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Die neuen Stars: Warum Vereine professionelle FIFA-Spieler verpflichten und welches Potential in eSports steckt

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Deutschlands wohl bester Spieler wechselt zu Manchester City – allerdings handelt es dabei um den FIFA-Spieler Kai ’deto’ Wollin. Überall auf der Welt verpflichten Vereine und Marken Spieler, die sie bei virtuellen Turnieren vertreten sollen. Selbst ganze Fußball-Ligen setzen auf ein Engagement im eSports-Bereich, um weitere Fans für das eigene Angebot zu begeistern. Doch welchen Mehrwert stellt die Zusammenarbeit mit den FIFA-Profis dar? Und wie sehr konkurrieren die virtuellen Matches tatsächlich mit ihren traditionellen Pendants? FIFA 18 – Längst mehr als ein Spiel EA Sports wird seinem Slogan langsam, aber sicher gerecht. „EA Sports: It’s in the game“ leitet seit jeher eines der bekanntesten Spiele überhaupt ein. Und nicht erst seit FIFA 18 integriert sich das virtuelle Spiel in den allzu realen Fußballmarkt. Die Zeiten, in denen FIFA nur als Zeitvertreib mit dem Lieblingsteam auf dem Screen – vielleicht in der Sommer- oder Länderspielpause – hergehalten hat, sind längst vorbei. Inzwischen füllen Fifa Cups auch schonmal im echten Leben die ein oder andere kleine Arena. Die Begeisterung für das Spiel ist ungebrochen, FIFA 18 hat sich für alle Konsolen und den PC bereits über zehn Millionen Mal verkauft; Tendenz: steigend. Allerdings ist aus dem Hobby und der Leidenschaft der Fußballfans bereits etwas Anderes geworden, etwas Größeres. Das FIFA-Spielen hat sich im Bereich eSports zu einer eigenen Sportart gewandelt, ja zu einer Profession. Wenn die besten FIFA-Spieler der Welt ihre Duelle untereinander austragen, dann geht es mitunter gar in die Westminster Hall, wie beim FIWC (FIFA Interactive World Cup) Finale 2017 in London. Und auch Sport1 überträgt inzwischen Turniere wie den FUT (FIFA Ultimate Team) Champions Cup. Diese Turniere, e-Ligen und die Stars dieser Spiele, die FIFA-Profis, erfreuen sich einer riesigen Gefolgschaft. Daher steckt in dieser Entwicklung auch ein riesiges Potential. Und zwar nicht nur für Electronic Arts oder die Spieler selbst. Auch Fußballclubs verpflichten nunmehr top FIFA-Spieler, um sich bei publikumswirksamen eSports-Events vertreten zu lassen. Während zudem Legenden mit eigenen Teams aufwarten, möchten auch die Liga-Verbände die Anziehungskraft des virtuellen Spielens für sich nutzen.   eSports-Ligen machen Furore Kai ’deto’ Wollin verlor das FIWC-Finale 2017. Doch als einer der besten FIFA-Spieler überhaupt darf er nun das derzeit auf dem Platz fulminante Manchester City vertreten. Zunächst beim FUT Champions Cup im April. Dabei ist Wollin bereits der vierte eSports-Spieler beim englischen Club DETO im ManCity-Trikot, Screenshot YouTube, © Manchester City Nuria Tarre, Chief Marketing Officer der City Football Group, betont auf Citys offizieller Website:
„We’re looking forward to seeing Deto in Manchester City colours in tournaments and fan events around the world … The growth in esports over the past two years has been substantial and our growing presence in this industry has provided another way for us to connect with our global fan base, particularly our younger audience, and bring them closer to the club they love.“
Damit wird deutlich, dass die Vereine mit der Verpflichtung verschiedene Ziele verfolgen. Zum einen möchte man auf den Zug aufspringen und Teil der rasant wachsenden eSports-Community werden. Zum anderen steckt in den FIFA-Profis aber auch Marketingpotential. Als Repräsentanten von Vereinen können sie die Fan-Gemeinschaften weltweit auf einem ganz neuen Level erreichen. Und vielleicht bekennt sich der ein oder andere Gamer am Ende zu einem bestimmten Verein. Doch allein schon das Interesse an dem eigenen Produkt, der eigenen Liga zu wecken, stellt andernorts einen Anspruch dar. Die australische A-League hat jüngst die erste eigene e-Liga anlaufen lassen, wie ABC News in Australien berichtet. Das Land ist nun weniger für seinen Fußball bekannt und die Sportart ist dort sicher nicht die populärste. Doch daran soll die virtuelle Liga etwas ändern. Zwei professionelle Spieler sollen jedes Team der A-League vertreten. Ein Deal für die Senderechte soll bekannt gegeben werden und ein Preisgeld wird es ebenso geben. Die australische Fußballföderation (FFA) möchte auf diesem Wege das Interesse an der heimischen Liga stärken. Streamingdienste und Broadcaster sind an der Ausstrahlung interessiert; und selbst Profis der A-League möchten im eSports-Bereich teilnehmen. Solche Ligen finden sich inzwischen in den meisten Ländern, wo der Fußball auch auf dem ganz realen Rasen begeistert. Die e-Ligue 1 in Frankreich etwa oder die Virtuelle Bundesliga in Deutschland. Die nordamerikanische MLS hat ebenfalls seit Januar 2018 eine e-Liga. Welche Potentiale in solch einer Liga außerdem stecken, erläutert beispielsweise der Senior Vice President der Business und Marketing Operations bei den Portland Timbers, Cory Dolich. Er betont, dass man FIFA-Profi Edgar Guerrero nicht nur wegen seines Rankings in den Top 20 der US-FIFA-Spieler verpflichtet habe, sondern auch, weil er als Mann aus Oregon, der Englisch und Spanisch spricht, eine besonders repräsentative Funktion hat. Das geht aus Clare Duffys Bericht im Portland Business Journal hervor. Dabei wird deutlich, dass die eSportler durchaus genauso für Sponsoren von Interesse sind. Einige haben die Portland Timbers bereits kontaktiert, um mit der eSports-Sektion eine Partnerschaft einzugehen, so Dolich.     eSports und FIFA als Modell mit Zukunft Allein mit der Verpflichtung eines oder mehrerer FIFA-Profis ist es jedoch für Vereine oder eSports-Abteilungen noch nicht getan. Zwar wird so die Verbindung von traditionellem Fußball auf dem Platz und der virtuellen Variante marketingwirksam schon verstärkt. Doch eSports scheint gekommen, um zu bleiben, weshalb eine langfristige Förderung eine Überlegung wert ist. Hertha BSC hat, wie der Kicker in seiner eSports-Rubrik berichtet, nicht nur seinen Vertreter für die Virtuelle Bundesliga gefunden. Man plant beim Hauptstadtclub bereits eine eSport-Akademie, zu der die besten Talente von 1.000 gescouteten FIFA-Spielern Zugang erhalten sollen. Sodass der Verein schon frühzeitig den Nachwuchs für die kommenden Aufgaben im Bereich der e-Liga rüsten kann. Eine Akademie für FIFA-Profis firmiert nun auch unter dem Namen eines weltbekannten ehemaligen Spielers. Das Team Gullit ist seit Januar aktiv und profitiert von fachmännischen Analysen und Coaching für angehende FIFA-Stars. Martyn Herman berichtet bei Reuters über die neue Bestimmung für Ruud Gullit, der vielen Fans wegen seiner einstigen Haarpracht und Titelgewinne noch im Gedächtnis ist. Gullit erkannte das Potential der Sportart nach dem FIWC-Finale 2017. Ruud Gullit kann bei FIFA 18 als Legende gespielt werden; und findet oft einen Weg in die Teams der neuen Stars an der Konsole, Screenshot YouTube, © FIFATV
„I realized how serious it was … The players had a manager, a coach, they have everything.“
Nun spielen drei Spieler auf Vollzeitbasis für Team Gullit. In den Niederlanden ist eSports schon stark etabliert.
„In Holland all the Eredivisie teams have an esports player, there is a competition and it is watched by more people on TV than the Dutch second division. The exposure is unbelievable … It’s going to get bigger and bigger“,
so Gullit weiter. Und die Teams der Eredivisie setzen ebenso auf die virtuellen Kicker; auch, um den Altersschnitt in den Stadien langfristig wieder zu senken.   Die Entwicklung einer neuen Branche Mit der Akzeptanz von eSports als Sportart, und zwar als professionelle und ganz besonders als potentiell gewinnbringende, bildet sich eine Branche neu heraus. Für viele mag die Vorstellung, dass FIFA-Spieler Sportler sind schon Stirnrunzeln hervorrufen. Dass dies ihr Vollzeitjob ist, wirkt dann umso befremdlicher; und ist doch nur eine logische Folge der Digitalisierung im Sport und Sportmarketing. Die besten FIFA-Profis der Welt verdienen laut der International Business Times pro Jahr durchschnittlich knapp 57.000 Pfund an Preisgeldern – das ist mehr als die Spieler der League Two (Vierte und unterste Profi-Liga in England) mit nach Hause bringen. Und nun erhalten die neu verpflichteten Spieler sicher auch ein Festgehalt. Doch am Aufstieg von eSports hängen, in Bezug auf FIFA, noch mehr „neue“ Jobs und Möglichkeiten. FIFA eSports-Kommentatoren wie Brandon Smith machen sich einen Namen und verdienen ihr Geld mit der Berichterstattung der virtuellen Partien bei den Turnieren. Auch eSports-Kommentatoren wie Smith (r.) können Karriere machen, Screenshot YouTube, © FIFATV Marketer und Advertiser dürften sich bei der Anziehungskraft der Events ebenso auf den Bereich spezialisieren, um in deren Rahmen die besten und für die Zuschauer passendsten Produkte zu bewerben. Dass die Welt von FIFA im professionellen eSports-Bereich vor kaum einem Verein, einer Marke oder auch nur einem Unternehmen, das sich auf den Fußball fokussiert, Halt macht, ist anzunehmen. Daher haben etwa die Kollegen von Transfermarkt.de einen Profi verpflichtet. Mario ’MMayo’ Reubold zockt seit Kurzem offiziell für Transfermarkt.   Und dass das Potential von eSports riesengroß ist, lässt sich kaum von der Hand weisen. Daher sollten alle Entscheider, Mitarbeiter, Marketer und Co., die sich mit dem Fußball beruflich beschäftigen, schauen, inwieweit sich diese Welt für das eigene Unternehmen schon geöffnet hat oder wie sie erschlossen werden kann. Denn auch die Fans werden mehr und mehr an diese Parallelsportart herangeführt. eSports wird die Leidenschaft und Emotionen des Fußballs nicht ersetzen können; allerdings gilt für FIFA im Jahr 2018 mehr denn je: „It’s in the game“.
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It’s a Women’s Game – Female Football Branding’s on the Rise

