Episode 134 Snippets: James Giglio and MVP Interactive are Behind the Novel Fan Activations You’re Seeing in Sports

On episode 134 of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast, Neil chatted with James Giglio, Founder and CEO of MVP Interactive, a leader in experiential fan engagement activations, utilizing cutting-edge technology.

What follows are some snippets from the episode. Click Here to listen to the full episode or check it out and subscribe in iTunes or Stitcher.

Major Topics and Trends in the Emerging Esports Ecosystem

To call esports another ‘sport,’ tantamount to basketball, football and baseball, is doing a disservice to sports business. It’s an entirely new category – a seemingly endless and growing collection of competitions and ‘titles’ (games) that come and go, with innumerable leagues and business models springing up under this catchall umbrella of ‘esports’ as enterprising individuals and organizations seek to capitalize on the millions of fans consuming and participating in esports.

It was in this uncertain, opportunistic time that Sports Business Journal and Lagardère Sports partnered to hold the esports Rising conference in Los Angeles, bringing together the thought leaders and the movers and shakers in the burgeoning universe of esports to discuss where things are and where they may be going.

I didn’t attend the conference myself, but I was able to glean quite a few interesting thoughts and insights through the videos SBJ posted to Twitter from the event. An overarching theme is that these industry leaders recognize the inflection point at which esports currently lies, and everybody is trying to figure out how to assure all this potential turns into long-term, sustained, and growing success.

Why many are bullish on esports

Ken Hersh is an investor in esports because he can see the writing on the walls, he can see the signs that show why esports has not only arrived, but is here to stay. Just look at the younger generations now, the digital natives now starting to raise kids and the kids being born into this ecosystem themselves.

“Today’s parent is probably not going to take their kid to a baseball game,” he said. And given what we know about the genesis of sports’ affinities – how it’s typically during those years when a kid is 6-10 years-old when they fall in love with a sport and often inherit the sports their parents love – it’s no surprise many are concluding that the relative mole hill of esports fandom now may become a mountain in the years to come.

And Hersh also studies the experience of his kids, and how and why the sense of passion and community inherent to going to an arena, a stadium or a sports bar [not that esports can’t fill arenas] is also aflame with esports. It’s the ultimate lean-in experience for a fan and the barrier to entry for fans is slim to none.

“People who are gaming are having an intensely social experience, they’re just doing it in a room by themselves,” said Hersh “…It’s not a stadium of 20,000 people, but it kind of is – digitally.”

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esports does not have a linear future

What do you think about when you think about esports? The casual observer may know Fortnite and Ninja. The next level of informed fan may also know about Overwatch League, DOTA, and PUBG. That represents a small fraction of the competitive titles and leagues out there, however. And in an industry where monetization will largely rely on the growing demand and interest of corporate partners and media distributors, a couple of the panelists noted there is risk with ‘too important to fail’ aspects of esports. Because if brands decide to invest in esports, but for them that means only Fortnite and the very few transcendent megastars like Ninja (Tyler Blevins), that’s tantamount to brands saying they only want to work with LeBron and no other aspect or player in the NBA. And that’s not a recipe for sustained success.

The word ‘ecosystem’ was used multiple times – as in an ‘ecosystem’ of esports that needed to develop – beyond a single title and beyond even the currently prevailing ‘battle royale’ format of games that seems omnipresent at the moment, but wasn’t the case just a few years ago. They encourage esports-interested leaders and brands to think ‘holistically’ when it comes to esports strategy and not to solely focus on capitalizing the flavor of the moment because there’s no guarantee Fortnite will be #1 next year, let alone next decade.

“The industry is not yet robust enough that the failure of a major esport can be survived by other esports,” said Riot Games’ Head of esports North America, Chris Hopper, who cautions about the fickle nature of individual titles and inherent change in what the influential star players and fans are focused on, particularly for games that are conducive to becoming true sports.

“I’m not 100% convinced Fortnite has the strategic depth to survive as an esport for a decades-long span…To me, there’s a difference between esport and video game competitions…If (the biggest players) stop playing…they lose a massive chunk of what made that game incredibly special.”

Monetizing esports

There are millions of fans, sure, but as most Internet entrepreneurs can tell you, all the eyeballs in the world amount to little without an effective way to monetize all those fans. Compared to the longstanding major sports, the revenue per fan is much lower in esports. But that represents an enormous opportunity for the industry, the models for monetization are just now beginning to mature. And the options are plentiful.

It seems like the last few years have seen a proliferation of subscriptions. Maybe it’s for food delivery, for Netflix, for Amazon Prime, and, oh yeah, Internet and cell service, to name just a few. Well, there is an option for the IP owners to offer an option that eschews advertisers, a white-label solution of sorts, that drives revenue directly from the consumer.

