12/14/15: ESL’s Craig Levine talks eSports’ biggest challenges; Fantasy Sports get mixed messages; Zimmerman’s Brave move



CYNOPSISSPORTS
12.14.15

Good morning. It’s Monday December 14, 2015, and this is your first early morning Sports briefing. 

With recent news that Activision Blizzard, EA and Turner Sports were all making big moves into the eSports game, eyeballing an estimated 335 million eSports fans around the world by 2017, industry leader ESL has been making its own maneuvers to bolster its North American presence. The world’s biggest video game events company not only filled the 18,200-seat Madison Square Garden for the "Dota 2" championship this year, it also snatched the ESEA platform and expanded its Burbank studio with an eye toward the American market.

Cynopsis Sports asked ESL EVP Craig Levine about the moves, lessons learned this year and how VR will transform the industry.

Levine on the North American market: eSports fandom in this country is very real and as eSports athletes become stars, fans are excited to attend these events in person to see them, which has led to attendance figures doubling year over year. With every stadium event produced here in the US, fans continue to validate the fact that the phenomenon of eSports is growing beyond Europe and Asia. We’re also interested in improving those events themselves, and ESL One is about creating an all-around experience for fans, bringing a festival atmosphere to competitions in addition to viewing the games.

On building new communities: Expansion starts at the amateur level by establishing and building upon new communities. We work with publishers to develop eSports activities around these communities which creates organic growth for the industry. Additionally, ESL looks to increase the number of stadium events we produce in North America. So far we’ve established a footprint in New York and in the San Francisco bay area. It’s time to provide that same experience to more cities across North America.

On VR: VR is an interesting area. Just as we’ve seen with the NBA or what we will see with the PGA and other professional sports leagues, the use of VR to provide or enhance that in-stadium or on-course experience to fans who aren’t there in person will be replicated so fans can experience eSports in a brand-new way. With the global nature of this industry, we see that the majority of the audience is displaced and doesn’t have many options to consume beyond attending an event or watching a livestream. VR can change all of that. I think it’s only a matter of time before publishers develop an eSports-ready product leading to a 4th platform where consumers can compete, in addition to personal computers, consoles and mobile devices.

On the pitch to sponsors: For endemic brands, it’s pretty simple – it’s about audience size and ESL expertise. For non-endemic brands, it’s been less of a pitch and more of an education. Our goal is to make sure brands understand and are comfortable with this space and what the various entry points are. We work with brands to activate their audience and build their communities through many trusted and engaging channels, similar to how other sports marketing initiatives are treated. For example, don’t only show up for the Super Bowl. We encourage brands to activate across team and player activities, participate in our grassroots level amateur competitions, weekly online broadcasts around pro leagues and, of course, at and around stadium events.

On challenges: Industry analytics forecasts that global revenue projections for this industry are expected to be enormous by 2018 – somewhere north of $1B. That sort of capital attracts a lot of interest and open hands. I think there will continue to be further fragmentation before any real consolidation happens and that fragmentation causes turmoil with teams and players; it creates instability for publishers and IP holders; it creates skepticism from brands and partners and it creates confusion amongst all of the above. From a resources perspective, an arms race is ultimately going to stunt the growth of the industry. Instead, I think it’s important that we continue to bring in smart, savvy business people who can work together and steer the ship.

ON THE AIR

The Cardinals win over the Vikings as part of TNF on NFL Network on Thursday gave the channel a boost, snatching an average overnight household rating of 7.40 in the 56 metered markets and local OTA stations. That score was up 26% over the comparable date a year ago. The network gets a double dose this week, featuring Rams/Buccaneers on Thursday and Cowboys/Jets on Saturday, with both matchups at 8:25p.

Saturday’s Army/Navy game was a dandy for CBS as the 116th meeting between the two teams scored an average overnight household rating/share of 5.1/12 in the metered markets for the channel. The game was up 13% over and marked the highest-rated Army/Navy game in 19 years.

Feld Motor Sports unveiled its 2016 Monster Energy AMA Supercross slate with FOX Sports with a TV lineup that feature 17 live races, including two that will run on FOX beginning April 16 at 3p and concluding on April 23 at 4p. Meanwhile, FS1 will carry 14 races starting Jan. 9, while FS2 will showcase one. "Since our relationship with FOX Sports began two years ago, we have continued to build the presence across their family of channels, including the FOX broadcast channel," said Ken Hudgens, Chief Operating Officer, Feld Motor Sports. "For the first-time ever, viewers will enjoy two live races on the FOX broadcast channel, showcasing what is expected to be another banner year of racing."

Dwayne Johnson’s Seven Bucks Productions and production company Left/Right are partnering up with sports agency Athletes First to produce an upcoming docuseries spotlighting college football players and their preparation for the NFL Draft. The series will showcase the four-month preparation, including All-Star games, the NFL Combine, Pro Day workouts and "non-stop training in an all-out-effort to achieve their dreams of being drafted by an NFL team." 

PGA of America debuts three shows this week on Golf Channel, with all three debuting tomorrow and Wednesday, starting Dec. 15 at 6:30 with 2016 Ryder Cup One Year to Go Show, narrated by Tony Adamson and featuring the One Year to Go Ryder Cup celebrations that took place in and around the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, Sept. 27-29. The PGA of America 2015 Year in Review program then runs at 7p, chronicling the PGA of America’s year of championships. Wednesday sees the 2015 PGA Championship Highlight Show, presented by OMEGA – One Fine Day, recapping the tournament. Jim Nantz narrates.


