"We’re starting to see traditional-sports athletes & organisations doing what esports has been doing since its inception." - Nicole Pike, YouGov Interview with Nicole Pike, Global Sector Head of Esports & Gaming at YouGov

In the digital space, the relationship between the young emerging esports and much older traditional sports is evolving into one where the former is the coach and the latter is the apprentice.

Nicole Pike, the Global Sector Head of Esports and Gaming at international research powerhouse YouGov and an Esports BAR+ Americas speaker, says that evolution in the esports-and-sports alliance should not go unrecognised.

In an exclusive Esports BAR interview, Pike says:

“Esports will be able to introduce innovative tech to the older traditional sports. That will happen and continue to do so on a number of levels. We’re starting to see traditional-sports athletes and organisations doing what esports has been doing since its inception.

Pike’s comments on the esports-and-sports synergy come during her first year of bringing her esports expertise to YouGov, which is known for using data analytics to tell insightful stories about the traditional-sports market.

Her appointment also comes after several years of news headlines focusing on top legacy-sports leagues, organisations and celebrity athletes (including motor racing’s Formula One Group, the US’ National Basketball Association, Michael Jordan and David Beckham) investing vast amounts in the nascent professional competitive-gaming sector.

Today, the focus is no longer on an esports-versus-sports scenario. From the professional level to amateur enthusiasm, esports is impacting traditional sports’ entertainment and business cultures, and vice versa.


Esports vs. sports in money terms

In the world that Pike analyses, there is one indisputable fact: esports is a David while traditional sports is the Goliath in terms of investments attracted and revenues generated.

According to Deloitte’s Sports Business Group, the long-established global sports market, including competitions, related events, media rights, grassroots activities plus financial investments, was worth between US$600bn and US$700bn last year.


Even with live sports hurt by the current Covid-19 pandemic, the international sports market stays huge.

The global esports sector might be smaller because it is younger. But it is growing much faster, especially among the 13 to 34-year-old Gen Z and Millennials age group that sports rights owners crave to reach.

Esports is also right bang at the centre of the international video-games sector that research company Newzoo predicts will hit just under US$160bn in revenues by this year’s end. That is an enviable 9.3% growth rate from 2019. It also forecasts video-gaming will be worth US$200bn-plus worldwide by 2023.


Esports and traditional sports – fan engagement

Despite the little-and-large comparisons, Pike notes the irrefutable evidence of esports’s influence on professional sports when connecting with young digitally savvy fans.

That was highlighted when professional sportsmen and sportswomen became inactive and physically separated from their fans during the enforced Covid lockdown.


In the US, quarantined top-flight athletes from the NBA’s professional basketball teams like the Miami Heat and the Cleveland Cavaliers spent time at home playing games, esports versions of their sport and conversing with fans via streaming platforms.

More were doing the same on YouTube, social media and podcast services.

“The ways that esports organisations connect with their fans is something that traditional sports are learning,” Pike says.

Covid, however, accelerated traditional sports’ growing commitment to competitive gaming when esports started pulling in record viewing figures as audiences for physical sports on TV plummeted.

In addition, she notes:

“During Covid, virtual sports was used to keep fans engaged and to keep physical sports top-of-mind while the athletes could not play,” she adds.

Esports and traditional sports – Audience measurement

Traditional-sports operators and right owners will find familiarity in esports’s pioneering Average Minute Audience (AMA) metric to measure their audience among fans growing up in the social-media era and the streaming age.

Pike, who introduced AMA to Esports BAR Miami last year, says it provides the most realistic universal comparison between the metric for esports audience on streaming platforms and Nielsen’s long-established Average Audience metric on linear-TV.

This amounts to pinning down the average number of people watching esports content during a specific point of time during the broadcast.

As Pike explains:

“AMA is the average number of people who were viewing a program at any given point through the duration of the broadcast. There are two ways to calculate AMA: one is to take an average of time-stamped viewing over the course of a broadcast; the other is to divide total minutes watched by total minutes of broadcast.”


She was instrumental in AMA’s development while at US-based TV-audience measurement organisation Nielsen, where she was Managing Director of Nielsen Esports, Games and SuperData before joining YouGov.

It involved collaborating with esports’s key stakeholders, including games publishers like Activision Blizzard and Riot Games, to set up an effective infrastructure.


Moreover, AMA’s creation solved another conundrum. Brand owners, sponsors, advertisers and other investors were wary of committing millions to esports ventures, despite the sector’s phenomenal popularity.

They wished to avoid the hype that accompanied improbably high numbers quoted in the past and were demanding an impartial third-party tool to measure the effectiveness of any related marketing campaigns and media rights.

For Pike, this makes AMA indispensable.

“Esports viewership needed to be taken seriously along with the rest of the content options that brands and investors have to put their money on,” she declares.

“So, we needed a way to be able to compare viewership and other metrics for esports with traditional sports and any other form of entertainment content that is out there in an apples-to-apples way.”