Football has long been and is still widely referred to as a sport for men. Yet, female football gets more attention for branding as well as a path into the spotlight; and rightly so.

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Marketing and commercialisation have been attributed to the male football universe for the largest part. But as the women appear more and more during broadcasting, in Social Media campaigns and especially on the clubs’ and associations’ digital properties, the women’s football is given the opportunity to finally establish its very own power more widely than ever before. It’s about time to change perception, but also to dip into the hidden potentials that the unique female football has to offer. The DFB has launched a distinct kit for the German women to wear at the soon to begin World Cup, while the UEFA even started a campaign to strengthen the women’s game further. Broadcasters and OTT services turn their attentions to the game and partners are increasingly interested in taking part in this promising journey of growing the value of women’s football brand.

A great time for a diverse football experience – and off the pitch, too

The women’s World Cup in France starts 7 June and of course we do see more female football stars in digital media right now. Football has always been captured as a men’s sport, in the media and in the mindset of some. For sure, all the women’s competitions haven’t been there for so many decades – Manchester United for example only reinstated a women’s team last year. And while Antoine Griezmann, Paul Pogba or Cristiano Ronaldo earn incredible sums and the limelight, even the most outstanding female footballers are exposed to totally inapproriate behaviour. Like Ada Hegerberg, the absolute superstar playing for Olympique Lyon. After collecting the first Ballon D’Or for a woman in December 2018, moderator Martin Solveig infamously asked her if she could twerk.

It’s just that kind of impudence, bordering sexual harrassment, that is still undermining the value and growth of women’s football. Thankfully, there are more and more examples of the women’s teams being appreciated increasingly, especially in the media. A very recent reminder: Hegerberg scored a 16-minute hattrick in the Women’s Champions League final against the FC Barcelona to give Lyon a fourth successive title.

Not only does she have 255 goals in 254 games now – and Ada Hegerberg is still only 23 years old –, but she also has a collection of 5 league titles, 4 domestic cups and 4 Champions Leagues.

Hegerberg herself, though, stated that things don’t develop very quickly in women’s football. That’s why the UEFA launched a Time for Action strategy in order to augment appreciation for the women’s game. The initiative shall double the number of female players by 2024. UEFA president Aleksander Čeferin said:

Women’s football is the football of today. It is not the football of tomorrow. It is UEFA’s duty as European football’s governing body to empower the women’s game. So UEFA will put significant financial investment into the sport, underlining that it dares to aim high and make European football as great as it can be. The actions that we propose and commit to in 2019 will lead to a greater, more professional and more prosperous game by 2024. Time for action.

UEFA’s head of women’s football, Nadine Kessler, thinks that football is more than just sports and therefore has to open up for women even more, so that cultural changes are embraced as well:

Women’s football is football, and football has a huge ability to impact beyond the field of play and break down cultural and social barriers.

The DFB recently launched the new kits for the German women’s team, which are quite popular by now.

But it’s clear to see that the women’s team isn’t quite valued the same as the men’s. The shirt itself is only available in women’s tailoring at Adidas – because demand normally is so small, as the manufacturer told Die WELT. Therefore, men don’t have the chance to sport the nice kit, unless they wear the version aligned to female proportions. And maybe the women’s national teams only appear more in our sports media environment due to the imminent World Cup. The Commerzbank, partner for the DFB’s female team, provocatively advertises the team by incorporating prejudices and the rather unknown status of the female players.

More sponsoring and partner deals for women – but there’s a huge pay gap

It is not all about the World Cup, though. The recent Women’s Champions LEague final, for example, was streamed live in the US by the OTT service B/R Live for the very first time, as SportsPro Media report. The service also posted behind-the-scenes content on Instagram in the stories during the run-up to the game.

In other news, the BBC have extended a deal to show the Women’s FA Cup in until the 2024/25 season. Highlight reels and short form videos will be available over various BBC digital platforms as the broadcaster also has an initiative in place, called ‘Change The Game’. The BBC will also develop podcasts and documentaries focusing on women’s sports more often. And, as the BBC reported a few months back, Barclays, famously the title sponsors for the men’s Premier League in England, will become title sponsors for the women’s league, too. That sponsorship will be worth close to 10 million pounds – miles behind sponsorhip money in the men’s domain. It’s still a step in the right direction, thinks the FA’s director of the women’s professional game, Kelly Simmons:

It’s a real landmark moment in the development of the women’s game. We obviously want to get more fans and more revenue behind the game, making sure it’s secure and sustainable for the future. But also the investment in schools makes sure lots of girls get the chance to play football, which is our pipeline for the future.

And yes, sponsoring is becoming more important for the women’s teams as brands start to realise how important that very universe could be for them. For example, Virgin Media, sleeve sponsors of the FC Southampton, now sponsor the their respective women’s team as well, for the very first time. Marieanne Spacey-Cale, Southampton’s Head of Girls’ and Women’s Football, commented on the website:

It’s fantastic that such a prestigious brand as Virgin Media has decided to make this commitment to the Women’s team.

Meanwhile, in the US Ticketmaster has extended a deal with the United States Soccer Federation that provides ticketing for the men’s and the women’s teams. Women’s football might have more popularity in the US. But it’s also quite favoured in Germany. Initiatives are needed to make it an alternative in more countries and markets. Media need to embrace it, because it does offer inspiration and a ways to possibly reach new audiences as well.

