This week we had the honor to interview again Dr. Ron Dick, associate professor of sports marketing at Duquesne University in the school of business. Ron also worked for 20 years in sports, including 15 years in the NBA with the Sixers and the Nets, and then four years in the NCAA.
We discussed how the major sports leagues (MLB, NBA, NHL, MLS cup, College sports) handled the COVID-19 pandemic during the month of August. We also discussed the financial impact of the virus on those leagues as well as social justice.
🚀Best Quotes: Here’s some of the key discussion points and best quotes from our conversation with Ron:
On how the major US sports leagues (MLB, MLS, NBA, NHL..) have handled the COVID-19 pandemic so far: “I think some have and some have not. You go back and listen to some of our quotes from the last broadcast, we were concerned about the MLB and the fact that they were not in a bubble and I think that came back to bite them a little bit. We saw the Miami Marlins, we saw the St. Louis Cardinals have some issues where blocks and blocks of games had to be canceled. So, here they are trying to play 60 games but there were days, a week goes by without playing a game. I don’t know how you’re going to get 60 games in. Now they’re going to try to do about seven inning double headers to expedite that and it remains to be seen if they can pull that off. The rumor was, and I think it was turned into fact, that the Miami Marlins baseball team, a group of the players, went out to a restaurant in Atlanta when they were on the road and some of got them got the virus that way and then that affected all sorts of teams that had them on their schedule. So that shows you how strong the MLB Player Union is when they were able to stifle the fact that they weren’t going to play in a bubble the way the NHL and the NBA are (..) That was one situation. I would give kudos to the NHL, which is playing in just two places, both north of the border where the virus allegedly is not as prevalent and that is in Toronto and in Calgary and they have not had any problems and the testing is strong, it’s almost daily with 2000 COVID-19 tests.”.
On how the NBA handled the season despite the COVID-19 pandemic: “I’d say that the NBA has done well as far as their bubble in Orlando. They’re now down to 16 teams. I think they originally started with 22, and if you weren’t mathematically eliminated you pretty much could come down and play and try to get one of those 16 spots. They are really isolated and they all eat together in a cafeteria and it’s working, as far as getting these games in and people being able to watch them”.
On the impact of COVID-19 on US college sports, with The Big Ten and Pac-12 having now postponed their fall sports seasons: “I think it’s going to have a major impact, but we have to do a little bit deeper dive about some of these decisions that are being made. Notre Dame, we talked about them, they were the first ones, to my knowledge, to go back on campus with their students. They moved everything up to move in date August 8th and they tried to get ahead of the virus a little bit, and then end by Thanksgiving. That was the way a lot of people wanted to do it and what we found was that students came back and they blew through all the warning signs and disregarded them all and they ended up spreading it. 135 people tested positive within a week, and then they shut it down and they made it face to face”.
On the impact of COVID-19 on those sports leagues: “There are no tickets sales in the NHL currently like most sports. But the NHL is more dependent on ticket sale revenue than the NFL, NBA, and MLB. I would say that in a sport like the MLS, 20-25% of their revenue comes from the ticket sales. I mean, think about it, you’ve got 20, 30, 40,000 people watching the game live, so you’ve got, hopefully, millions of fans watching on television and the sponsorship money that comes from that. The commercial money is fabulous. So, that’s something that was factored into the decision to play or not play. So, for example, back and forth with MLB, how much are we going to pay the players? And it was like, “Well, we’re going to prorate your contract.” So, 162 games for a baseball season, we’re only playing 60. So, take 162 and divide it to 60. So, you’re not going to make half your salary, but you’re going to make around a little less than 40% and then they said, “Well, we have to chip down a little further because we don’t have the ticket revenue, so we’re going to knock it down to 80%.” So, you’re going to get 80% of your salary for the percentage of 60 divided by 162. And that’s where the sticking points were going back and forth and that’s why it was so hostile between the players union of MLB and the owners”.
On social justice, and many players and coaches in the NBA, the MLS, and the NHL, taking a knee to bring their rapport to the Black Lives Matters Movement: “The NFL, since you brought it up, there’s been an idea floating around to avoid this issue: To not play the national anthem before an NFL game. I mean, it’s not something that they have to do by contract. That would probably avoid the issue but if we go back and listen to the tape from a month ago, I think you’ll find that either you or I, or both said, “Expect around 70% of the players to take a knee.” And that doesn’t sit well with a lot of the owners and it doesn’t sit well with some of the fans”.
