The esports industry continues to recruit executive leaders and experts from the world of traditional sports. This ongoing trend offers three takeaways:
- Esports hopes to learn from the traditional sports ecosystem.
- These leaders offer insights that cannot be found elsewhere.
- We can expect to see many more hires of this kind in the future.
Putting the Sports in Esports
Esports, as we know it today, has evolved tremendously from its early days of LAN parties and one-off promotional events by a publisher. Over time, teams have grown into organized competitive powerhouses, fueled by top brands and millionaire owners. If that sounds an awful lot like traditional sports teams, you would be correct. These parallels have been solidified even further by the recruitment of leaders who bring special insights into how traditional sports leagues, teams and event organizers work together in tandem.
Significant examples of this include Call of Duty League Commissioner Johanna Faries (former NFL executive), Activision Blizzard’s President of Sports and Entertainment Tony Petitti (former MLB deputy commissioner), Immortals Gaming Club Chief Commercial Officer Jon Tuck (former NASCAR CRO) and Excel Esports’ Head of Marketing Milly Preston (former head of marketing, Leaders of Sport).
Marketers Trust the Familiar
Hiring traditional sports executives allows the esports industry to apply and adapt traditional sports revenue strategies to a similar, yet unique market. Brands are already comfortable spending marketing dollars on sporting events but might be hesitant to invest in a team because the return on investment (ROI) is unproven. This has become a challenge for esports organizations that seek brand partnerships.
With the advent of leagues like Call of Duty League and Overwatch League, Activision Blizzard appeals not just to local audiences, but the advertising dollars that come with it. Being able to compare viewership between esports and traditional sports is also helpful for securing valuable revenue.
Traditional sports executives bring a wealth of insider knowledge to the table, including existing brand contacts they might have. It’s not enough to attract a sponsor—esports organizations must nurture long-term relationships as well. Esports is an exciting industry, but it’s still new and very much the “wild west” at times. Traditional sports executives are used to navigating contracts, venues, merchandise and more. Marketers need to know that esports events can deliver the kind of ROI they are used to for traditional sporting events. On the contrary, other brands want to get involved with esports for the first time and don’t know how.
This is Not a Fad
The esports industry is driven almost entirely by marketing revenue and sponsorship. Esports talks a big game, but it must deliver on the hype. So far, hiring executives and experts from the world of traditional sports has provided a level of credibility as esports organizations navigate new frontiers.
That being said, we can expect to see a lot more interchangeability between executives in traditional sports and esports. Dropping viewership could very well inspire leagues like the NFL to recruit executives from esports to reach younger audiences, for example. Considering the fact that the average gamer is 34 years old, the opposite could also be true. That is, esports organizations may want to appeal to older consumers with higher income levels.
Esports also offers traditional sports executives with a new frontier in which to explore and grow. There are far more video game titles than there are traditional sports leagues, which provides unlimited potential for creative career advancement. Either way, we will watch these new hires with great anticipation.
Written by HB Duran