The Next Big Thing Started Big

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard | 2.14.2017

Due to my day job, I had the opportunity to spend some time at RIOT Games recently. I knew that e-sports was popular but I didn’t know how popular it was until I spent some time with the RIOT Games folks. Afterwards I began to dig into the sport a little bit more and found some interesting parallels between e-sports the UFC and some of the bigger, established sports like the NBA.

The last ‘big thing’ was the UFC and you could argue that it still is. While the UFC was turned around by the near bottomless checkbook from the Fertiitta brothers and the vision of Dana White, it couldn’t have made it without the rapid adoption of the Internet in the mid to late 90’s. From bulletin boards to chat rooms to user groups, it was this medium that helped keep mixed martial arts alive while White and the Fertitta’s fought to get back the UFC back onto pay-per-view in the early 2000’s.

Full disclosure, I was a UFC employee from 2006-2013. 

Fast forward a decade and a half or so and e-sports is the now the next big thing. While the ‘athletes’ in e-sports wouldn’t last 30 seconds in the Octagon with a UFC fighter, most UFC fighters wouldn’t do well against any of these gamers either. But the Internet and global distribution are what both have thrived on.

It was a long, hard slog for the UFC to build up its global network. They built the brand up in America first and then slowly but surely locked in TV deal after TV deal in various countries around the world while also expanding their online distribution footprint to the point where they launched UFC Fight Pass in 2014.

E-sports on the other hand started globally because it was born online. From Asia to the Americas to Europe, it has been a global sport since day one. It is a sport that is thriving on over-the-top (OTT) networks like Amazon’s Twitch and Google’s YouTube.

lol

While networked gaming goes back two decades (LAN Party in the dorm anyone?) it has flourished in recent years drawing in several big name investors and sports organizations along the way to the point where the NBA is seeing this as a new vertical for the league and it’s teams.

Recently the NBA announced a partnership with Take-Two Interactive to launch a professional e-sports league with teams managed by current NBA franchises.

While other mixed martial arts organizations existed, the UFC was the premiere player. E-sports on the other hand have several big name players from the start like RIOT Games and Activision | Blizzard to name a few. Now with addition of the NBA and major soccer clubs like Ajax and Manchester City, there are multiple behemoths battling it out in the space.

The NBA wasn’t the first to see the benefit of e-sports or sign a major deal. RIOT Games, maker of League of Legends, signed a deal with the Big10 not too long ago to broadcast games between school sponsored teams. So Rutgers may not have a chance against Ohio State on the football field, but in League of Legends, only time will tell.

The investments by the NBA, soccer clubs, and the Big10 makes a lot of sense. Live sports have been under fire for a couple of years now. While previously seen as ‘DVR proof’, the recent decline in TV ratings for the NFL and the decline in attendance at sporting events has sent the leagues, conferences and even teams scrambling to find avenues of growth. While starting an e-sports team does not in anyway correlate to increased TV ratings or more butts in seats at a Denver Nuggets or a Purdue football game, it does provide the leagues, conferences and teams a chance to not fade into irrelevancy and leverage existing advertising and marketing partners by providing them a young desired demo.

This is good news for consumers and players in the e-sports realm. There is choice, diversity and no one entity running the show. It also means that e-sports will succeed by whatever revenue standard you put up against it. Wall Street and the NBA have a tendency to not bet on things that are doomed to fail and anytime you get college kids involved, there is no telling the innovation and growth e-sports could really have.

The NBA partnership with Take-Two and the RIOT Games deal with the Big10 can be a blueprint for other leagues and conferences to follow. If these can show short term success and projected long term growth, others will quickly jump on the bandwagon.

E-sports has an opportunity to be the biggest “sport” in the world due to it’s immediate global reach and massive backers. It is doing it differently by not having a concentrated center of power, an individualized rule set for each game and it’s reach across every existing sport and continent. Drop in the explosion in OTT providers from Twitch, YouTube and Facebook Live and you have the makings of something that can, over time, do something that UFC set out to do, eclipse soccer as the world’s dominate sport.

Further Reading

SF Chronicle

Venture Beat

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The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard | 10.31.2016

While many point to the end of the calendar year as the ‘most wonderful time of the year’, those folks are clearly not sports fans. While the yule log, spiked eggnog and massive amount are nice, they do not compare to the last week of October and the first week of November.

World SeriesSeveral years ago the World Series got kicked back a little bit. Now the baseball season overlaps with the NFL,college football, CFL and MLS for a two solid months. Add in the start of the NHL and NBA regular seasons and you have got sports on seven days a week.

