August 24, 2017
This week has seen both the NFL and F1 team up with game developers to launch their own eSports events. The NFL/EA partnership uses the Madden NFL game to create the “Club Championship”, and is reported to be rewarding the winners with a $400,000 prize fund. Separately, F1 has announced a partnership with the developer, Codemasters and eSports event experts, Gfinity to release a game as part of a new eSports motor racing championship.
The investment into eSports by professional leagues and teams is not a new phenomenon. However, these particular deals represent a shift from investment into eSports teams or players themselves into collaborations which are intrinsically linked to the traditional sports event.
The F1 event will be made up of competitors racing over three stages, with qualification running throughout September and the 40 quickest drivers progressing to the live semifinals in October. The finalists will race at the finale of the real-life F1 season at Abu Dhabi in November, meaning that the winners will be crowned in both the traditional competition and the eSports event, on the same day.
So, what might have first appeared like an opportunity for traditional sports teams to have a “piece of the pie by investing early in teams or players which were operating in a (sometimes entirely) different sphere to their existing business, now seems like more of an opportunity to create a product to market the traditional sport to a new audience.
Access to a global millennial audience is certainly a huge part of the draw for all eSports investment – but, if the average age of an F1 fan is thought to be just under 36 years old (a good ten years older than the average eSports fan), what does this really mean for the sport as a whole?
Whilst a younger audience may help brands hit the advertising sweet spot of the 18-34s, whether these events will actually convert fans to the traditional sport is another matter. What is clear is that partnerships such as these can only have a positive effect on advertisers who have had to come to terms with declining viewing figures in traditional sports. If these viewers can be replaced with an international, younger, audience, then this may help keep sponsorship figures high.
It will be interesting to see whether the next round of sponsorship deals between clubs/federations and sponsors brings clauses that deal with the use of the brand by players in the digital world as well as the physical – these already complex contractual negotiations may be starting to take on another dimension.