For now however, we can state that women’s football is still rated second-class, at least when it comes to money invested in it. Flyeralarm is becoming the Women’s Bundesliga’s title sponsor and is expected to pay 1,2 million Euro per year for that, earning the right to feature on the teams’ jerseys and in the stadiums, too. As a comparison, that amount of money is earned in the space of two to three weeks by Lionel Messi. The huge pay gap is clear to see. The Sun reports that Aga Hegerberg, closest to Messi right now in the women’s domain, earns a mere 300.000 pounds a year. Average wages for OL’s female players are believed to be at around 145.000 pounds a year – and they’re Europe’s finest. That alone calls for change in the perception of football. Because the sport is not only men’s football. For every Messi there is a Hegerberg, for every Cristiano Ronaldo there is a Dzsenifer Marozsán. There should be heroines as well as heroes; young fans should be made aware of both and it’s on the media and on brands to embrace this as an opportunity. Thus, they can even augment revenues and reach and eventually make women’s football popular enough to grant the players more perspectives and better wages. The current status quo is very much explainable, no question about that. But that doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t change. Whoever realises the underlying potential will be frontrunners in a very promising environment.

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Coppa Italia Attendees Can Parallel-Watch the Game on their Phones from Various Angles

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Second screening is quite common these days, but watching a game live in the stadium and simultaneously monitoring proceedings through altered perspectives in the app is indeed a whole new experience for fans. Infront’s new Fan+ service enables supporters to do just that and experience and relive the action from the Coppa Italia at the Stadio Olimpico and on their connected mobile devices at the same time. A few clubs from the Serie A had already successfully tested this intriguing opportunity.

The dawn of widespread in-stadium streaming?

They’ve had it in Serie A with Genoa, Sampdoria and Udinese offering their fans an in-app experience inside the stadium, that enables them to watch the live action – they’re actually there for – on their mobile devices and in various angles. Futhermore, autographs from favourite players can be snatched, other video highlights, news or statistics concerning the game can be accessed. The Infront Fan+ app debuted in December, when Sampdoria Genoa met Bologna. From then on, fans could also order food and drinks from their seats via the app and collect it, when it’s ready.

With 16 different angles including a spiderweb cam, fans can become directors while watching the game live as well. Thereby, the second screening moment known from home is transferred to the stadium.

This particular app experience will now be available for the Italian cup final on May 15th, the Coppa Italia. Contested in Rome’s Stadio Olimpico, Atalanta Bergamo will meet Lazio Rome in a final without the biggest names of Italian football. Although Lazio did win the cup six years ago and ten years back as well.

As SportsPro Media report, the Fan+ app will work for that special game. The Lega Serie A chief executive, Luigi De Siervo, commented:

We are excited about the launch of the new app dedicated to the final because it will allow all the fans present at the stadium to live an exclusive and personalised experience. Mobile applications are now increasingly common in everyday life, the real challenge is to be able to provide all enthusiasts with an engaging service that can improve the fan experience.

The improvement of the fan experience is clear to see, when you look at what the app offers, providing supporters with data and insights regarding the pitch-side action straight away.

We are pleased to have concluded this partnership with Lega Serie A for the TIM Cup Final, because it represents an important step in the continuous research and creation of services that improve interaction with the fans at the stadium. We have already successfully launched the Fan+ model with Genoa, Sampdoria and Udinese, and I am sure that this solution can lead Infront to strengthen its role as digital partner of clubs, leagues and federations,

adds Jean Thomas Sauerwein, managing director of Infront Italy.

So, attendees of the cup final in Italy have now got the big chance to put that Fan+ app to the acid test. If it proves successful over time, it will surely be rolled out or made available for many other clubs or competitions, too. For the ability to rerun just seen – or maybe missed – parts of the game is a welcome asset for the digitally engaged or tech-savvy fans. Is it strange, that the supporters in the stadium could have their attention split between the pitch and their mobile devices? Oh yes; but probably that is the case more often now anyway. Digital enhancements don’t stop at the stadium’s entry gates. That’s why Fan+ is only the start of a more disruptive, half digital half real life local football experience. Let’s see how it works at the Coppa Italia – and what is to follow.

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Christian Fuchs to Open eSports Arena in New York

Leicester City and former Austria player Christian Fuchs has already introduced his own eSports brand and follows it up with a US-based eSports arena.

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He famously won the Premier League in a miracle season with Leicester City, now the Austrian Christian Fuchs is turning his attention to eSports. After initiating his NoFuchsGiven eSports academy, he has his focus set on establishing an eSports arena in New York City. It’s exciting times that show just how close professional football and eSports are connected these days.

Christian Fuchs, a founder or academies

His career as a professional football player has had its highs and lows. Christian Fuchs is still playing for Leicester City in the English Premier League, which he won with his club in 2016.

He used to play in the Bundesliga as well, for Schalke 04 or Mainz 05 and was Austria’s captain for five years. Right now, the 33 year-old isn’t getting a lot of game time in England. But offside the British football pitches, he has made his mark, too. In 2014, Fuchs founded the Fox Soccer Academy, which represents over 200 youth soccer players internationally. It operates in the US, England and Austria and is one of Fuchs’ projects for the development of future sports talent. But it is not his only one.

Christian Fuchs also founded the NoFuchsGiven eSports academy in order to get into the rapidly growing eSports industry. Apparently, he got interested after seeing his son watch various FIFA streams on Twitch. That’s what Steve McCaskill reported on Forbes. The academy now has twelve players from six countries in its ranks. But Fuchs doesn’t seem content just being the founder of an eSports team becoming more and more successful.

The Premier League left back also wants to build an eSports arena in New York City. He shared those plans with the public at the SportsPro Live.

I will build an eSports arena in New York. I just recently purchased a sports complex,

he said.

Fuchs talked about a hotel attached to the arena, whilst the latter shall be holding about a thousand people. He is in talks with partners as he wants to use the complex to generate money with the creation of the eSports ground. But Fuchs is also convinced that this kind of sports is the future and will only lure more and more people to watch the virtual games together locally.

According to Deloitte, eSports will generate 1,3 billion Euro in 2020. And we will already have 454 million interested viewers worldwide in 2019, as of Statista. Some might be occasional viewers, but you can gain views and revenue from them as well.

Statistic: eSports audience size worldwide from 2012 to 2022, by type of viewers (in millions) | Statista

Find more statistics at Statista

With the number of eSports fans and viewers only rising, it seems that Christian Fuchs has made the right call in building his own eSports arena in New York. For the US is, besides Asia, the biggest gaming and eSports market and Fuchs’ name, written into football folklore forever after being part of that miraculous Leicester City side from 2015/16, will only help his cause in terms of marketing. So, you might get the feeling the Fuchs eSports arena will not be the last of its kind as other current and former football stars could well jump on that powerful eSports train. The phenomenon offers a lot of potential. Sometimes building a place to showcase a wanted thing is just the right move to exploit its opportiunities.

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Is Twitch Becoming a Go-to-Platform for Football? MLS Banks on its Digital Reach

The MLS has not only signed a deal with Twitch to stream the eMLS Cup, but now offers viewers the chance to view the Generation Adidas Cup. Is Twitch a future football platform, too?

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DAZN is the OTT player of choice for a lot of people who want to watch football digitally. There are a lot of other options, but Twitch, actually known for streaming various content like eSports or even real time demonstrations and what have you, could soon be an important starting point for tech-savvy viewers to consume football or football-related content. For the MLS is teaming up with Twitch to show streams for their eMLS Cup as well as for the Generation Adidas Cup, where club academy teams meet each other. These are exmaples other brands might follow soon, since Twitch grows in importance for the digital media landscape by the day, it seems.

The MLS and Twitch team up

The streaming service has been bringing the Generation Adidas Cup to the audiences, a tournament of club academy teams from the MLS with tomorrow’s stars from North America participating. Eric Brunner, who is the head of business development and partnerships at Twitch’s sports division, said:

This agreement with MLS provides a new avenue for developing and growing an active community through interactive viewing. MLS is a forward-thinking brand that looks to provide innovative methods that allow their community to make meaningful connections on a global scale.

The MLS may have just over 10.000 followers on Twitch, where according to Business of Apps 15 million daily viewers and 2,2 million creators meet eacht other. But they are present there, while other leagues or clubs are not. And Twitch is growing in importance in the modern day digital marketing mix. Last year, 560 billion minutes of content were watched on the platform, up from only 72 billion in 2012.

