When you work in sports media, you come to focus on a few key methods of measurement when it comes to judging the reach and impact of the programming. Ratings are king and CPMs (Cost Per Thousand Impressions) rule the sales for that programming. Networks create high quality and engaging content so that viewers will choose to tune into their programming over their competitive networks. The more viewers who tune in, the easier it is to sell advertising. Advertising sales= profit.
What happens to advertising sales once sports content becomes global rather than national is very interesting. This is something I have been particularly fascinated by since I started working for the Electronic Sports League. ESL, the Electronic Sports League, puts on the largest esports events in the world as well as produces tens of thousands of hours of esports broadcasts each year. In case you didn’t know, esports is defined as a multi-player video game played competitively for spectators, typically by professional gamers.
There are many differences between esports and traditional sports, but the one I’d like to focus on now is the way it is broadcast. While major sports networks do give viewers the ability to stream content online, their main method of dispersing their content is through cable TV. When content is appealing to a global audience, the platform to disperse it has to primarily be online with cable being a secondary outlet. Cable providers are national entities, so international content has no choice but to live on the ‘world wide web.’ YouTube and Twitch are the two platforms that have become the dominant force in the game-streaming world.
On Twitch and YouTube, viewers can live anywhere in the world. Not only is attending an event no longer a prerequisite to the metrics surrounding it, but the broadcast is not exclusive to cable subscribers, regions, or even countries on YouTube and Twitch. While this may not be a formula to beat the dominance of say, worldwide soccer. It is a formula to overtake the dominance of single country sports- such as American football… eventually.
When you work in traditional TV media and 7 million viewers tune into a game- that isn’t a bad night. During ESL’s last event called the Intel Extreme Masters Katowice, 46 Million people tuned into the programming. The next step for capitalizing on this breadth of viewership is figuring out how to correctly monetize it. When viewers are from countries around the world, it becomes a very different sell then traditional cable sports media. US-based Geico may prefer to advertise to the 7 million people tuning into a Thursday night MLB game vs. the 46 million people across the world tuning into the Intel Extreme Masters. Procter and Gamble, however, might take those 46 million people any day over the MLB game only on in the US.
Countless articles are publicizing how esports are the next ‘big thing’ in the sports landscape. It is projected that esports will be a $1.5 Billion entity by 2020. While the numbers behind esports are impressive, I think it is unfair to compare esports to say, Ice hockey, when the nature of how esports appeal to audiences and are therefore monetized is so different. Because the mass appeal of esports is relatively new in terms of its consideration in the global sports economy, there is still a lot to be figured out about its value and the right ways to buy in as an advertiser. But what certainly cannot be ignored is that esports have arrived.