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 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.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

The Silver Lining

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard

For many sports fans, Christmas is synonymous with the NBA. The day is almost a celebration of sorts for what the NBA has to offer. It’s biggest stars normally play and one of its most well known franchises, the LA Lakers, have been a fixture on the day since forever. While we are busy watching the games, the day also provides us a chance to examine it’s new boss, Adam Silver.

Adam Silver

Adam Silver took over as commissioner in February. During his short tenure he has been faced with some serious issues including the Donald Sterling matter and an op-ed he wrote in the New York Times where he endorsed the legalization of sports gambling in the United States.

Donald Sterling provided a quick proving ground for Mr Silver who acted swiftly and decisively. He banned Mr Sterling for life, fined him and forced the sale of his franchise. It was crisis that Mr Silver couldn’t have handled any better. While not perfect, his moves were decisive and they moved the NBA past this incident as quickly as possible.

Last month Mr Silver wrote an op-ed endorsing the legalization of sports gambling in America. A move that is bold and likely to draw significant push back from various interests. Mr Silver’s motives should be pretty clear, other parts of the world make sports betting very convenient (see the UK) and legalizing it in this country would bring millions to state coffers and probably increase engagement in all sports.

It’s also not like this isn’t already happening with Fantasy Sports. DraftKings.com and others are really just legalized sports betting but since you are not directly betting on games they sidestep just about most legal issues.

Adam Silver has made his presence felt in his short time as commissioner of the NBA. He has been bold, decisive, and unapologetic. He is a breath of fresh air in the era of the ‘my or the highway’ sports leaders like Roger Goodell and Dana White. We can only hope that he proves to be the example of what a commissioner should be moving forward.

The Best Sports Month Of The Year

By Brad Hubbard  | @bradhubbard

Of all the months during the calendar year, nothing compares to October for sports in North America. It features every single major sport that the continent has to offer. From playoff baseball to playoff rankings in college football and the beginning of a new season for the NHL and NBA. October has it all.

Love October

MLB Playoffs kicked off Tuesday night with the AL Wild Card match up between the Oakland A’s and KC Royals. The NL Wild Card between the SF Giants and the Pittsburgh Pirates takes place on Wednesday. Those two games get things started and it all culminates with the World Series which gets started October 21st.

College Football will get into mid season form with more of the traditional conference match ups that we’re use to seeing. On October 28th the first set of playoff rankings will be released. Moments later people will claim that the sky is falling.

The NFL will hopefully have a better October than November. In any event you do have some fun match ups like the 49ers at Broncos and Packers at Saints.

MLS heads into the stretch run as teams fight for playoff position. The regular season ends October 26th but that only signifies the beginning to a great playoff season. This years playoffs should include some very popular names and the end of Landon Donovan’s spectacular career.

The NHL is heading into a season with the LA Kings as returning champions….again. The puck drops on the regular season on October 8th. Meanwhile the NBA tips off on October 28th with the San Antonio Spurs looking to defend their title.

Happy October.

What Ceiling?

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard

Becky Hammon is a woman and now an assistant coach for the NBA Champion San Antonio Spurs. Yes, a woman is an assistant coach for an NBA team. A team made up entirely of men. It also couldn’t be a more perfect situation for a more qualified individual.

Becky Hammon

Hammon is someone everyone says was going to be a coach at some point. One could assume most people didn’t think that it would be with an NBA franchise must less the defending champions. But she is and by all accounts more than qualified to make a great team even better.

The Spurs are an NBA backwater. Meaning that it’s not Los Angeles, New York, Chicago or Miami. Yet they have been one of the most consistent and successful organizations in the NBA. Winning five NBA titles since 1999 with a head coach, Gregg Popovich, who is one of the best in history. A smart, thorough man with a track record of success. Now he and the Spurs are making history, again.

The Spurs have thought outside the box many times before. They have the most diverse roster in the NBA with six players born outside of the US. Popovich and his staff have been able to bring these diverse backgrounds together into a championship team. When you think about it this way, Hammon’s hiring doesn’t seem that unusual because Spurs have put aside prejudice many times before choosing instead to focus on finding the best qualified people regardless of location or in this case gender.

Hammon’s hiring is ground-breaking any way you cut it. Time will tell if she will be a success or enough of a success to become an NBA head coach one day. The fact that we are finally going to get a chance to find out is a huge step forward. Next question is when does a team from the MLS, the NHL, NFL or MLB hire a woman coach?