Minutes spent watching Twitch content, 2012-2018, © Statista

As the US account for about 20 per cent of the global Twitch viewership market, using this channel is a shrewd move from the US football league. But since German had a 6,36 per cent share of this market in 2018 as well, which is a very good amount, the Bundesliga or its clubs could consider turning to switch, too. But what is in it, what does it offer compared to Facebook and Twitter, who also enable streaming?

Twitch is the gamers’ streaming service

First of all, Twitch is a channel for gamers. Whoever wants to watch gaming content, will turn to this platform, where especially Fornite or Apex Legends and Dota2 are popular. FIFA from EA Sports isn’t amongst the most viewed games, but it is still an impotant part of the whole ecosystem. That’s why the MLS shows the eMLS Cup via Twitch, its own eSports FIFA tournament.

Former MLS player Stephen Keel even has his own show on the MLS Twitch channel. So, mainly gaming fans or eSports fans, who appreciate FIFA or the eMLS, will come back to Twitch, for the users of the platform are generally quite loyal. But the MLS is thinking beyond just merging eSports with their own brand – that is something that long has happened, although not too many football entities have started to leverage the potentials of Twitch yet. Schalke 04 are one team, their team’s eSports games have been streamed since late 2017.

The Schalke 04 eSports games are streamed on Twitch, © Twitch

For the MLS, though, getting a stream of football games, albeit only youth games for now, on the channel is a step to put the streaming service’s abilities to provide football via this platform to the test. That even got professional eSports players watching – although they might be spending some time on Twitch anyway.

Still, eventually Twitch could become something of a valuable away ground for football associations. It’s certainly not their known playground, football used to be tied to TV so closely, now it has just made a transition to several OTT services. But people more and more get used to watching content via streams and young audiences even grow up using them to watch content. Jury’s out regarding the impact the streaming service will have for leagues or clubs that believe in it to get them more attention and viewers. Since gaming is fast becoming one of the modern days’ main hobbies or pastimes, trying to reach people on Twitch now might not be too much of a long shot. Rather, it seems to be a clever stroke in order to not only approach the eSports universe by forming teams, leagues and fitting merch, but also trying to immerse in the most prominent environment and take advantage of its various benefits. It might not be the obvious choice, but with a view to the future, turning to Twitch is well worth a try.

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Blockchain Collectibles Gather Pace as Real Madrid and BVB Join SWAP

Fantastec’s blockchain-powered solution SWAP offers fans the chance to get digital collectibles like autographs or player cards. Now Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund join Arsenal.

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As fans turn to their mobile devices ever so often, they are always looking for more interactive ways to get in touch with their beloved clubs. Some even like to collect club branded stuff – apart from the kits maybe –, which is why Panini’s sticker albums worked so well for so long. However, in the digital age, such passions are tranferred into digital spheres. And that’s why Fantastec offer their SWAP app to bring supporters exclusive video content, original autographs from their favourite players or collectible cards that can be exachanged. After Arsenal London, Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid bank on the blockchain-supported app in order to grow in-app revenue and interactive fan engagement at the same time.

SWAP offers revenue and an interesting prospect for fans

Social Media and digital pioneers Arsenal were the first to sign up with Fantastec to appear in their SWAP app. Now we’ve got Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid following suit – and possibly many more clubs in the future. For this app, based on forward-thinking blockchain technology, does have the fitting mix of traditional football fans’ desires and modern clubs’ demands for both digital and economical growth. Speaking to SportsPro Media, Fantastec’s product development partner Simon Woolard said:

We have good connections and wide-ranging experience which has helped us build solid and valued relationships with clubs and organisations across the world.

More top clubs are joining SWAP, © Fantastec SWAP

For now, Fantastec SWAP only has the licences for these three clubs, albeit European heavyweights. While it’s still starting to grow, the app is quite unique. For it offers fans the chance to own, collect and trade items like player cards with authentic autopgraphs and – maybe more important today – exclusive video content. Possibly, it might bring a reminiscence of collecting physical player cards or stickers, which hasn’t been a thing of the past just yet.

Additionally, the secure blockchain technology behind it is there to make sure that there will be no data breach and no false content or what have you.

Our blockchain technology means complete trust in every swap. No more fake autographs or cards. Fair and fun!

The collectibles could start to offer real value for fans

What’s even more interesting for the fans is the fact that all these rather innovative collectibles could not only turn out to be an amusing pastime alone, but a rather valuable passion, too. Because, from the 2019/20 season on, any trophy you earn in the game, which can be competitive as well, can be turned into points which then again enable a player to redeem them for club store discounts or the opportunity to take part in unique club experiences or special SWAP competitions. Furthermore, these first collectible items from Real, Arsenal or Borussia Dortmund might become quite precious, since the represent the first version of these items and also offer players, who will be somewhere else in the future – which would therefore make their player cards more rare. Fantastec editor Lee Astley even thinks an Aaron Ramsey player card from SWAP could really be a worthwile asset, since he will be going to Juve come the end of the campaign.

Notably, the collectibles are not limited to men’s player cards. When Arsenal just launched their away shirt collection in SWAP, the women’s team also provided their presence.

There are always new features for the young SWAP app. And if Social Media experts like those from Arsenal or Real Madrid believe in the advantages of the app, a lot of other clubs might follow. The whole system of swapping collectibles often to gain more content and more exlusives as well as new player cards and autographs should ensure that there’ll be movement amongst the users everytime.

The SWAP system, © Fantastec SWAP

Right now the app has only over a thousand downloads in the Google Play Store and SWAP only a few hundred followers on Twitter for example. That could change, though, if more teams join the app and if those big clubs advertise the app and integrate it into their Social Media offering for fans. In-app purchases, which range from just over one to more than 30 Euro at the moment, would be another good revenue stream for the app and the licensing clubs. Only, it has to grow more prominent soon to become a success. The concept behind it is compelling, now it needs a nudge in the right direction. And then we’ll see whether one can transfer the collectible culture into a digital universe with blockchain technology. For the MLB, it has worked – the football culture, especially in Europe, is different and it will test the fans’ willingness to embrace football fandom on another level. Thankfully, a good app seems to tease if not all, still a whole lot of those milllions of fans.

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BVB, FC Bayern, La Liga: TikTok’s the Way to Approach the Fans of Tomorrow

After Inter Milan and AS Monaco, German heavyweights Borussia Dortmund have entered the popular and ever growing app TikTok – which should expose them to many young audiences across the globe.

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© TikTok, FC Bayern, BVB, La Liga

TikTok is one of the fastest-growing Social Media apps and is especially important to young audiences as well as those in different markets like the US and China. That’s why a number of clubs or leagues have decided to take the application by storm. Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich opened their accounts in the context of their recent “Klassiker“, while La Liga also bring funny videos from their world stars to the users’ smartphones. For the incredible growth of the app might just be a development too important to miss for any club that operates as a global brand these days.

TikTok takes on Instagram and Co.

Yes, TikTok is fairly different from Instagram or Snapchat, yet it fascinates a whole lot of people. There’s no denying that, as in the first quarter of 2019 alone, the app added 188 million new users – a 70 per cent growth compared to Q1 2018. That’s according to data from SensorTower. To date, TikTok has got over a billion downloads and generated over 80 million US dollar from in-app purchases. TikTok was only behind WhatsApp and the Messenger from Facebook when it comes to downloads of non-gaming apps in Q1 2019.

Top non-game mobile apps in Q1 2019, © SensorTower

Also, it was top in terms of overall downloads in the US for Social Media apps in the same period. These data show how important the service has become to users, who just want to consume some funny, yet inspirational short-form video.

While Inter Milan have been one of the very fist clubs to appear on TikTok, other clubs have followed suit. Olympique de Marseille or AS Monaco have recently joined the app with their very own content.

And now the giants of the Bundesliga, Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund – after meeting in a decisive match a few weeks back –, will also vie on that Social Media platform. First, the BVB started their account with Marco Reus announcing their channel.

It has already over 80k followers despite not having too much content yet.

The BVB account on TikTok, screenshot TikTok

And only last Friday, the FC Bayern Munich officially informed about the launch of their very own account. Keeping up with the Motto “Make every second count“ – which is related to the content being no longer than 15 seconds on TikTok – Bayern are looking for even more engagement from fans. Not only in Germany, but in the US, in Asia and anywhere in the world really.

