Two years ago, ESPN didn’t show much interest in eSports, with the company’s president John Skipper even noting that it wasn’t even a sport. However, as of late, the popular sports channel has changed its tune, and is embracing it as a whole.
According to the article, the move was made as a way to “engage new audiences against the backdrop of an ever-fragmenting sports landscape that has created business challenges for the network.” This also includes bumped-up coverage of popular activities like drone racing and World Wrestling Entertainment, which is outside of the usual non-scripted sports activities.
The author, Jim Brady, also made note of several reseach studies that show the growing popularity of eSports, including how Newzoo found that eSports revenues will hit $463 million this year (set to surpass a billion dollars by 2019) and a SuperData report explaining that 134 million participants take part in eSports every year.
“Although the demographics and business opportunities for eSports are crucial, ESPN’s ability to televise eSports might be the most important element, as it looks to lock up as many live events as it can to maintain its position in an ever time-shifted world,” Brady writes.
So far, eSports coverage has paid off for the network, with April proving to be a big month for ESPN’s vertical web coverage, showing a 58 percent increase in traffic over the previous month. Almost 70 percent of that coverage, notes Brady, came in from social media outlets.
The author also used a quote from a recent VentureBeat article, which explains why ESPN didn’t mind taking the gamble, despite Skipper’s previous thoughts:
“Traditional sports are losing interest, and it doesn’t look like that’s going to turn around. Fewer high school-aged kids are participating in sports. Starting in 2008 and continuing through 2012, football saw a 5.4 percent drop in players from 3.26 million to 3.08 million. And they aren’t going to soccer, baseball, or basketball — those sports saw declines of 7.1 percent, 7.2 percent, and 8.3 percent, respectively. Only lacrosse is growing, but it isn’t making up the difference for what the other sports are losing.”
Brady writes, “Big media companies generally have lousy track records when it comes to looking around the bend, but the network is trying to do just that by investing here. ESports is already a huge business, and it’s getting larger by the day. With the decline in participation in traditional stick-and-ball sports, ESPN needs to place some chips elsewhere.” He concluded the piece by saying, “In a world in which ESPN’s business model is being significantly affected by the fragmentation of media, the network isn’t wasting time trying to change consumer behavior. Instead, it’s going where a new generation of consumers awaits.”