But of course there are sponsors and advertisers. And if esports distribution rights are ever to maximize revenue, it’ll likely be through successful integration of brands. However, esports fans are notoriously tough, skeptical and eager to identify and shun marketing and advertising. It’s benevolently forcing a better paradigm in the sports industry, as brands recognize they have to do it differently for this audience and this space.

“You have to do something different for this particular audience who can sniff out marketing right away,” said Shiz Suzuki, AT&T Assistant Vice President for Sponsorships and Experiental Marketing.

She thoughtfully noted that it should not and cannot be about driving fans to retail first and foremost, they, as partners, must ‘drive benefits back to fans.’ This may be through awesome content, through interactive activities at events, through freebies and prizes, and it can get more creative from there. Christian Flathman, who works in sports sponsorships for ExxonMobil, identified a unique opportunity in esports, too – value-add activation into the game itself.

Flathman noted a sweet spot is to “take our product benefits that we put on the [race] track in real life (and) actually see a product benefit in a game also.” So maybe one’s character can drink a Red Bull to get some energy back or to grow some wings, they can view the board better thanks to AT&T or ClearEyes, or any number of integrations that fans and players will welcome, because it enhances the game and actually helps them in the game – a positive interaction and a relevant activation. This will be an interesting area to watch.

The structure and consumption of esports

It’s pretty cool to see a sport, a number of leagues, and a model for distribution, live events, monetization, and, well, everything be born in front of our eyes, particularly in this digital-first world. We’re seeing now how esports consumption is different from that of ‘traditional’ sports and some of the esports habits and features are even making the day to traditional sports, and a little vice-versa.

Turner Sports’s Executive Vice President and Chief Content Officer Craig Barry hit on some thought-provoking ideas on traditional sports presentation – emphasizing that these young fans don’t necessarily want to be dependent on the produced broadcast, they want to pick their own experience, cameras, and angles. But that’s if you can even get them to tune in in the first place – Barry noted the omnipresence and ease of access for highlights. For them, watching highlights is equivalent to watching the game. Barry knows they’re living in a time of transition and change – that’s not to say the experience of watching a full game, lounging in the EZ-Boy is dead, there are just other experiences to consider, too.

“There will always be a place to lean back and watch, but the day-to-day consumption of content – that landscape is changing, and it’s highly digital and mobile,” said Barry. “And therefore the habits of the way people consume content has changed. And esports is a primary driver of that.”

Another interesting area where esports and traditional sports look to share some similarities – kinda – is the power of superstars. Except it’s to the nth degree in esports. Yes, clubs in the NBA, NFL, et al. benefit greatly from star performers that turn heads on and off the playing field, but the financial viability of an esports franchise and league can rise and fall with a star’s ability to build, engage, and activate a fan base even more so than in other sports, where winning titles remains the most valuable objective. But an esports athlete that brings along with him/her a fan base, whether they’re #1 or #10 in their sport, is worth everything. They can help attract more sponsors, more viewers, more fans just as much or more, for now, than winning the Super Bowl of one’s esports competition. It’s a unique trait if esports, but not surprising for an industry and ecosystem that was born through digital and social platforms, beginning with Twitch streamers attracting audiences of millions – for their play, but also their personality.

Finally, Brendan Donohue, Managing Director of the NBA 2k League, offered some insight into how they’re envisioning a fully formed league with teams representing cities. The likely outcome will not be traditional home and away games, with teams traveling to and from opponent cities throughout the season, but is more likely to evolve as a ‘traveling studio’ in which the league visits each of the member cities to put on the competitions; a barnstorming of sorts. It remains to be seen if this is also the long-term vision for other esports leagues, as well.

 

Major pro sports was largely an invention of the last century, but here we are in 2018, watching a new sport arise to major participation, popularity, spectatorship, growth, and monetization. There remain several questions unanswered, more developments and models to come, but it’s the 21st century now, and digital gaming is no longer a curiosity or a niche; digital is the new way of the world.

 

 

 

How Val Persinger Is Helping to Lead ECHL Hockey into an Era of Growth and Innovation

On episode 125 of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast, Neil chatted with Val Persinger of the ECHL.

What follows are some snippets from the episode. Click Here to listen to the full episode or check it out and subscribe in iTunes or Stitcher.

Posted by Neil Horowitz

Follow me on Twitter @njh287 Connect on LinkedIn

SEAT Dallas Twitter Recap

In July 2018, the Sports and Entertainment Alliance in Technology (SEAT) held its annual conference, this year in Dallas. The events brings together thought leaders from throughout the industries to discuss the trends of the day and learn from each other.

What follows is a collection of the best quotes, insights, images, and observations shared via Twitter #SEATDallas from the event. Thanks to everyone whose tweets helped fuel this recap and to SEAT for always putting together a phenomenal event!