After Halloween, the Mid-American Conference (MAC) starts playing football games during the week which means that there is football on seven days a week. Add this to the NFL games on Thursday, Sunday and Monday and it can be easy to see why some people get ‘football overload’ and turn to something else.

While the Holiday Season is great, it does not compare to this time of year. From the World Series to pivotal college football games to the MLS playoffs. The games this time of year are more important than the ones during the Holiday’s. So enjoy the Indian Summer some of you are getting and enjoy the sports overload.

The Digital Middle Ground

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard


BallmerConsensus is that Steve Ballmer overpaid for the Los Angeles Clippers back in 2014. Considering that he is worth around $27 billion, spending $2 billion for an NBA franchise in the second largest TV market in the United States seems like a deal for someone in his position. Part of the reason that the NBA was more than happy to allow the former Microsoft CEO into the league was the fresh ideas he would bring. One of those is Ballmer’s push for the Clippers to have their own OTT channel which could open the floodgates for other teams, leagues and conferences.

Back in April the Sports Business Journal (SBJ) did an article about how Ballmer was cutting out the digital rights from the next regional TV package for the Clippers so they could start an Over The Top (OTT) channel where a user would authenticate with their regional TV subscription. This would not be a replacement of the live games but an addition to it.

Ballmer, like his time at Microsoft, is thinking logically but not necessarily radically. He is not refusing to see what is coming but he is unwilling to kill the cash cow and innovate into the next thing. Truth be told, the NBA may not be allowing him to go too far either.

Sound familiar? It should if you’ve read or listen to Harvard Business Professor Clayton Christensen and dove into his theory of disruptive innovation.

The fact is that sports rights are at their limit when it comes to rising costs and passing on those costs to the consumer. With the wage gap in the United States becoming such a major talking point this political season, it is becoming harder and harder for people to justify the monthly costs of a cable or satellite subscription to watch random games. The price may not be too high for just their local team though.

MLB.tv is doing something similar right now but it is designed for people outside of the TV foot print of the club. In other words, if you live in Seattle and don’t want to pay for cable then good luck trying to watch Mariners games online somewhere.

REMOTESeveral years ago when sports leagues begun creating their own TV channels like the NHL Network and the NFL Network, many people believed that it was only a matter of time before the league’s brought all of their games in house and cut out the traditional partners like NBC, CBS, FOX and ESPN. Well that hasn’t happened because of the billions that can be made by bidding out the rights to these partners. It appears now though that we are at a place where a league or conference can keep their digital rights and sell to a TV partner because that, in the end,is a win-win. It lowers the cost for the traditional TV partner but gives the league, team, or conference an avenue to grow revenue with their most valuable assets.

It’s one step back and possibly three steps forward type of scenario.

The Clippers are not going to walk away from a regional sports deal that pays them upwards of $50 million a year. Even Ballmer isn’t that crazy. However, retaining the digital rights can give him a lot more flexibility even if the Clippers are not going to be live streaming the actual games with their OTT channel. It’s a logical yet still a trailblazing move. Kind of wonder why the Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban didn’t do this already.

 

The Best

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard


Pat Summitt has died at the age of 64. The trailblazing coach roamed the sidelines at Tennessee for 38 years, won eight national championships and 1,098 games. She has gone down as not only one of the greatest basketball coaches of all time but as one of the greatest coaches in all of sports.

“The word icon and the word legend is probably used too much in today’s sports society, but it is certainly appropriate when describing Pat Summitt,”

– Peyton Manning

Summitt was an innovator. Her teams practiced against men, played in your face defense and were famous for playing anybody, anywhere at anytime. She was once offered the Tennessee men’s basketball job where she replied, “Why is that considered a step up?” Years later while watching a men’s practice, she got so fired up at what she was seeing that she took over practice from then men’s coach Bruce Pearl.

She was renowned for her toughness. It was on full display when she went on a recruiting trip to Allentown, PA to convince future star Michelle Marciniak to come to Knoxville. Her water broke as she walked in the door and refused to let the pilots land anywhere but Tennessee where she gave birth to her only child Tyler. Yes, she epitomized ‘Tennessee Tough.’

That toughness was reflected in her team. Year in and year out, the Lady Vols were always among the country’s elite making 18 trips to the Women’s Final Four. They practiced hard, played hard and studied harder. I can remember a friend telling me how blown away he was by the fact that three members of the Lady Vols were in the front row of his 9am class the day after playing a late night game in Ames, IA during the NCAA Tournament.