On Colin Kaepernick: “I don’t want to repeat what we said earlier but I think Kareem Abdul Jabbar, previously Lew Alcindor, made a great point and he was a real activist when he was a young man in the 60s. He said, “While the riots and destruction of property is wrong, the protests are not wrong. People have a right to have peaceful protests”. Okay, well there’s an example of a guy that did it quietly and he was ostracized by the NFL. He was blackballed by the NFL. All he did was take a knee during the national anthem.” He was clear to say, “My dad was in the military. I am pro-military. I appreciate everyone that’s fought for this country,” but no one listened to that part of it, they only saw the knee”.
On several teams changing their names as part of the Black Live Matters movement, starting with the Washington NFL franchise changing their name for now to the Washington Football Team: “I think it’s an offensive term for a long time. I don’t think it’s the same as the Cleveland Indians. I think that’s a term, and again, it’s something we have to ask the people that are offended by it and if you’re offended by something, we should change it. That seems to be the way and it’s probably long overdue. The term “Redskin,” it’s not a good term and I’m glad that they’re changing it”. I Googled it before we got on the air and some of the things they could call it, “The Pig Skins” after the ball, they could call The “Red Wolves”, they could call them “The Red Tails”. There was a whole bunch of terms, “The Senators,” which is a previous baseball team that was in Washington, congressmen, senators. That’s one that’s been bad for a long time and it’s long overdue to be changed”.
On the COVID-19 and when we are likely to find a vaccine: “If we can get a vaccine by January 2021, I’d be thrilled. I would sign off on that right now if we could get it. It would be great if we could get it in November, December, but yeah we need the vaccine right now. People have called COVID-19 the coronavirus fatigue because people are caught up in their houses and they’re afraid to go out. I think the greatest fear right now, as college is reopened, is that college kids go on campus, they have these parties, they share drinks, drinking beer pong out of each other’s cups, then they’re told, “It’s time to go home,” they go home and then, God forbid, they give it to their grandparents”.
This week we had the honor to interview Kai Bond, partner at Courtside Ventures, a leading sports tech VC, focused on early-stage sports, fitness, and gaming companies. Kai is a repeat founder, starting 3 companies and has spent the last 5 years as an early stage investor in NYC.
📝Show Notes:Throughout our conversation, we talked about his background (3x founder, Comcast Ventures, Samsung NEXT, Microsoft..), how he got into venture capitalism, and his view on the esport and gaming market and his advice for startups looking to raise money.
🚀Best Quotes: Here’s some of the key discussion points and best quotes from our conversation with Kai:
On his background: “So my background is as a founder. I was a founder three times over. My first company, which started in 2006, was in the gaming ecosystem. I started a second company in 2010, which was also focused on the gaming ecosystem. And then another company in 2014, which was an interactive streaming platform called pixieTV, focused on creating enhanced viewing experiences over live broadcast. And so, over 10 years as an entrepreneur, three different businesses, building teams at different scales and sizes, I really built up a tremendous amount of knowledge around running a startup and being a founder. It’s hard to understand what it’s like being a founder without walking in those shoes. And so my path into venture was primarily through a founder lens”.
On how he got into the VC world: “I was fortunate enough to have my third company, pixieTV, acquired by Samsung. And when I spent about a year launching that product globally within the Samsung smart TV ecosystem, I realized a couple of things. One is that I’m a pretty bad employee. So going from running small startups and companies to being part of a 380,000 person machine was a difficult transition. And what I realized most was that the area and the stage that I like working on most was a very early stage company formation. And I was fortunate enough to get a role at what was then called the Samsung Global Innovation Center, now called Samsung NEXT, and lead their accelerator program, working with early stage founders from concept to building out initial products, to helping that scale. And so that was really my first experience working in an investment capacity and I found the coaching, the mentoring, the advising of early stage founders to be incredibly rewarding”.
On what he is looking for when investing in startups: “For me, it’s always team first. When I think about the best companies in the world, what you say you are going to build day one and what it ends up becoming are very, very different things. And you have to have a team that is resilient, that is determined, that’s passionate. But most importantly, it has to be a team that has some unique insight or perspective into this problem, this solution, and this opportunity. They see a vision or they have a spark that no one else has. And so the team first is always kind of the first thing”.
On the investment thesis at Courtside Ventures: “We are thesis driven investors. So in the gaming and esport ecosystems, we have lanes that we like to play in that fit that investment thesis. So we’re looking for, how can we as a VC group accelerate and help the investment scale more rapidly, reach a greater user base, and identify partnerships. And that’s key for us. As a vertically focused fund, we are not just going to run scattershot, but we definitely have very honed-in perspectives on what we want to invest in and why, and why we think the timing is right. And that plays heavily for us as we evaluate companies that are raising in this current market. (..) We have a rigorous rating platform where we go through and rank the team, rate the product market fit, look at the KPIs, the progress they’ve made to date. And we use that as a litmus test of how we should lean in, how aggressively we are going to go after this opportunity, where it stack rank, and why we should move forward. And so there’s a rigor, I think all of us coming from a founder background and understanding how to build great products, that filters into our thinking and informs our beliefs around how we create a sustainable long term fund that can generate great returns”.
