Will the live sports lockdown see marketers switch to e-sports?

Business, Insight

There are countless impacts of the current Covid-19 pandemic across the globe, but one industry that has been forced into almost total shutdown is that of professional sports.

Well, real life sports at least.

There are many different areas where health and safety concerns are affecting industries at the present time, but it’s an interesting case study to look at how Covid-19 is affecting the relationship between professional sports leagues and the emerging e-sports scene.


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How much are pro sports leagues worth?

Taking a cursory look across the annual revenues of some of the world’s biggest sports leagues offers some mind-boggling figures, with the NBA bringing in over £5.5bn per year, the Premier League just ahead of them at £5.7bn, Major League Baseball turning over more than £8.6bn per year and “America’s game” the NFL leading the way at a staggering £9.9bn.

While there are a lot of additional entertainments around these sports, ultimately, the vast majority of the revenue depends on there actually being a “product” on the field. Sadly, with the health risk created by holding sports competitions at present, let alone holding them in stadiums packed with cheering fans, the landscape is highly uncertain at present.

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How has Covid-19 impacted sports marketing?

This lack of on-field action could see reduced income in a number of areas, but one of the biggest will be in the realm of media, marketing and advertising. In essence, advertisers want to be in front of as big an audience as possible, and if live sport isn’t happening, or even if it is going through an ‘on again off again’ period due to health concerns, advertisers could look elsewhere.

Many advertisers are identifying that the closest audience to their live sports demographic is found in the e-sports community, particularly amongst younger generations. While many would still contest that e-sports could never match the experience of “real” sport, there is an ever-increasing market for the e-sports scene, unsurprisingly bolstered by the fact that it can deal a lot more easily with the need for social distancing than in-person sports experiences.

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Has online gaming increased during lockdown?

In fact, not only are we seeing surging numbers of online gamers – with Verizon saying US-gaming numbers were up over 75% since the beginning of lockdown – but we’re also seeing online viewership of professional e-sports leagues increase globally, as well as one further interesting phenomenon.

The past few weeks have seen a number of pro sports leagues take their competitions online in some form, with tournaments such as the Premier League Invitational seeing one player from each team compete in a Fifa20 knockout tournament, as well as a number of F1 drivers driving against each other online with the races broadcast on Twitch. These broadcasts are attracting thousands and in some cases tens of thousands of viewers at a time, showing the level of appetite of fans to connect with their favourite athletes and/or teams in any way possible.

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What is the projected growth of e-sports?

Understandably, many financial projections are in flux right now, with a number of professional sports leagues adjusting their financial estimates down given a lack of events, the prospect of playing without crowds and in some cases TV companies asking for a portion of their broadcast deals back.

On the other side of the spectrum, e-sports financial projections continue to increase, with the pre-Covid estimates (of growing from £830m in 2019 to over £1.45bn by 2023) actually being revised up with the amount of advertising pounds that are flooding into the e-sports market.

Such is the nature of e-sports, that it could be argued that it is better primed to convert eyeballs into purchases than pretty much any other industry right now. Not only do you have highly targeted demographics tuning in – namely a lot of 16-40 year old males – but they are only a second away from opening up another tab browser and checking out the product or service they’ve just seen advertised. This makes it a highly attractive proposition for advertisers.

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So, what’s the verdict?

Ultimately, we think that while you will see some companies move their advertising spends from live sports to e-sports, overall the commercial partnerships between many professional sports leagues and their primary sponsors are strong enough to withstand the current lockdown.

Notably, some sports are even returning, with Germany’s top football league the Bundesliga returning tomorrow, May 16th, although opinions on the wisdom of this move are mixed.

That said, e-sports doesn’t need to take all of the advertising spends previously directed to professional sports, it only needs to take a portion of them to continue its astronomical growth. Overall, there’s still plenty to go round, and the two can co-exist – maybe even complement – each other. So we would expect to see e-sports to continue to grow and in many ways become an even more attractive collaboration for many sports teams and owners.

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Make the most of your digital marketing options

Whatever the nature of your business, it is always worth thinking through your digital marketing options and how you can connect with your target audience in the most effective way possible.

This has never been more true than during the present crisis, so if you’re looking to put together a personalised digital advertising strategy – whether in e-sports or anywhere else – that makes the most of your current budget, our team would be happy to speak to you today.

You can get in touch by calling 0151 321 2320, by emailing us on hello@weareweb.com or by filling out one of the Contact forms here on our site so that we can get back to you and find the ideal digital marketing plan for your current position and future growth.

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