunities and strategies for esports sponsorships. Nielsen reports sponsorships can range from on-air signage and branded content to digital overlays and apparel. Esports has evolved from experiential marketing for numerous advertisers. Many product categories targeting young males sponsor esports. The list includes soft drinks, quick service restaurants, consumer electronics, automotive, apparel, financial services, telecom and insurance companies. eMarketer projects ad revenue for eSports will reach $214 million in 2020, a 20% increase from $178 million in 2019.
With live sports on hold, casinos, which would have booked hundreds of millions of dollars with live sporting events are looking at esports to recapture some of the lost revenue. In April, Nevada Gaming Control permitted wagering on multiple esports events. This could popularize esports even more. Sports gambling has now been legalized in 17 states.
The coronavirus is expected to quicken trends already happening in the entertainment and sports industry. For example, consumers could subscribe to more streaming video content bolstered by several new launches. Cash-strapped consumers could accelerate cord-cutting. Studios could release movies in theaters and for at-home viewing simultaneously. Some newspapers may entirely forego printed editions and produce only online content. To this list you can also add broadcasters, who may add more esports to their programming lineups in order to reach a coveted younger audience”