On his view on the esport and gaming market: “It’s always interesting to talk about the size of the esport ecosystem based on revenue because it’s an incredibly early market in the U.S., and that’s primarily where we’re focused on investing in: The U.S. and Western Europe. And so, it’s hard to say it’s a billion dollar market. When you look at the overall gaming ecosystem, gaming is on track to be $158 billion of revenue on an annual basis. And so, we invest in both sides. What makes esport an interesting opportunity is, one, there’s hyper-growth in the category. Two, there are no large incumbents other than, maybe you can say Twitch, in the world of gaming and esport that dominate, and so there will be category winners. So this is a unique moment in time that everyone’s looking at and saying, there will be category defining companies that become multibillion dollar businesses”.
On the most interesting things he is seeing in esport right now: “I think what’s most interesting when you think about the esport ecosystem are two things. One is viewership. Audience. There are hundreds of millions of people watching gaming. And so the interactive streaming side, and the ability to drive a new medium of entertainment, is one area that’s extremely exciting for us. And when you look at the other side, it’s the interactivity, it’s the accessibility. So not only are you viewing, but you’re also playing. And I think oftentimes when we think about the world of esport, people are thinking about the hyper competitive Overwatch league, or you’re thinking about esport teams, but the reality is, you have a spectrum here. You have youth and high school sports. PlayVS is going after this. And rolling out the ability to create high school esport, collegiate esport”.
On why the esport market is accelerating with COVID-19 as one of the new drivers: “When we think about esports, I think this combination of entertainment, viewability, interactivity, combined with accessibility and participatory nature of what you’re doing is what is making people gravitate towards it. Now, you throw in the macro conditions that we’re in now, with shelter in place, COVID-19, staying at home, and you’re seeing just a rapid acceleration at all levels, from competitive to mid-core to casual. And that’s kind of where we see the ecosystem evolving, is that this is going to be something that everyone plays at every level, rather than just kind of the pro and high end of the competitive spectrum (..) You see Players’ Lounge having more engagement, more wagering across the entire platform. And so, you kind of look at individual businesses and then you take a step back and you look at the portfolio that we’ve constructed out of fund one and fund two, and you see this massive uptick in terms of engagement, adoption, and viewership. And so it’s an incredible time to be part of this world in this time”.
On the key trends he is seeing in the world of esport: “I think accessibility is probably one of the key trends. You’re seeing people playing on mobile phones, you’re seeing people play on desktop, you’re seeing this going across consoles. And that’s a global phenomenon. Cross-platform gaming, to me, is something where typically we’re seeing a casual gamer on a mobile device, but now you’re seeing an adoption of the PUBGs and Fortnite on a mobile device. So I think having the ability to continue playing across platforms is a fascinating thing in terms of accessibility. We’re just at the very beginning phases of true interactivity. When you think about people playing Fortnite and then coming in and watching a concert we’re taking those small steps towards what the metaverse will look like. And so, to me, this idea of community, of really forming not only entertainment, but networks around this. We wrote a blog post around, and you are seeing this today, tremendous levels of engagement around the community. This is a new way for the next generation to socialize and engage and have fun. And it’s not just about the game itself, it’s about forming a community around it. And that’s a special trend we’re seeing throughout, at every level”.
On why teams and leagues are entering the esport world, especially right now with the COVID-19 pandemic: “I think the second factor here is understanding that for many leagues around the world, the idea of fan participation, i.e. going to a stadium and watching a game, is uncertain. We don’t know when that’s going to happen again. And the idea that you can enable some sort of participation around your favorite athletes, or members of the team, or the leagues that you’re in, gives another way to connect. And so there’s a lot going on. When you look at the NASCAR race in the U.S., you find that particularly fascinating. All of the drivers have this simulator in their house. They’re driving, they’re broadcasting. It was a massive success. Fans are engaged. And you get a unique snapshot into the lives of these racers. There’s this thing set up, they’re posting on social media. And then there’s the race and the event itself. So it’s not too different than when an NBA player comes down, and what they are wearing as they’re coming into the arena has become like a whole thing. You’re looking for ways to connect, and this level of entertainment, this level of engagement, supplements the traditional sports experience and just allows you to really connect in a different way”.