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SPONSORSHIP & PROMOTION

The NHL and its corporate partners released its roster of activations and attractions for the upcoming two-day festival at the 2016 NHL Winter Classic Spectator Plaza on Dec. 31 and Jan. 1.  Experiences will include Bridgestone’s extreme experiences "that will test performance: get between the pipes and make a game-winning save; or challenge friends in EA Sports NHL 16." GEICO will host a NHL Trivia contest and a hockey simulator, Honda features NHL Alumni in their tent, and Metlife serves up a Sharp Shooter and allows fans to show off their hockey skills. Other activations include interactive games via Molson Canadian, the Oscar Meyer Wienermobile, Upper Deck cards, and a giant snow globe courtesy of York. Meanwhile, NHL Network and Xfinity will give fans an opportunity to call all the action from the NHL Network set, get their photo taken, and receive a free foam puck.

DIGITAL & TECHNOLOGY

Starting Jan. 5, WWE fans in Japan will be able to receive WWE Network online. Subscribers will have access to the US English language version of the platform and receive all 12 WWE pay-per-view events as part of the monthly package. at no additional cost, as well as 24/7 scheduled programming and the most comprehensive WWE Network will first be available on desktop, laptop and mobile devices, followed by Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Sony PlayStation 3, Sony PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Roku and Smart TVs in time for Royal Rumble.

The Canadian Hockey League locked in a partnership with digital sports video agency SendtoNews designed to offer CHL video coverage to media outlets and fans across North America. The deal spans the remainder of the 2015-16 through the 2017-18 campaign, and will see SendtoNews distribute nightly game highlights for all 60 CHL member teams of the Western Hockey League, Ontario Hockey League, and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League through its News Partnership Network.

Our Top Women in Digital Awards celebrate the unique, the uncommon, and the bold in the digital media industry. We are now accepting entries through January 12, 2016. Begin your submissions here

ROSTER MOVES

CSE President Adam Zimmerman has been picked up by the Atlanta Braves, where he will serve as Vice President of Marketing for the MLB club. The position begins Jan. 4, and will see Zimmerman oversee management and strategy for all marketing and branding of the Braves, including consumer and digital marketing, community affairs and game entertainment for the team. Zimmerman will also take part in the development of technology offerings for fans as well as the use of data analytics and help with the marketing strategy for The Battery Atlanta, the Braves new mixed-use development project adjacent to SunTrust Park. 
 
FIFA announced that Michel Platini, who was provisionally banned for 90 days by the adjudicatory chamber of the Ethics Committee, would not see his punishment cut short with the FIFA Appeal Committee rejecting his case. 

FANTASY/GAMING/ESPORTS

It was a mixed day for daily fantasy sports staples DraftKings and FanDuel on Friday after a New York state judge sided with the state’s Attorney General, and ruled that the sites were illegal under New York’s gambling laws, effectively ending access in the state for players. However, hours later, the doors were reopened after an appeals court granted the fantasy sports sites a temporary stay of the injunctions ruling. The appeals hearing is expected to take place next month. In a statement, the Fantasy Sport Trade Association expressed relief, saying "The FSTA was gratified to see that the appellate court acted so quickly and decisively to stay what we believe was an erroneous lower court decision that failed to address important issues affecting both the companies involved and the legion of New Yorkers who enjoy playing daily fantasy sports. We hope the higher court’s action will help encourage Attorney General Schneiderman to work with New York legislators, lawmakers and the FSTA to develop common sense consumer protection measures to ensure that New Yorkers can continue to enjoy the games they love."

It took all of 13 seconds to decide who would join Ronda Rousey on the global cover of EA Sports’ UFC 2 with Conor McGregor taking the honor thanks to his quick victory over Jose Aldo at UFC 194. The winner of the match was set to take the honor, with the game set to be released in Spring 2016. Meanwhile, the PPV event saw a total attendance of 16.516., marking the largest-attended event in Las Vegas in UFC history.

THE MAIN EVENT

Giants/Dolphins on ESPN at 8:30p.


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ON THIS DAY in 1970: An airplane crash carrying members of Marshall’s football team crashes, killing all 75 passengers.

In The Know: Three athletes from Marshall University have been selected in the first round of the NFL draft. Name two. (Email Chris-Sports@cynopsis.com with your answer and be sure to include your name, company and city.)

Answer to Our Last Sports Trivia Question: Joe DiMaggio spent more than two decades as a spokesman for what kitchen appliance brand? Answer: Mr. Coffee. Kudos: Marc Wollis-NBC Sports Group/NY; Phyllis McQuillan-MSG Media/NY; Jon Latzer-CBS Digital Media/NY; Kyle Helm-CBS Sports/NY; Keith Allo-Golf Channel/NBC Sports/Orlando; Jon Miller-NBC Sports/Stamford; Curt Pires-CAP Sports Group/Charlotte; Jeff Rabinowitz-Fanatics/Fort Lauderdale; Robert Teinowitz-Live Action Media,/Chicago; David Perlmutter-SQAD/Chicago; Eric Jonke-Jonke & Associates/Chicago; Kevin R. Morris/Chicago; Scott Sarra-NBC Sports Group/Denver; Matt Sautter-Imagine Communications/Denver; Dave Sikula-Toovia/Sunnyvale; Tom Tyrer-Circle Change Media/Santa Monica; Peter Steckelman-The Tennis Channel/Santa Monica; Tony Reyes-RGH Entertainment/Woodland Hills

Later — Chris
Chris Pursell for Cynopsis | Sports @VegasandVine
12.14.15

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