The club also notes which advantage the app might have compared to other Social Media services: it can be used without account once you scan a QR code to get started. That makes it easier for fans to get in touch. The German record champions and now once again league leaders have around 18k followers right now – but should gain more once they start to provide more content and more regularly as well.

La Liga see the potential as well

Another entity using the fascinating appeal of TikTok is the Spanish La Liga. Lately, they have started to offer fans content on the app as well.

And they seem to have understood how to bring up creative content in the short form.

La Liga promise the best short-form content about their various stars such as Messi, Griezmann or Modrić, but for now have only about 12k followers. With time and good content, though, these numbers might well rise.

Borussia Dortmund right now have overtaken Bayern Munich, AS Monaco, La Liga or even early adopters Inter Milan in terms of followers. Probably that is also down to Marco Reus’ prominence in Asia and other markets. The club from the Ruhr area are looking to show behind-the-scenes material as well as UGC and training footage.

Despite the rise of TikTok and its undoubted popularity, mainly amongst younger users, it’s not clear yet how important it really is to become for a brand’s and therefore also a football club’s marketing mix. If the provided content is not tailored for the audience or unauthentic, there possibly won’t be a lot of followers interested in the account. Furthermore, it is hard to see advantages beyond user engagement such as likes or shares. Maybe Instagram does offer a more mature marketing alternative, since all the shopping solutions are tied to the app; and probably a lot of clubs, who haven’t yet embraced the idea of going to TikTok, are not totally wrong about that. Still, club’s Social Media managers should give it a try, if they have a proper strategy to leverage the audience and its hunger for short-term content. And a lot of clubs are currently doing that. If the opportunity for brand collaborations arrives, the app might be of even more interest on an economical level, too.

TikTok isn’t wholly untroubled, though. The BBC just reported that the app fails to suspend accounts that send sexual messages to teens and children. So, the app, which has 500 million active users, could face more scrutiny. Apart from that, it definitely offers a route to the attention of audiences that possibly tend to have more of a distance to football as some older fans remeber it, as it used to be. That alone is valuable for clubs and a reason why so many are turning their attention to TikTok – which should only be a supplementary solution besides Instagram, Facebook, Weibo, Snapchat etc. Eventually, it comes down to the strategy a club is pursuing in Social Media as the jury’s out on how important TikTok is going to be in terms of generating real value like revenue. But attention happens to be a major factor for marketing strategies, which makes the TikTok adoption so promising; it should just not be the end of the road, because users and fans not only want content, but stories as well. That’s what keeps them interested and potentially has them spending on merch, tickets or even digital goods.

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Sunderland, Juve, La Liga: Documentaries Keep Fans Watching

All Or Nothing and Sunderland ’Til I Die showed how much clubs and streaming services benefit from documentaries. Now La Liga focus North America’s fans.

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Sometimes football fans just can’t decide, should they consume more streaming service content or rather go for a game of football or two. And if they are real football maniacs, what do they watch when there’s no game on-hand – although there always seems to be a game played somewhere in the world? The digital reception has made fans aware of content, which does focus football, but in a more cinematic or serial way. Netflix and Amazon Prime Video already offer numerous football documentaries. While they certainly bring players, background stories, special behind-the-scenes material and whole clubs to the attention of a very broad audience, they merge different demands to modern media. Football fans are provided with ever more streaming content for their spare time – as clubs and streaming services earn revenue and prestige aplenty.

The streaming service effect

Well, Juventus Turin have always been a top club in Italy, have boasted world-class players and are regular performers in the Champions League. Yet, the Netflix documentary First Team: Juventus was a hit on the streaming service, since it does offer something else than YouTube videos or the club’s Social Media channels like on Instagram. The series keeps fans watching, because they can see material from the reknowned players that seems to be so close to their everyday life as human beings rather than those football superstars. Furthermore, the production is more than professionally crafted, it’s beautifully shot at times and certainly the whole experience is about proper storytelling. And that’s something that football cannot always offer compared to popular series like Game of Thrones, Stranger Things or what have you.

Federico Palomba, Juve’s Co-Chief Officer at the time told JuveNews.eu:

The value we see is to be displayed on a platform by over 110 million subscribers worldwide, half of them in the United States, where their sum exceeds the total of all TV subscribers. We see an opportunity for priceless international exposure, priceless, and moreover with a very high quality product. One of the main objectives of this extraordinary opportunity is to grow internationally and reach new Juventus fans.

Reaching new fans is totally important and streaming services like Netflix or Amazon Prime Video are destined to do just that, worldwide. The latter service even offers viewers a series that refers to many sports experiences: All Or Nothing. And football fans will remember the popular edition fosusing Manchester City in their record breaking Premier League campaign of 2017/18. For the behind-the-scenes material will have made many people across several countries appreciative or even fanatic about the club – that has only grown to international prominence since heavy investments from sheik Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan and their recent successes. Their image maybe wasn’t always the best, but Guardiola and his playing style as well as that documentary will have helped. According to the BBC, Man City earned ten million pound for the exclusive camera access alone. And, as reported by City Watch, the series got ten million views and downloads in the first two weeks since its release. The rating on Amazon is nearly as satisfactory for City sympathisers as their last and current season. The high-profile series, narrated by no less than Ben Kingsley, who grew up in the suburbs of Manchester, was even nominated for some TV awards.

A focus on the fans themselves

So, this content can be a revenue and awareness driver for the services and the clubs. But when your club isn’t quite Juve or Man City, focusing on a different perspective might be a sensible stroke. That’s what England’s traditional club AFC Sunderland have done. Their very own Netflix series Sunderland ’Til I Die has been a thorough success – as opposed to their last few seasons in the English leagues. The club are just trying to get back to the Championship after a disastrous spell since their last relegation from the Premier League. And that is all part of the documentary. But, more importantly, as the title tells, it’s about the ties of the city and the club, the incredibly loyal and deeply rooted fandom in a city with many economical problems. They premiered the series at a special event and the success that followed spoke for itself.

On one hand, Sunderland can really do with the money that Netflix will have paid them for such exclusive access. On the other hand, the proud yet troubled club probably have been made more popular in various areas outside of Tyne and Wear. And guess what, there will be a second season this year, as the Guardian’s Russel Scott has already had a preview.

A similar approach is made by La Liga now. As Forbes report, their partnership with Relevent Sports Group has enabled them to reach North American audiences from the start of the 2019/20 season on with United States of LaLiga, a 12-part documentary focusing on fans of different Spanish clubs based in the US. Boris Gartner, CEO of LaLiga North America, is quoted:

Let’s find as many stories as we can of Americans that have some connection with LaLiga. Let’s build that bridge.

Rather than only for established football fans, this series is made to make people love football in the first place. Or understand the love for it. Because the sport is far from being the most popular in the US, yet, it is in the ascendant. La Liga and the Relevent Sports Group formed a first-of-a-kind equal joint venture last year, which is to last at least 15 years. It’s out to bring La Liga to the US and surely find a way to more audiences that promise engagement and revenue. Their series will focus on fans and also on stories like Mexicans, who play in Spain, like Andrés Guardado and Diego Lainez playing together at Real Betis, rathen than just going on about Griezmann, Messi or Real Madrid.

The plan to have La Liga matches played in the US was earlier repelled by the FIFA, though. Therefore, the documentary might even be of more significance in terms of getting the league and the love for football across the sea.

The growing number of football content on streaming services

The success of series like Sunderland ’Til I Die shows that not only Netflix or Amazon take profit from such content, but that the clubs or leagues can leverage this opportunities as well. The people do spend their time on Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu etc. So, offering them a new perspective and insights there could be a great chance to win over millions of viewers and earn some money en passant. It would take some good stories, though – but doens’t football sometimes write the best of them?

You can already watch several football-related series, like Les Bleus or Boca Juniors: Confidencial on Netflix. Beside a story about Antoin Griezmann’s rise there will be documentary about compatriot Nicolas Anelka in 2020. Some clubs even started creating original content themselves. Manchester United for example have made Eric Bailly – l’Elephant d’Afrique a MUTV special, on demand for subscribers.

Exclusive original content from Man United at MUTV, © MUTV

Football fans want to get entertained every day, not only on a matchday. They want background stories, storytelling and high-quality visual content; which, like football and its entertainment itself, just doesn’t end. Be it on a streaming platform or via the very own subscription service, documentaries are drawing ever more interest. While the market is made, not least thanks to Netflix and Co., satisfying these demands can prove lucrative for clubs around the world as they need to become more of a media brand, anyway.