On how he sees the esport market evolving in the coming years: “I’ve been in gaming since we were developing BREW and J2ME games on a flip phone. And you had up, down, left, right, soft key 1 and soft key 2. And even back to the days of arcade, right? And I think when I think about the core elements of what makes esport fun, it’s kind of like going back to that arcade when you’re playing an arcade game and who had the high score in that arcade, and how do you get your name to the top of the heap. Well, now that’s just been taken from your local arcade, of maybe the 50 people you knew in your neighborhood or your area who went there, and blew it out to be able to be connected with people globally. And so I think there’s a lot of consistent elements that we’re seeing over the years of what makes esport fun and entertaining, but really, I think what we’re interested in as a fund is that esport represents the combination of gaming, of streaming, interactivity, and media. And you wrap all of that in a layer of fun which is why I think the sky’s the limit. And everyone is going to perceive it in a different way”.
On the emergence of a new generation of esports gamers: “I think the next generation of esport gamers will be something very similar in terms of how we see a gamer. And you went from hardcore games to your casual gamer on mobile phones. I think you’re going to see what we perceive today as somebody who’s participating in esport no longer thinks of it as esport, but we are just going to think about it as a community, connectivity, entertainment. And so that’s a fun transition to go through, when you start with the core and then you bring it to the mass audiences. We’re already there from the mass audiences, from a viewership and engagement perspective. I think when you start to talk about democratizing the tools to play, to participate, to engage, that’s when the fun really starts, and we’re just at the beginning of that right now”.
On his advice to startups looking to raise money right now: “It is a tough environment right now. There are a lot of funds that have put down bets, in the last, let’s call it three to four years, who are still trying to figure out what those outcomes are going to look like. There has not been a lot of liquidity in the space. And so if you’re a venture capitalist and you’re raising from LPs, you’re trying to show markups, you’re trying to show exits and results. And so a lot of that is still coming, and we’re in the very early stages. And so what I always tell people who are looking to start a company in the space is it goes back to that team. What is the unique value proposition? What is the insight? What is the aha moment that you had that will allow you to create a product, a service, a technology, which will allow this industry to move forward”.
This week we had the honor to interview Pete DeNagy, President of Acommence advisors, and founder of IOT America. Pete is also the former GM of Samsung enterprise.
📝Show Notes: Throughout our conversation, we touched on his background, his view on the top 5G/WIFI 6 use cases in sports stadiums, the biggest benefits he sees for teams to use 5G/WIFI 6. He also gave his view on how 5G/WIFI 6 can help teams better stay connected to their fans. Lastly we discussed 6G and the killer use cases there.
🚀Best Quotes: Here’s some of the key discussion points and best quotes from our conversation with Pete:
On how he started his career in pro sports: “So this happens to be my 38th year in communications mobile and IoT. I have a background in consulting. I worked previously for both Accenture and Capgemini. I’ve also worked in systems integration with EDS carriers. I worked with GTE, Harris and Global Crossing and of course as you had mentioned I was the General Manager of Enterprise for the United States Samsung. I actually helped write Samsung’s global strategy for enterprise mobility”.
On XR (Mixed Reality, Virtual Reality) as a key 5G, WiFi-6 use case in sports stadiums: “From a use case perspective aside from connectivity, I think the great use case is the XR use case in sports. And what I mean by XR is that we have all heard of virtual reality and augmented reality. I think we’re going to actually see the melding of the two so that fans can go forward, look on the field and actually see augmentation in real time with statistics. So you’ll get the live action experience of being at the stadium, as well as all the graphical capabilities that you get from being at home. So if you watch an NFL game and you see the painted lines per se on the field on your TV set, of course they’re not there in reality, but they are an augmentation of reality that’s presented to you on the TV screen. Well with 5G or with WiFi-6 you’re now going to be able to use your phone or going to be able to use AR glasses or you’re actually going to be able to use XR glasses which have both virtual and augmented capabilities to go forward and get that exact same experience like you would get on your TV set. You’ll be able to see the real time statistics, the percentages, the analytics like you would in the home experience, yet have the robust luster of being at the game which is not something that you can recreate at home or in a restaurant”.
On the need to have HIPPA compliance to enable live 5G enabled gambling with players’ live biometric data (HR, hydration..) in the future: “So gambling is a huge driver in all this. One of the concerns of course for the biometric statistics, you’re going to have to get player’s consent. Different nations have different rules and in the United States of course there are the HIPPA rules. So the HIPPA rules will actually be applicable on a player by player basis being able to present their individual biometric statistics in a public manner. Some players will opt in and some players will not”.
