Marketing within the confines of sports has always stood apart from the traditional marketing of goods and services. For example, when people go to the store to buy bologna, they may go with the intent of purchasing Oscar Mayer bologna (due to that being the first and last name of their bologna). If, however, they get to the store and find that another brand is on sale or they are offered a sample and in-store coupon from a competitor, that may (or may not) be all it takes for them to go home with a different bologna. The consumer takes their brand loyalty (its perceived value) for Oscar Mayer bologna and weighs it against the actual value of the competitors to make a purchasing decision.
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Now, compare that to a sports fan going to a stadium. A Dallas Cowboys fan isn’t going to suddenly become a New York Giants fan just because the Cowboys are down in the second quarter. Also, when deciding to purchase memorabilia, that person won’t choose a Philadelphia Eagles’ jersey just because green has always looked better on him or her than blue. A sports fan makes rooting (and purchasing) decisions based on a connection to a team.
Products and brands that align themselves with sports teams generally do so because that association already gives them a leg up with the fan (I once bought candy branded with my team’s logo despite the fact that I didn’t really want it and was on a diet).
Marketing to an esports audience shares some similarities with sports marketing – and there are some distinct differences too. In one way it is similar is the loyalty of the fans. The Nielsen Esports Playbook took a look at sponsorship opportunities and found that fans in the United States are the most active consumers of esports and have an overall positive feeling about its sponsors.
Of all the fans surveyed, the United States’ audience possesses the strongest favorable perception toward sponsors and brand involvement. The report found that 58 percent of esports fans in the United States have a favorable view of brand involvement, while only five percent perceive it negatively.
It doesn’t matter if the brands are inherently used throughout the course of an esports event or simply appear as sponsors, the brands receive favorable opinions from fans due to their involvement. They aren’t opposed to brands or even the idea of consumerism. In general, they appreciate brands that support and thoughtfully integrate sponsorships with the activities they enjoy.
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However, there are some distinct differences between traditional sports sponsorships and sponsoring esports – and it is in maximizing those differences that brands can truly be successful.
For instance, the audience. The esports audience is notoriously hard to reach. This group, primarily (but not exclusively) is comprised of millennials, is very savvy at avoiding traditional advertising through cord cutting, using ad blocking software, etc. They are also very good at avoiding non-traditional advertising. A recent study found that as Facebook became more adept with targeting its social media advertising, the average user of the platform began to trend older, meaning millennials were jumping ship when their feeds started filling up with ads.
So, it’s an audience that has no problem with advertising as long as it feels authentic and engages with them as opposed to at them. There’s the real trick with esports marketing. Fortunately, the industry itself is set up in such a way that sponsors have plenty of opportunities to integrate with the scene.
While tournament wins and losses are edge-of-the-seat exciting, esports extends far beyond the tournament. In fact, the reason for its popularity may be the availability of its stars. Imagine if Lebron James spent a large chunk of his day showcasing his skills and conversing with his fans. That’s exactly what the major (and minor) stars of esports do day in and day out.
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Twitch is currently the most popular online service for watching and streaming digital video broadcasts. The service, which was purchased by Amazon in 2014 for $970 million, features over two million unique streamers each month. Market research firm Newzoo recently analyzed 10 months of Twitch service and found that over 100 million users had streamed 800 million hours of esports.
As opposed to just seeing them perform at tournaments or as spokespersons in commercials, live streams put players in daily contact with their fans. And no two streams are alike. Some streamers offer training sessions, others provide commentary during game walk-throughs, and still others will offer coaching as viewers play along with the streamer. Live chats throughout the session enables real-time communication between spectator and streaming, increasing the bond with the player.
Brands can partner with streamers in several ways. Branding can be added to a page and the streamer can mention sponsors during chats and commentaries. Also, Twitch has an ad-revenue-sharing program, which is essentially how the platform runs commercials – but it is significantly different than traditional broadcasting and may take some getting used to.
The way it works is when a streamer needs to take a break, he or she will announce that and say that an ad is about to run. Then the streamer will typically implore the audience to stick around for the ad, reminding them that these ads (along with the audience, since subscribers also pay to support the streamer) allow the streamer to provide this content.
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Due to the relationship that has built between the streamer and the audience, a majority do stick around for the ad. So, it may seem strange not to have a set ad schedule and to allow the streamers to decide when the ad runs, but it makes the experience much more organic.
Then there are the games themselves. Some, specifically sports games, mimic traditional sports sponsorship opportunities. For example, the NBA 2K League has branding and advertisements within the league’s in-game court. This is something that is expected by the viewers and feels like a natural occurrence for the game. However, if branding suddenly appeared up the middle lane during a League of Legends match, the roar of disapproval from the crowd would be deafening (by deafening I mean a lot of tweets in all caps followed by all the exclamation marks).
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It will be a combination of resourceful brands, game publishers, and esports players who develop the successful esports sponsorships opportunities of the future. The keys will be thoughtful integration and the creative use of existing relationships between players and their audience.
Esports is a growing, multi-billion-dollar industry. The opportunities for sponsors are evident, and those who thoughtfully integrate now are going to be the ones reaping the benefits for decades to come.
If you would like to discover more about your opportunities for sponsoring an esports tournament, team, venue, and/or all of the above, give eGency Global a call at 972-323-6354. Our years of experience can help guide you through the occasionally imposing yet potentially lucrative esports landscape.