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

Advertisements

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 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.

The Sunday: Posing For Greatness

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard


See Ya Kobe

Kobe Bryant is a first ballot Hall of Fame inductee and in all likelihood will have a statue created of himself outside of Staple Center. He has won multiple MVPs, NBA Titles and he did go out on a relative high note. I say relative because while he did score 60 points in his final game, his team finished with the second worst record in the NBA recording a meager 17 wins.

Bryant will go down as one of the best in Lakers in the franchise’s history and one of the greatest players in NBA history. No doubt he would have prefered to have gone out with another NBA Title but as the song goes, you can’t always get what you want.

 

73

While Kobe was hanging 60 on the Utah Jazz in his final game, the Golden State Warriors were making NBA history by winning their 73rd game of the season.

 

Drogba Returns

And he does this for his first goal of the season.

 

Storyteller

Speaking of greats in Los Angeles, there is no one better than Vin Scully. On Friday he did only what Vin Scully could do, tell a story about killing a snake while never missing a pitch.

 

Come and Go

It’s one of the tougher pills to swallow in collegiate sports, coaches leaving for other jobs. Some do it rarely, others do it often but there may not be anyone who did it like Chris Beard.

Beard spent one season at Arkansas – Little Rock before accepting a job a UNLV only to leave a few weeks later for Texas Tech. It’s enough to make anyone frown. While it may be justifiable in the eyes of some, it is a tough pill to swallow for many. One of those is Yahoo Sports writer Kevin Iole. He wrote an opinion piece on the subject.

 

And Pose

Dallas Stars forward Jamie Benn may have been knocked into the boards but at least he posed for a picture when he got up.

The Time Has Come

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard

Becky Hammon just keeps on keeping on. From undrafted free agent to six time all-star in the WNBA and now head coach of the NBA Summer League Champion San Antonio Spurs. She continues to show that wherever she goes, success follows.

Becky Hammon

The Hammon led Spurs reeled off six wins in a row to win the Summer League Championship. She can put that trophy on the mantle along with the fact she is the first women to be a full time NBA assistant coach.

Some people used to say that it was only a matter of time before a woman was a coach of a mens professional team. Well that time looks like it may have come. While the sample size is small it is still proof that a women can coach a mens team successfully at the professional level. We can make exceptions all we want, the fact is that a woman lead a mens team to a championship at the professional level.

Year after year we see the same coaches recycled in professional sports. On occasion we get fresh blood and fresh ideas embodied in the likes of  Hammon or Joe Moglia. The insiders always cite experience as the end all be all for a head coach but more times than not taking a chance on someone with something to prove is the best move one can make. It would be a shame to not see Hammon get a head coaching gig in the next few years. All she needs is a chance.

To Be Bigger

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard

2015 NBA Finals

The NBA is already playing regular season games in London, just like the NFL. The NBA may have a leg up on other leagues though due to their popularity in China. It’s estimated that some 300 million people play basketball in China. That’s roughly the US population. While the next generation of players are currently being drafted, it’s important to know where the NBA’s real growth is coming from.

READ THIS.

 

 

Out Thinking Viewing Habits

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard

When you stop and think about it for a minute it can truly boggle your mind. Much like a brain freeze from drinking something cold too quickly. That might have been what people had when they thought they were making well informed decisions when it came to scheduling the Stanley Cup Final and the NBA Finals.

Game one of the Stanley Cup Final between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Tampa Bay Lightning was played on Wednesday evening. Game two….not until Saturday? Two full days off after playing one game. Strange but when the scheduling also cost the Tampa Bay area a few Garth Brooks concertswell we are pretty sure that there are some unhappy folks in the Tampa St. Pete area. While Brooks and the venue are trying to find dates to reschedule the shows, we’re pretty sure one show could have fit in if game two was played on Friday instead of Saturday.

2015 Stanley Cup Final

To add insult to injury, NBC Sports lies about the start time of the game…again. As we have pointed out many times on this blog, NBC Sports is a major offender when it comes to advertising what time a game of any kind is going to start. While the start time for game one of the Stanley Cup Final was advertised as 8pm EST, the puck was actually dropped at 8:22pm EST (6:22 MST as you can see.)

The NBA Finals are a whole nother story. The Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers potential seven game series is scheduled to be played on Thursdays, Sundays and Tuesdays. It’s bad enough that both teams have been sitting for over a week which we assume is so that both teams could be “healthy”. But in all fairness, is anyone really healthy after an 82 game regular season and three playoff series?