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Gaming’s the Next Goldmine – And You Can Measure It

The gaming industry has become central to big brands and football clubs alike. Everyone wants a share of the pie. Yet, the value of eSports sponsorships has to be measured sophisticatedly.

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We’ve heard it before: gaming is the future for brands, in terms of sports, for marketers and what have you. And you can underline that assumption with many statistics. But the sheer acknowledgement of popular gaming stars in today’s media and society is probably the best sign of the changing times. A digital and electronic world was always going to have electronic sports as a treat for people who love to play and to watch it. The importance of gaming for our understanding of sports and sports marketing is there to see, since we can draw on measurement tools and differentiated insights from Media Chain, Twitch and their partners.

Ninja as a marketing maestro: Red Bull can and a million for streaming a new game

One of those popular players is Ninja alias Tyler Blevins. His YouTube channel alone has 21 million subscribers, on Instagram there are another 13,4 million followers. He is amongst the best Fortnite players on the planet and is Twitch’s number one streamer. Thousands of people watch his streams – and that has made brands interested long ago. We take Ninja as an example, because he was paid a staggering million US dollar just to stream EA’s Apex Legends and thereby promote it, as reported by Reuters. Furthermore, he will now be on a limited edition of Red Bull cans, while underwear in cooperation with PSD is also available.

Yet, Red Bull is a major player in the sports world and that collaboration shows again why eSports stars are central to big marketing goals.

While success with Ninja’s face is nearly a given for partner brands, other marketing sections might be more careful. As they want more metrics and assurances, Twitch could provide them with important insights thanks to a partnership with MVPindex from the US. For the company now offers a platform to value branded content and measure engagement data. The value of sponsorships with established leagues, gamers, teams or tournaments shall be exposed on the basis of data.

MVPindex can now measure streams and video-on-demand (VOD) files, as well as value hours watched, concurrent views, and lifetime follower and viewer growth within specific streams.

With the help of AI and speech processing technology, solutions like the Engagement Value Assessment™ (EVA) and new Attributed Valuation Assessment™ (AVA) methodologies are bound to optimise the measurement of the engagement generated in the context of eSports. Stan Woodward, CEO of MVPindex, explains:

Historically, it’s been really tough for brands and agencies to value esports sponsorships because the majority of value is on digital and social, rather than traditional media and on-site activations. That’s why we wanted to bring our proven expertise to the esports industry and offer properties and brands a trusted currency for valuing their sponsorships. The partnership with Twitch is a game-changer for us and for the industry.

And such measurement opportunities like this one on Twitch give brands and marketers something of a safeguard, if they consider tapping into eSports. Drawing up a budget for eSports cooperations – even with lesser known entities – or convincing team members in marketing will be much easier with solutions like these.

Gamers are a good audience for marketing plans

Media Chain has also taken a closer look at the gaming industry. Which means they made a study in the UK, with 1775 people from gaming communities taking part as respondents. The introduction outlines a problem for marketing deciders:

Many brands find it challenging to navigate these audiences due to the cognitive and emotional distance between gaming culture and their marketing teams. Many marketers are guilty of lazily clustering gamers under one banner, creating unsuccessful campaigns built on basic and ineffective insights.

That’s why Media Chain provide us with a few very interesting statistics, based on the UK respondents, though. First of all, they’ve created different kinds of gaming types, like the young, the mature, the hardcore gamer – who spends more than 20 hours gaming per week – or the role-playing and the sports gamer. As they’re all different, they need to be addressed differently, too.

What the study found, for example, is that core gamers, who play like twelve hours a week, are 50 per cent more likely to spend more on quality clothes, food and media compared to the casual gamers, who play less than five hours a week. You can see a pattern there, which might be used for campaigns in advertising. It won’t be a surprise that Gen Z gamers and digital natives prefer digital to physical goods mostly, but it’s certainly interesting that 42 per cent of young gamers (34 years of age or younger) also watch at least ten hours of gaming a week. Thus, the potential to reach them in streams from well-known players is there to see. Especially, if you consider that gamers trust fellow gamers’ opinions. “64 per cent of young gamers and 51 per cent of mature gamers trust other gamers opinions first“. While gamers are unsurprisingly keen on Social Media news and content, they are critical, if brands aren’t authentic with their advertising apporaches. 55 per cent of all gamers stated they have seen ads for products and services that are not relevant to them.

So, better targeting needs to be integrated for the eSports marketing scheme. In the UK, between 2016 and 2018 alone, brands’ total Facebook sponsorship spend with UK gaming page partners has increased by 164 per cent, as per Media Chain. To know the gamer audience is certainly important. From what the study says about the UK, it is rather male (over 80 per cent) and technology-, music- or comics-affine. Fashion for example isn’t too high on the gamers’ agenda.

Knowing your audience, © Media Chain

Half ot the hardcore gamers will pay extra for convenience or ease of delivery concerning products they care about; which could be because they’re so busy playing (and watching streams). That is good to know for potential advertisers as well.

The whole study offers to many answers for the specific gaming industry in the UK: why people tend to play – for example de-stressing or escaping from reality, which might give hints to marketing potentials, too – and what kind of games they play. Shooters, Battle Royale, role-playing and action and fighting are common answers.

Gamers’ favourite eSports in the UK, © Media Chain

First person shooters are also the most watched eSports in that area. There’s a lot to learn for marketers, not only in the UK. Like more data on the rise of Battle Royale or what gamers think about brands. They say that brands don’t care for gamers (38 per cent), don’t understand the gaming culture (33 per cent) or try to speak to gamers in a generic and cool way – which fails (49 per cent). They rather want exclusive offers, USP explanations and so forth. Media Chain’s director of gaming, Tom Sweeney, states:

Brands, if they haven’t already, will need to start shifting their spend away from programmatic, away from traditional media, and into social content – either creating it themselves, or supporting a creator or channel that the audience is already connected with. The games industry has moved in that direction too, and it’s high time that non-endemics followed suit. It’s as cheap as it’ll ever be as supply currently outpaces demand – but that will change as brands realise the value of this audience.

The unfulfilled potential of gaming has been there for a while. Only now brands really try to leverage it and data and marketing solutions are provided with more regularity. Yes, there is a hype around eSports and everyone wants to play a part. But if you play it cleverly and take the many opportunities to help you understand gaming culture and its audience, you could also take your piece of a multi billion Euro industry that is only going to grow now.

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eSports Stars Will be as Popular as Cristiano Ronaldo – In Time

Unpopular opinion: eSports really isn’t made for every club. Without embracing its rich culture, one cannot leverage its potential. Still, it’s kind of an “obligation“, said Reza Abdolali in our exclusive interview.

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Anyone connected to the sports industry will know that eSports is indeed something like the new kid on the block. The link between digital developments and the subsequent growth of gaming in society and the football environment’s approximation to technology-based enhancements and monetisation opportunities has inevitably brought eSports on the agenda of many a club. For it offers those clubs the prospect of reaching different audiences, that are not only connected in a digital way, but also keen to consume and open for new technical solutions or offerings. Yet, eSports is no new phenomenon and therefore a certain respect to its unique culture is needed, if seizing all its promises shall be a success in the long term. We spoke to Reza Abdolali, CEO of blackbird eSports, about professionalising eSports, its marketing potential and whether it’s rather an obligation for clubs or brands these days. Also, he opened up on its influences on society, how eSports stars could overtake Cristiano Ronaldo or Tom Brady and what is needed in order to create a lucrative coexistence of traditional and eSports.

eSports: The hype, the numbers, the snares

Gaming has become a widely accepted everyday media outlet, with especially younger audiences growing up with numerous opportunities to play popular games and to watch popular gamers play on Twitch, YouTube etc. as well. Whether it is League of Legends, Dota2, EA Sports’ FIFA, Fortnite, Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds or the new Apex Legends, the games industry is a multi billion Euro one; and it is growing continuously.

Only recently, the DFL have partnered with ProSiebenSat.1 to show the Virtual Bundesliga Championship on Free TV. Although TV isn’t a channel for the future, it does show that eSports has found its way to the middle of society, too. Even Google dived in and created Stadia, a gaming platform with few boundaries and the chance to play games via stream from virtually every device.