Fantasy, Fan Avidity, and What It Means to Be Invested in the Game

“Nikola Jokic signed today, too.” Hearing my brother fill me in on this news had me taken aback. Why? For years, my brother was not much of a NBA fan. He knew Kobe, LeBron, the Lakers were really good and the Heat went on their big three-fueled run, but I would’ve bet a few bucks he didn’t know Nikola Jokic or Jusuf Nurkic. What happened this past year that turned my brother into a NBA fan, who was interested in the players, news, stats, games, and results?

I asked and shouldn’t have been surprised at the answer. What changed was daily fantasy.

Fan Duel, to be precise. He had a few bucks wagered multiple nights throughout the season, and was picking players who, if they performed that night, could earn him a profit. This led to checking stat lines and scores every night, keeping up with injury news, players rising and falling, which teams were the best to ride or toughest to play against, and, well, just about everything else a NBA fan would do, but without a favorite team.

fnatasy

It all comes down to investment. Just like a fan of the Chicago Bulls has some level of their happiness every day tied to the outcome of the previous night’s game, so do those who have money riding on the game, something to be gained or lost depending on what happened in the game. I’m certain there are academics and researchers that can delve deeper into this psychological factor making a fan a fan, but the act of investment — for the wallet, for the emotion, for the community – is the key to turning an observer into a fan.

My brother’s no doubt started as an investment of money. It may not lead him to pick a favorite team, or to start buying tickets to games, but his thirst for the news, games, stats, mobile alerts, and monitoring the games and players day to day — there is no doubt value in that for the league and the media rights holders and corporate partners working with the league. Getting someone to take that first step, make that first wager, can be crucial. Think about the fantasy leagues you’ve done — there is little doubt the ones that involved money were maintained and monitored more closely. We’ve been trained for years to mind things involving money, so a little financial investment in the game is indeed developing new fans every day.

But the most fanatical fans, the diehards, often don’t have money riding on the game. In fact, if the team performs the way the diehards want, they’ll probably end up spending more money on championship gear and playoff tickets. The emotional attachment doesn’t happen overnight, and is often developed at a young age. It becomes part of one’s identity, just like their hometown. It’s part of their daily conversation, their content diet, and how they feel about yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Every day teams are trying to build that emotional attachment at fans — capturing kids because their identity is still being formed and their hearts are open, making fans fall in love with the players and brand, giving them opportunities to build the team into their identity with caps, koozies, and tchotchkes. It gets even stronger when fans meet other fans, and as this group of fans grows, it creates a community that’s impossible to ignore.

Then there’s something about being part of something bigger than oneself, the innate desire to want be accepted and part of the community. It’s why we’re more likely to stand and cheer when everybody else is doing it, how laughter can be contagious when everybody else is laughing, and, heck, when it’s tied to sports, maybe just so your friends, family, coworkers and neighbors will be happier the next day, and to have something to talk about with them. There’s a little bit of FOMO in there, as well. So there is a lot of messaging out there that ties the team to the local identity, and certainly appeals to the feeling that everyone is in on it, so join the party.

What does this analysis and thought experiment mean for the future of sports business, fan development, and the imminent influx of sports gambling and more daily fantasy / wagering? It’s going to facilitate fans making an investment, in the sport or the player or the team. It’s not a one-way street either, fans can start with fantasy and progress to to an emotional tie-in.

The lesson to take away, and to keep in mind, is that the biggest fans are the ones that care. Sure, we love any butts in seats, but the ones that have a reason to care about the game are the ones that’ll watch more and come back for more. There’s different reasons for different fans to care, and the goal is to identify those reasons for each fan psychographic. Then, the messaging, content, and branding can flow from there. Help fans feel good about being fans, and figure how to do that your way, and under any circumstances.

Hashtag Sports 2018 Twitter Recap: Day 2

In June 2018, Hashtag Sports held its fantastic annual three-day conference, featuring thought leaders and experienced pros from throughout the sports industry to sit on panels and lead provocative discussions about the trends and questions of the day.

What follows is a collection of the best quotes, stats, insights, images, and observations shared via Twitter #HS18 at day 2 of the event. Thanks to everyone whose tweets helped fuel this recap!

Thanks to the folks at Hashtag Sports for putting on such an incredible event.

BE SURE TO CHECK OUT DAY 1 AND DAY 3

Intersport and Sport Business Journal Brand Engagement and Content Summit 2018 Recap

In June 2018, thought leaders from sports and the brands working in sports came together to discuss the leading topics of the day.

What follows is a collection of the best quotes, insights, images, and observations shared via Twitter #SBJEngage.

Thanks to all whose tweets helped fuel this recap!