There has to be somebody, somewhere who has numbers to back up these scheduling decisions (not to sure about the start time decisions though).The fact is, play the damn games. Do you really think no one watches TV on a Friday night? You also lose the energy around these series when you take these breaks. While it may seem like a smart idea on paper, not having a game on a Friday night and then scheduling one against ‘Game of Thrones’ is just plain dumb.

The Sunday:

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard

The Sunday

Suspensions

There is getting suspended and then there is getting suspended. Four time Super Bowl winner Tom Brady is currently suspended for the first four games of the 2015 NFL season (which means he will be available week six) for his role in ‘deflategate’. While some people believe that is excessive it may not be nearly as excessive as the seven game suspension handed down by the WNBA to players, and spouses, Brittney Griner and Glory Johnson.

Griner and Johnson were arrested for domestic violence last month. The were married in Phoenix earlier this month. The two were suspended seven games a piece by the league, the longest in league history.

 

The Shot

While it wasn’t a game winner it was rather impressive. NBA MVP Stephen Curry hit a foot from over 60 feet. Well,  if you’re the MVP you should be able to do things like this.

 

Crashes

Indy Car doesn’t get a lot of play until around this time of year with the running of the Indianapolis 500. It’s getting some play before the race though because of a series of crashes at the track during qualifying.

First it was three time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves. Then Josef Newgarden on Thursday now two time winner Ed Carpenter.

Well it’s publicity none the less.

 

 

Fashion Bucks

By Brad Hubbard  | @bradhubbard

The sports media is always in search of unique stories which is why it is not all that surprising that there is a behind the scenes article on the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks logo redesign and a lot of attention on the NFL’s Cleveland Browns uniform unveiling. While a teams ‘look’ is important it doesn’t translate into better results.

Milwaukee Buck New Logo

Phrases associated with the Bucks new logo are ‘tougher looking’ and ‘greater force’. Perhaps people forget that we are talking about a Deer but hey if it works it works.

The ESPN article dives into the unique process of how a New York design firm created the Bucks new logo. From the incorporation of the ‘M’ in the Deer’s chest to the inclusion of more antlers.

While the Bucks logo is being met with some intrigue, the same can not be said for the Browns new uniforms.

The Browns have, arguably, the boringest logo and uniforms in all of sports. The updated version by Nike didn’t move them out of this category.

Browns New Uniforms

Creativity, debate and a lot of thought went into the Browns redesign and maybe it will withstand the test of time but when compared to the Bucks redesign, it just falls short. Perhaps the material Nike will use will provide some sort of edge for the Browns players but that’s unlikely.

It’s doubtful that the players for the Bucks or the Browns will be affected by the new looks. Talent, preparation and coaching will make a bigger difference than what the colors of the uniforms are. However, these redesigns could help psychologically (maybe) and it certainly generates interest which translates into revenue for the respective teams. Either way, neither team has anything on the University of Oregon.

 

 

 

 

 

What to Watch: Friday 1/23 – Sunday 1/25

All times are Pacific

Friday January 23rd

Oklahoma City at Atlanta Hawks – 4:30pm NBA League Pass: Can anyone stop the Hawks this year? Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook will give it a shot.

X Games Aspen – 7:30pm ESPN: Snowboarding Big Air Final. That means the Flying Tomato! Shaun White is in the house.

Curling – 8pm NBCSN: Dude, it’s curling on a Friday night. It’s also what you watch when the NHL is at the All Star Break.

 

Saturday January 24th

X Games Aspen – 10am ABC: People doing things in the snow that generally defies gravity. Goodtimes.

Kansas at Texas – 11am CBS: Nice match up for a Saturday afternoon.

UFC Fight Night: Gustafsson vs Johnson – 5pm FOX: Alexander Gustafsson is the only man in the 205lbs division to give current champ Jon Jones a run for his money. He has a very tough test against the heavy handed Anthony Johnson. Oh yeah, fight in is Stockholm, Sweden which is Gustafsson’s hometown.

Washington Wizards at Portland TrailBlazers – 7pm NBA TV: A nice night camp to the evening.

 

Sunday January 25th

X Games Aspen – 10am ESPN: Final day for the X Games. Give it a look, it’s kind of fun.

Indiana at Ohio State – 10:30am CBS: This could be a tipping game that puts the winner in the tourney come March. It’s also a nice kick off to a big sports day in Columbus.

Duke at St John’s – 11am FOX: Who did Duke’s schedule anyway? This is just a mean run road schedule they’ve been on.

Oklahoma City Thunder at Cleveland Cavaliers – 12:30pm ABC: Stars galore for a Sunday morning.

NHL All Star Game – 2pm NBCSN: It’s an All Star game so it could be good but we now know that Sidney Crosby won’t be playing due to an injury. Is there a mumps outbreak to follow?