Esports and traditional sports – non-endemic brands

AMA’s existence is encouraging more non-endemic brands to flock into the esports arena and stay there.

They include luxury fashion marketers like Louis Vuitton, Gucci, L’Oréal and even fashion talent agency Ford Models; auto makers such as Porsche, BMW; as well as financial services such as MasterCard, Visa and Brazilian bank Banco do Brasil.

Pike has been particularly excited by the very recent exclusive deal between League of Legends, the hit esports game owned by Riot Games, and Spotify, the world’s biggest streaming-music service.

“What esports does is offer brands that have a more targeted audience the chance to invest less to reach a smaller audience but have a higher proportion of that audience within the coveted 18-34 age group.”


Esports and sports – traditional goes online

Pike contends that while esports followers watch competitive gaming on streaming services almost 100% of the time, it is the opposite among traditional-sports supporters, who are typically glued to traditional-TV screens.

“Although it varies by event, sport and game title, I think it’s safe to say that the vast majority of esports viewers do so online, whereas it’s a roughly inverse proportion of traditional-sport viewership that happens online.”

But that formula is gradually changing as more traditional sports expand their live coverage online.

The launch of DAZN, a dedicated international streaming platform, in 2018 is expected to do for physical-sports rights owners what Netflix has done for TV content creators.

Additionally, streaming platforms are chasing after the online rights to traditional-sports events. Amazon-owned Twitch made history this year by live-streaming the UK’s top-tier English Premier League (EPL) soccer tournament.

In the meantime, the EPL, which is watched in 188 countries, is reportedly mulling over plans to launch its own streaming service as it accepts Gen Z youth and Millennials prefer to be entertained on interactive digital platforms.

This indicates traditional sports will also gain from the esports-inspired AMA audience-measurement.

“When we were thinking about how to come up with a metric that is comparable, it was also important for AMA to be replicated in traditional sports,” Pike adds.


Esports and traditional sports’ experience

Still, the traditional-sports market remains a behemoth that could teach embryonic esports a thing or two about surviving the aggressively competitive multi-trillion general media-and-entertainment battleground.

Pike draws attention to the following areas where esports practitioners need to raise their game to enter traditional sports’ league.

Brand partnerships: traditional-sports organisations have nailed this down in all aspects of sponsorship deals and venue naming-rights agreements.

“The value that sports organisations have seen in sponsorship is building a relationship between a brand and a fanbase and evolving that over time and creating a narrative of why that brand is there,” she says. “That is something we are starting to see in esports and it is encouraging.”


Discoverability: Esports rights owners and events organisers need to establish a marketable content guide to enable fans and gamers to find live tournaments to watch on media platforms with little difficulty.

“The nice thing about sports on linear TV is that it is very easy to figure out what is happening and where, while esports has had a discoverability problem. And there is still a gap for finding esports or gaming-related content on TV,” Pike states.

“Even though digital media is massively on the rise and the number of eyeballs on TV is dropping, TV is still in nearly every household.”


Governance: Professional competitive-gaming lacks a unanimously approved official governing body to oversee what is still a highly fragmented sector where even the rules for individual video-game titles vary but fans and players’ welfare remains paramount.

“The governing bodies for traditional sports are there for those checks and balances. But for esports, we don’t really see that,” Pike states. “That is definitely an issue for esports investors, particularly those from traditional sports.”


Olympic Games: The International Olympic Committee (IOC), the Olympics’ governing body, is being asked to determine whether it considers competitive esports a medal event. Pike predicts that will continue to be an on-going debate.

“It depends on what the IOC’s goal is. If it is to make sure the Olympics stay relevant to a broad audience, then my perspective would be it is the non-sports esports that would bring in people,” she says.

“If it is just a way to add something cool that people who are already watching the Olympics might also like, then the traditional-sports versions of esports would probably satisfy that.”


Making a difference in esports and sports

Seeing how YouGov has used data gathering and analytics to tell compelling stories about professional sports, Pike says she joined the organisation to use that same expertise to show how “data can drive growth and investment in esports and gaming”.

Furthermore, she wants to demonstrate there is more to professional esports than just its links to video-game titles. This includes encouraging esports sponsors to consider in-game advertising and sponsorship in virtual sports as well.

“Although much smaller than the larger video-gaming industry, it is esports that has started to shed the light on all these other sponsorship and the advertising opportunities. It shows we have a much bigger audience on a larger scale with the same games that we have in esports.”

Traditional-sports operators and right owners will find familiarity in esports’s pioneering Average Minute Audience (AMA) metric to measure their audience among fans growing up in the social-media era and the streaming age.

About Author

Juliana Koranteng is the founder/editor-in-chief of MediaTainment Finance (MTF) and TechMutiny, the business journals that cover investments in international media, entertainment and creative sectors, and the impact of related digital technologies.

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