While there are many great coaches in basketball, Pat Summitt is among the top. She is in the same class as Mike Krzyzewski, Bobby Knight, Phil Jackson and John Wooden. Heck, you have to put her in the same class as Bill Belichick, Bill Walsh, Knute Rockne, Casey Stengel and Joe Torre. She was one of the greats and will be sorely missed not just in Knoxville but around the world.

Tribute to Pat Summitt

The NBA’s New Revenue

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard


May is always a busy month for the NBA which is why you probably didn’t even notice the announcement back in April that starting with the 2016-2017 season, you will now see advertisements on jerseys. Shortly their after the Philadelphia 76ers announced their deal with StubHub to be the first company with it’s logo on a game jersey. This is a very smart financial move by the NBA and goes right in line with making all their franchises global brands.

StubHub 76ersThis is only a three year pilot program but the odds are that this will stick because of the revenue it generates. The NBA has probably realized that the days of escalating TV contracts are probably gone. With that source of revenue probably flat in the future, it behoves the league now to look at other options and that’s exactly what they are doing.

manu jerseyTo give you some precedent, soccer clubs have been selling the space on the front of the jersey and for big money too. Manchester United sold their space to Chevrolet for seven years and some $560 million. Granted the logo is front and center while the NBA’s will only be 2.5 inches by 2.5 inches so getting the $560 million is gonna be a little tough. In fact the 76ers deal is only worth $15 million ($5 million per the three year pilot program).

This sponsorship move by the NBA will only expand. This works for a lot of other sports like soccer, golf and auto racing so it makes sense that it would work in the NBA. It’s hard to image that the NBA would leave revenue on the table especially when the odds are that that revenue number will only increase. So get use to it NBA fans and for you NHL fans, you are probably next.

From Sports To Tech

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard


I came across an uplifting article on Mashable this week about former San Francisco 49ers Pro Bowl linebacker Patrick Willis. Willis retired from the sport a year ago and now works for storage company in Silicon Valley. Not exactly what you were expecting from the former linebacker was it? Funny thing, he won’t be the only former athlete in tech.

Patrick Willis LinkedIN

Sam Laird’s article touched on how Willis went from gridiron to boardroom and it’s really refreshing to see. There are so many stories about players having health and financial issues after their playing days are done. To see a man go from the poorest of the poor in the deep south to first round draft pick and now Executive Vice President of a tech company. Pretty impressive stuff.

Willis isn’t going to be the exception. Golden State Warriors forward and 2015 NBA Finals MVP Andre Iguodala signed with Warriors a few years ago in part because of the tech industry. He works closely with Andreessen Horowitz, invests heavily in tech and it’s pretty clear that he will join the industry after his playing days are over.

Willis and Iguodala are showing other athletes how it can be done especially if you live in the Bay Area. You don’t have to be a megastar to be able to pivot and find success in another industry. While you will always hear the story about the athlete who lost it all, you will also be hearing, I hope, more stories like the one about Willis and Igoudala.

Kings Of Nothing

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard


While the NBA world has marveled at the skill and domination of the defending champion Golden State Warriors this season, 90 minutes east of Oakland (give or take how bad traffic is) is one of the NBA’s biggest head scratching franchises, the Sacramento Kings. The same franchise that will soon be on it’s ninth head coach since the ’06-’07 season. It’s time to say that it’s not the coaches fault.

The Kings has a good run under in the early 2000’s under head coach Rick Adelman and owners Joe and Gavin Maloof. There were some legendary playoff series between them and LA Lakers that really got the Central Valley of California revved up. Those days are long gone and the Kings have yet to be back to the playoffs since Adelman was the coach.

The Maloof’s sold the team to Vivek Ranadivé back in 2013 and it’s gotten worse despite the fact that Ranadive was able to get a new downtown arena built that will open next season. This season was marked by, well, a lot. The star player hates the coach, the coach hates the front office and the front office is in waaaay over it’s head.

Other than that things are fine.

The sad thing is that it doesn’t have to be this way. The Warriors were almost as bad for a very long time. Between the RUN TMC days until a few years ago with the arrival of Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, being a Warriors fan was nothing to brag about. But unlike the Warriors who finally put all the pieces together, the Kings seem to grab nothing but round pegs for square holes.

CousinsAll is not lost for the Kings. They have talent on the roster in DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gay and Rajon Rando just to name a few. They were within arms length of a playoff spot this season despite the drama. The real problem is is that the front office is asleep at the wheel….or driving from the backseat.