There’s a long list of modern day potentials you simply cannot overlook: Social Media – especially Instagram and Twitter for football clubs –, apps, podcasts, brand cooperations. So it’s only natural that clubs in their entity as brands are looking to leverage all of them to stay competitive. That’s why so many clubs have already formed their own eSports teams, sections, even academies. These are not only generating attention and engagement in Social Media and a connection to global gaming- and digital-affine audiences, they’re also bringing more sponsors and revenue drivers into the arena. Look at Ajax Amsterdam, who are great at eSports. Selling Ajax-branded gaming chairs – for about 400 Euro each – is part of the plan, while the club’s main shirt sponsor Ziggo now also pays for featuring on the eSports players’ kits. According to Statista, eSports market revenue will go through the one billion US dollar barrier this year.

Still, not every club is jumping on the eSports train. And they’re right not to, unless they have a strategy in place that honours the eSports culture whilst trying to enhance the own club’s brand. Investments shouldn’t be tied to questions like “How much will it earn us?“, although financial matters are certainly important. Rather, one should try to understand the history and future developments of eSports and then deduce potentials and measure application possibilities. We thought about getting more insight into the world of electronic sports. So we spoke to Reza Abdolali. He has the knowledge from different perspectives, having worked as a games journalist and for Virgin Interactive as well as leading his own agency Indigo Pearl. Last year he launched the full-service agency blackbird eSports which looks to professionalise eSports as it develops industry standards for companies and clubs alike. Experience from games, entertainment, management, Social Media and PR should stand them in good stead. They also offer a place for eSports talent from Germany, like Hamburg’s FIFA 19 Coop champion, also the inofficial German champion for that mode, Thiago Ludwig.

Reza gave us a lot of significant and thoughtful answers regarding the eSports environment, potential and its development in the future. It could even be number one sports sometime, couldn’t it?

The Interview

Spielmacher: eSports: Sneered at years ago, accepted now – where is this sport going in the next 5 to 10years?

Reza Abdolali: The eSports sector has undergone massive growth in recent years. There is no comparable phenomenon within the gaming sector. Meanwhile, eSports is an integral part of youth culture, which unleashes an enormous pull. In the coming years, this trend will increase many times over. There will always be more prominent sponsors who engage in eSports to a much greater extent. This in turn leads to even more visibility and thus a larger audience and higher popularity, which in turn has a positive influence on the room for manoeuvre and the earning potential of the eSport athletes.
Without question, in the coming years, we will see continuing, impressive growth and professionalisation of the area, which will affect and influence all aspects of eSports.

Spielmacher: Which tangible necessities for adjustment come up for clubs and brands today? Or should it be yesterday? There is marketing potential, isn’t there?

Reza Abdolali from Blackbird eSports, © Reza Abdolali

Reza Abdolali: Of course, the rapidly growing popularity of eSports and the associated visibility are making more and more companies aware of the sector. Of course we have to deal with a young, consumer-friendly and well-funded audience that is fully networked and active through Social Media platforms. This demographics is highly attractive to companies and their products and services – the potential for marketing activities is huge. However, we always make a very clear distinction between companies that want to become advertisers in the context of eSports and companies or clubs that want to become active in eSports themselves. While the first venture is still relatively easy to manage – assuming you are well advised – true engagement and active participation in the eSports sector is a much more complex challenge, which requires many facets. With blackbird eSports, we have developed exactly this area into a business segment: the successful consulting of customers who want to get involved in the field of eSports.

Spielmacher: Why should clubs or companies take to eSports, anyway? Which conviction would they have to follow in order to reap the rewards in the long term?

Reza Abdolali: We are dealing with a highly networked, young target group, which is also very consumer-friendly and open to new products and services. The fact that games and thus also eSports from the pop and youth culture have become indispensable, makes presence in the eSports sector more and more a “mandatory event“ for clubs and advertising companies. A long-term commitment to this area is therefore increasingly being examined by a growing number of companies.

Spielmacher: Despite growing popularity and viewer numbers, eSports isn’t quite seen as equal to other sports yet. Isn’t it time to concede that status to the sports uncompromisingly now, in the digitalised world we live in?

Reza Abdolali: In my view, this question has never asked itself, because eSports has always been a sport for me. Not accepting eSports as a sport, in my opinion, is based on ignorance or fear of something new. To this day nobody has explained to me comprehensibly why chess and archery, for example, in contrast to eSports are recognised as a sport. Even less can I understand that German gold medal winners in sports shooting in the Olympic Games in this country are cheered and at the same time Counterstrike players are classified as potentially dangerous. Here, it is too unidimensionally thought, if you don’t question the tradition and don’t open up for digital sports.

Spielmacher: How would you reassure people of eSports’ sporting aspects and its probably overlooked benefits in this context?

Reza Abdolali: Of course, eSports differs at first glance from established sports. When you take a closer look, the differences become much smaller. To succeed in eSports disciplines requires the highest levels of discipline, perseverance, mental strength and, of course, talent. eSports athletes are the opposite of “computer nerds“, a picture that some media like to draw. The level of performance in many areas of eSports is now so high that, without a professional, highly disciplined approach to attendees, it is virtually impossible today to celebrate success at world-class level. This enormous willingness to perform and the absolute will to succeed are also features that are now attracting many sponsors to the area – because these are values ​​that companies and brands like to associate with.

Spielmacher: With eSports looking to make its way into mass sports, which are intersections with more traditional sports that inject some familiarity for viewers or sceptics?

Reza Abdolali: The entire Modus Operandi, which has established itself around the eSports area, derives to a large extent from the traditional sports sector. The formation of teams and coaches, the way in which they are commentated on live – up to the background coverage is basically based on practices and experience from the traditional sports sector. The staging of the eSports athletes themselves as well as the involvement of sponsors is reminiscent of familiar formats. Spectators who are new to the game, or who would like to become active in eSports, will discover a variety of familiar characteristics. Of course this reduces the barriers to entry enormously – whether as a spectator or as an athlete.

Spielmacher: Is TV generally still as important for sports coverage as it once was and will eSports make its way to the stations? In Germany, ProSiebenSat.1 show matches from the Virtual Bundesliga on Free TV now.

Reza Abdolali: Detached from the topic of sports: linear TV is losing more and more importance and is already barely or not at all consumed by the younger target group.Conversely, TV is still important for sports in order to reach large parts of the population. After several generations of TV consumption in a similar manner over decades, media consumption has changed dramatically in recent years among the next generation. In this “transitional phase“, eSports is good at broadcasting on Free TV – especially in order to strengthen social acceptance in older age groups. For the young target group is already no longer particularly attractive to get offered eSports content in linear TV. Not least because they want to decide at what time they consume the content. The fixed broadcasting hours of the TV stations are more of a hindrance. The models of the future are already delivered by Netflix and DAZN today. Content on demand – at any time and individually.

Spielmacher: Younger generations celebrate gaming stars like football idols in their own right. Do you think players like F2Tekkz, Faker or Kai “deto“ Wollin will be able to become as popular as icons such as Cristiano Ronaldo or Tom Brady?

Reza Abdolali: Popularity is always relative to the size of the target group or fan base, which helps a personality to become known. Thus, the prominence of athletes, actors or musicians stands and falls. At the end of the day, it is about visibility to a mass market audience. If this is given, for example through extraordinary success, sponsors with ever greater reach become aware of the actors – their cooperation then multiplies the visibility once again. So why should an eSports superstar, who is perhaps the best of his guild in a game celebrated by hundreds of millions of teenagers around the world, not gain such visibility? If you look at the high value of computer and video games within the youth culture, this development is actually only a matter of time. It’s important to keep in mind that many teenagers and young adults have grown up in media contexts primarily through games – games have a much stronger cultural anchorage for these younger generations than they did in previous ages.

Spielmacher: With society turning ever more digital and in consuming sports, too, could eSports eventually supersede other sports such as volleyball or handball?

Reza Abdolali: I would not tie this comparison to individual sports, but rather to major trends within the eSports arena. We will see many eSports developments in the coming years, which will surprise us a lot. Especially in view of the huge learning curve that particularly game developers have experienced in recent years, we can expect a completely new, even further optimised approach to the eSports sector. The result will be new generations of games that are even better tailored to the requirements of a modern eSports sector. That some of these games, and thus eSports disciplines, develop even greater visibility than familiar formats is out of question for me.

