From the 02 Arena in England to the Staples Center in Los Angeles and the newly erected T-Mobile Arena on the Las Vegas Strip, AEG owns and operates 90 venues, 20 sports teams and events, and 30 music festivals around the world. And whether it be the Grammy Awards, NBA Finals, UFC or Coachella, the sports and live entertainment company knows how to play host.

That party has a new VIP guest list because AEG secured a long-term global partnership with the world’s largest eSports company in ESL last year to align each of their assets to further broaden the reach of eSports around the world.

Whether it’s the League of Legends World Championship at Staples Center, the CS:GO ESL Pro League finals at 02 Arena, ESL One at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center or the Intel Extreme Masters in Oakland’s Oracle Arena, the partnership leverages AEG’s leadership in live event production, ticketing, marketing and sponsorship and allows ESL to utilize AEG’s global network.

As eSports transforms the global sports landscape, the geographic reach and optimized operations are being expanded, too.

Mike Lee is director of digital for AEG Global Partnerships, which creates sales and marketing platforms for partners to activate and promote their brands. He joined [a]listdaily to share how AEG is leveraging the growing sport.

How is AEG positioning the company in eSports?

From music festivals to professional sports, we consider ourselves the premiere live event promotors in the world. For us, we look at new arenas of opportunity. The numbers and opportunities for eSports are undeniable. We look at ourselves as a ‘first-mover’ and we’re really excited about it. With all of the venues we have around the world, it’s a perfect marriage for us with ESL.

You are based in Los Angeles, where you recently hosted the League of Legends World Championship. What are you learning from each event that you produce?

We really do get to see the difference in audiences. We have data on what the basketball fan, or hockey fan ‘looks like.’ Now we’re creating a whole new segment on what the eSports fan ‘looks like.’ We have data on everything from food and beverage to mobile apps and foot traffic, and how people are interacting with us. ESL is a lot more different because it’s multiple games, all weekend, all day long. League of Legends is like a Super Bowl. We have the unique opportunity of sitting in the middle and to be able to see all of this and learn from it to make smart, insightful decisions in the future.

How are you marketing differently toward the eSports audience?

We position the eSports fan as your cord cutter. They’re similar in a way to a traditional sports fan because they are just as passionate about their sport. They are spending money on tickets, travel and merchandise. The way they are not similar is how they consume media. You have a mobile-first audience that’s not watching traditional sports, or even big events like the Super Bowl. This allows AEG to extend its portfolio and say that ‘we can hit the whole gamut of age demographics.’ We have large deals with sponsors. Our biggest partners are Microsoft and Coca-Cola. For us, we’re able to introduce those brands to our eSports portfolio.

How do you work with non-endemic brands who are looking for an entry path into eSports?

Our first recommendation to them is ‘join us for an actual event to experience it.’ The numbers speak for themselves. Whether you’re at the NBA Finals or Coachella, it’s one of those things that when you walk through parking lot and into the doors, you get it. It is a super passionate audience. Your average chief marketing officer is not going to these kind of eSports events. The makeup in eSports is very different compared to the high-end marketing executives. So I say come and experience it with us and you’ll realize that the numbers are not too big to be true. Generally, when a brand comes to us and is passionate about it, it’s usually because their children or grandchildren are already passionate about gaming.

If you were speaking to a room filled with marketers, what would your advice be to them?

I can share the story only to an extent. I would advise them to speak to people in the demographic. Get five high school, or college-aged people into a room and ask them about the big players in the sport, and see what they say. Most CMOs don’t know who Faker is. You need to speak to fans who follow the players, and to the ones who even donate thousands of dollars to them through Twitch. Ask them, ‘You only make $1,000 a month––why are you donating $40 to this streamer?’ You will believe it as soon as you hear it straight out of their mouth. That’s when it starts to make sense. That’s why we’re beating on every door and saying ‘this is the next big thing.’

How do you see the space evolving in the immediate future? 

The future of eSports is up in the air. I think that it’s a land grab right now. Everyone is wondering ‘do I go after the talent? Do I go after the team? Do I go after the developer? Who is the person that’s eventually going to own the IP rights? When mobile starts penetrating the market, what else is going to come up? What country is going to produce the Michael Jordan of eSports?’ It will be interesting to see how all of this develops.

Follow Manouk Akopyan on Twitter @Manouk_Akopyan

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