Vlade Divac has no business being a GM of an NBA franchise at this point in his career. He is a great guy and an icon of the franchise but the Kings need a serious GM with some experience. Once they find that then they can go get a head coach. Since Ranadive took over as owner, the front office and head coach have not been on the same page and the results on the court reflect this disfunction. That is a must if you are to be a playoff team in the NBA…or any sports franchise for that matter.

So while the Warriors break NBA records and have the star player of the NBA on their roster, the Kings fans will have to wait another couple season before they will see playoff basketball in the River City. But on the bright-side, at least they get a new arena next year.

What to Watch: Fri. 3/11 – Sun. 3/13

All times are Pacific.

Friday March 11th

Baylor vs Kansas – 4pm ESPN2: The Big 12 tournament kicks into high gear.

Philadelphia Flyers at Tampa Bay Lightning – 4:30pm NHL.TV: Flyers are agonizingly close to a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference while the Lightning are battling it out for one of the top seeds.

Miami Heat at Chicago Bulls – 5pm NBA.TV: The Heat lead the Southeastern division while the Bulls have fallen off a bit but are still a dangerous group.

DUCKS V BLUESAnaheim Ducks at St Louis Blues – 5pm NHL.TV: The Ducks have been come down to Earth after winning something like 10 in a row. Both are playoff bound. Expect some excellent hockey in this one.


Chicago Blackhawks at Dallas Stars – 5:30pm NHLN:
These two are tied for the top spot in the Western Conference and on top of the Central. Both are two of the top teams in the entire league.

Oklahoma vs West Virginia – 6pm ESPN2: OU may have the Big 12 player of the year (Buddy Hield) and swept the season series but pay no mind to that. Bob Huggins will have his team ready to play and they are still a top 10 team mind you.

Arizona vs Oregon – 6pm PAC12: Oregon is trying to lock up a number one seed in the NCAA Tournament but Arizona needs a win to improve their seeding too.

Portland Trailblazers at Golden State Warriors – 7:30pm NBA League Pass: You want to watch this one just to see what Steph Curry and Damian Lillard are going to do to one up each other.

 

Saturday March 12th

NY Islanders at Boston Bruins – 10am NHL.TV: A little morning hockey with two playoff bound teams.

New England Revolution vs DC United – Noon MLS.TV: These two were at the top of the Eastern Conference standings last season. Good early season matchup.

Miami Heat at Toronto Raptors – 4pm NBA League Pass: Talk about tough back-to-back road games for the Heat. First Chicago and then up to the Great White North. That’s just mean.

Sporting KC vs Vancouver Whitecaps – 5:30pm MLS.TV: SKC looks to lay out the unwelcome mat for the Caps. Both should be a force in the Western Conference again.

Oklahoma City Thunder at San Antonio Spurs – 5:30pm ABC: Probably the only two teams who have a legit chance of knocking off the Warriors when it comes playoff time. Durant, Duncan, Westbrook, Parker and of course the media mogul Poppovich.

BLUES V STARS FIGHTSt Louis Blues at Dallas Stars – 6pm NHLN: Both are looking to unseat the Blackhawks in the Central and claim the top spot. They should both be pretty sick and tired of each other by this point of the season. Sprinkle in the back side of back-to-back games and it could get nasty out there.

Washington Capitals at San Jose Sharks – 7:30pm NHL.TV: The Caps look to close out the brutal west coast road trip with a win in the shark tank.

 

Sunday March 13th

LUNDQVISTPittsburgh Penguins at NY Rangers – 9:30am NBC: Sidney Crosby and the Pens look to give themselves some breathing room when it comes to the playoff race. The Rangers are strong and will be strong once Henrik Lundqvist and Rick Nash return.

Cleveland Cavaliers at LA Clippers – 12:30pm ABC: Enough talent on display to make you stop you Sunday yard work and camp out in front of the TV.

NYCFC vs Toronto FC – 2pm ESPN2: Lot of star power on display and hopefully that means goals a plenty.

NCAA Selection Show – 2:30pm CBS: Who is in and who is out. Let the second phase of March Madness begin!

And….They’re That Good.

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard


People can say what they want but Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors are making the NBA a whole lot of fun again.

How? Because he puts up shots like this and fully expects to make them.

How is this possible? Shots like this are are for a game of HORSE for the rest of us. For Curry they are an everyday occurrence.

But how good are the Warriors…Really? Well they set an NBA record with 45 straight home victories.

What? Excuse me?

Yes, 45 straight.

If that wasn’t enough let’s not forget that Curry’s Splash Brother (Klay Thompson) once scored an NBA record 37 points….in a quarter!

Yes, Curry, Thompson and the Warriors are that good and that much fun to watch.