Spielmacher: A team like Team North, initiated by FC Kopenhagen and NordicFilms, has the look of an entertainment brand. Do eSports sections at football clubs have to go away from being “sections“ and start becoming their own brand?

Reza Abdolali: We are certainly only at the beginning of a long development. At the moment various approaches are being tested, which approach and which branding has a positive effect on the respective eSports company. Of course, the fact that eSports has a completely unique identity has to be highlighted. At the centre of this self-discovery and positioning of the teams is the value compass, which each club defines individually for itself. The resulting approach to a new area, such as eSports, is the focus and the link between an established and (globally) known football team and a new department. Which branding is chosen then, will be rather subordinate.

Spielmacher: As society is steering more towards electronic sports, could there be an imbalance in the future insofar as fans will probably watch and play more in digital contexts without having a physical offset? While FIFA or Madden NFL offer real life re-enactment, Dota2 or League of Legends make that impression harder to imagine.

Reza Abdolali: Internationally successful computer and video games, that emotionally appeal to millions of audiences around the world, are primarily cultural phenomena. Depending on the level of awareness of a game, these products can develop a gigantic traction and thus a maximum of visibility. A reference to the non-fictional world may encourage this development, but is by no means a prerequisite. A comparable media product would include the Avatar, one of the most successful films of all time – a media product that blurs the boundaries between film and game in terms of its tonality and is located in a fictional world. The trait of an eSports discipline, as opposed to the mass market, is thus based to a considerable extent on the popularity of the underlying game.

Spielmacher: What, in your opinion, are the most urgent aspects that have to be addressed in order to professionalise eSports?

Reza Abdolali: As the real sports sector does, we also need more standards in the eSports sector, both generally and internationally. These should not only define the eSportive coexistence, but also offer outgoing action recommendations and approaches. From the management of eSports athletes to sponsorship and the implementation of major eSports events, it would be desirable to establish more standards. Especially when you consider how many new players are pushing into the area, it would be important to be able to draw on some guidelines for recurring challenges and demands. It is not a question of prohibitions or commandments, but rather resources of best practices that have been agreed on both nationally and internationally.

Spielmacher: Change makes coexistence inevitable – we’ve seen that with radio and TV (rather audio and video streaming these days). Do you think eSports will evoke a power shift in the modern sports industry or rather help football (and possibly other sports as well) strengthen its future existence? Could you think of a favourable symbiosis?

Reza Abdolali: The traditional (competitive) sports sector has been a firmly established sector for many decades with fixed processes and rules. In direct comparison eSports is still in its infancy. Nevertheless, media usage has radically changed in the last decade alone. Traditional TV, for example, has lost much of its importance especially in younger target groups compared to Internet-based formats such as YouTube. The development and strong growth of eSports is clearly related to this development. Without transmission options such as streaming, eSports would not have developed these large ranges, and therefore not the meaning. So I think there are a lot of links between the traditional sports sector and eSports. I believe we are still too early in the process to speak of a symbiosis, which is possibly equally profitable for both areas.


Thanks so much for the interview, Reza. We certainly know a lot more about eSports now and will hopefully look at it more reflectively.

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Asian eSports Market Taking Digital Football to Another Level

Whoever develops a growing interest in esports should take a look at whatever happens in Asia. South Korea, China etc. really are pioneers – and European clubs can benefit from their knowledge.

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The look abroad is always needed if football teams want to evolve and get prepared for the adaption of new elements. eSports has indeed started to establish itself as kind of a parallel sports clubs bank on to gain new fans and more income. While the motives should be examined precisely, football brands should have a look at the Asian eSports market to ready themselves for what lies ahead in that very segment. For it holds so many lucrative options; the Wolverhampton Wanderers are one of the teams looking to take advantage of that.

Wolves form Wolves Weibo eSports section for China

In a football context, the concentration on EA Sports’ FIFA is understandable, when it comes to eSports. Most teams in Europe already have their teams in place to represent them at domestic competitions – or the new eChampions League from EA Sports.

Meanwhile, in the ePremier League, Wolverhampton Wanderers’ representative has made it to the finals, which are played later this month.

The English club has really adopted eSports holistically. Now, they form a team to play in China as they partner with the Shanghai Jingzong Culture Media Company which owns Weibo eSports. The Wolves Weibo eSports team will be launched via an event in March and take part in the Chinese FSL (FIFA Online 4 Star League).

Wolves are going to China with new eSports section, © Wolverhampton Wanderers

The club wants to conquer the market in China. Therefore, the Wolves have taken to Weibo, which has 445 million daily active users and offers a great opportunity to gain new followers and fans for a club re-establishing itself quite impressively in the Premier League right now.

The esports market in China is growing at pace and we wanted to follow-on from the success of our existing esports team with a dedicated China presence. This collaboration is very exciting as it will see us partner with a world class esports club and one of the biggest media platforms in China,

said Russel Jones, head of marketing at Wolves. And Guangzhuo Shi, CEO of Jingzong Culture Media Company, added:

This cooperation is very exciting for Weibo eSports. Wolves are a very well-known and respected football club across the World. Partnering with Wolves, to form Wolves Weibo eSports, will help us reach an entirely new audience and provide powerful additional resources.

The move to China could turn out to be a quite shrewd one as in Asia, and especially in China, eSports is much more of a real economy already.

Asian eSports sets the tone

China have only recently accepted eSports as a real profession. For the country certainly has a big and lucrative eSports industry already, second only to North America. That is relating to a study by Tencent, which is quoted in the ESports Observer. According to that, the Chinese eSports market will grow to 1,5 billion US dollar in 2020, up from around 760 million in 2017. While North America made 258 million US dollar from eSports-related aspects, China’s revenue was estimated at 104 million in 2017 – South Korea followed with about 49 million.

Well, these numbers are one thing. Another is the sheer amount of people clubs and brands can reach in the Asian and Chinese markets. Because in 2020, the global eSports user base is expected to grow to 590 million, yet, 59 per cent or 350 million of those originate from China. Although that means a decline in per cent, China is still extremely important for any club and their internationalisation strategies. And being present on WeChat or Weibo alone will not be enough as eSports’ ever growing popularity can help clubs and brands reach a whole new audience.

The importance is clear to see when you look at the deal between Nike and TJ Sports from Tencent and Riot Games. Dot ESports report about a deal worth about 7,5 million US dollar annually, which sees Nike create the official clothing for the League of Legends Pro League. Furthermore, starting from the mid-season Invitational, fans can purchase sneakers and apparel from Nike and the LPL.

Additionally, Nike will provide players and teams with strength training programs to improve mental and physical health as well as stamina.

eSports potentials need to be assessed accurately

As the Asian eSports market offers a lot of potential, other teams are making their move, too. PSG, who already have teams for DOTA2 or FIFA in China, start with a Mobile Legends team for the Mobile Legends Pro League Season 3 in Indonesia.

Asia is a strategic market for PSG Esports. It’s time for us to move down to Asia Pacific. With 43 millions Mobile Legends players, half of them in Indonesia, getting into this game was obvious for us. PSG Esports is striving for the best and we are glad to make an association with leading Team RRQ,

commented Yassine Jaada, Chief Gaming Officer of PSG eSports. Thus, not only China should be considered, if football clubs want to expand their eSports brand to Asia. According to the ESports Insider, the ESL will bring more DOTA2 tournaments to new markets like Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia. And for any club or brand this opens the door to opportunities for reaching new audiences across Asia.

But before clubs start their journey, there are a lot of questions that need to answered honestly. What do they expect from their involvement in the eSports market? For only an authentic approach will provide ongoing appeal, income and fan engagement. Apart from that, it’s important to know which games should be focused. Yes, FIFA has the closest ties to football. But in Japan, the J1 League collaborate with Konami to form an eSports league in which Pro Evolution Soccer – known as Winning Eleven in Japan – will be played, as SportsPro Media report. And DOTA2, League of Legends or what have you will be of growing importance if new audiences should be made aware of a brand. Yet, football clubs cannot view eSports as an extension of their traditional brand and a mere revenue driver, since it’s a unique universe – which on one hand offers unique opportunities, not least in Asia, but on the other hand demands an approach appreciative of the long existing eSports culture.

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