On the new use cases that 5G/WiFi 6 will enhance starting with the customer experience (e.g. ordering, concierge services..) in stadiums: “There is the customer intimacy aspect of 5G and WiFi-6. You will have the ability to go forward and provide IoT use cases in the stadium itself for the seating, for ordering, for concierge services, for attendance, for maintenance. Case in point.. You can do this today. You can actually put in sensors in the men’s and the women’s rest facilities per se to see if they need servicing, but one of the things also that you can do is you can track, you can have wearables that are mobile applications for the spectator so you can actually track their motion from within the stadium. What percentage of the time are they sitting? What percentage of the time are they at the bar? What percentage of the time are they in the concourse, where are they spending their dollars? Are they going to go to food concessions, to gift concessions, to clothing concessions? Are they doing activities and games with their children? These things are all available with 5G and WiFi-6. You can architect them directly onto their mobile devices and there are wearables. So I think it’s really important to look at that because at that point the fan experience is much more than just watching the game. The fan experience is actually going out to as they say in baseball, the ball park”.
On his advice to pro teams and leagues looking to deploy 5G/WiFi 6: “That’s a tremendous question. So the first thing is I would look to architect a system that affords connectivity to whatever service provider is out there. So with 5G of course as we all know carriers bid on spectrum, on specific frequencies to deliver their signal. So they get licenses on regions, areas or nations to go deliver a signal. Therefore it’s really incumbent for the stadium owner to design the distributed antenna system in the stadium to go and support all of the carriers that actually will go forward and utilize that venue. So case in point Verizon could come in, in the United States and deploy a distributed antenna system or a microcell system for 5G and it shuts out T-Mobile and AT&T and that would be bad. So the stadium owner needs to take control of it. Secondarily for a stadium owner there is a trend for private LTE and 5G where actually they own the infrastructure and by owning the infrastructure they can actually deploy what’s called a neutral host and in the neutral host they basically provide the ubiquitous connectivity to all the carriers. And in essence they create a roaming agreement with all the carriers so they can actually share in the revenue stream for each cell call, each data connection. I think that’s really going to be important in that”.
On the benefits of using WiFI 6: “WiFi-6 has some really nice incumbent benefits. One WiFi-6 affords giggy connectivity and secondly from the AP perspective you actually get a four full distance gain, or more. Right now a WiFi AP using WiFi-5 goes about 150 to 200 meters. A WiFi-6 AP has four times the connectivity, has better channel management, has better battery management and can go up to about 1,000 meters. So that works out really well. It also addresses IoT devices so you can signal out channels for better battery usage. One other thing that the WiFi-6 scenario provides is that WiFi-6 has the ability to do WiFi backhaul, which means that you can mesh the AP’s to in essence you provide the WiFi backhaul from the near end to a far end in a chain of AP’s. This means that you can more efficiently utilize the back bandwidth through that. One of the things that’s of course important in all of this is you need WiFi-6 and, or 5G endpoints and the vast majority of mobile devices carried by consumers today don’t have 5G on them and won’t have 5G on them or WiFi-6 for the very near future. From what I understand we’re going to start seeing commercially deployed WiFi-6 endpoints in the market towards the end of the year. They’re building them in. So you’re not going to see a lot of your consumers yet have 5G and, or WiFi-6 devices in their hands in any type of scale until the beginning of 2022”.
On the preferred use cases for WiFi-6 Vs uses cases for 5G: “People like Ericsson and Nokia, Samsung, LG in Europe and Asia CTE and HUAWEI are deploying 5G and they’re all talking about private LTE. And owning the infrastructure and the cases therein. What I think you’re going to see is stadium owners forced to do both the WiFi-6 and 5G. So the WiFi-6 will be a deployment that will be less costly than an LTE or a 5G deployment. You’re not looking at a core or a virtualized core or a VRAM and an open RAM type of deployment as microcells. You’re just putting up AP, WiFi APs and you don’t have to put up as many of them. I mean you do have to and look at them from a density perspective and a peak performance perspective. But the downside of WiFi-6 is the fact that when you go forward and you address the connectivity to the AP even though you have four times the capacity that you had before, you still have the problems of running it out. However, the benefits of 5G and the benefits of WiFi-6 are actually pretty closely aligned when it comes to connectivity, with regard to the endpoint. And as a matter of fact there are a lot of initiatives that talk about integrating WiFi-6 and 5G where strategies are that WiFi-6 will end up doing the voiceover IP connectivity to the endpoint and then integrating to the 5G ran core scenario to do the backhaul. It’s very interesting. 5G of course provides some really good security capabilities. Some really good channel capabilities. The channel slicing is interesting in 5G. There are a lot of upsides for doing 5G as well. 5G is going to cost more money than WiFi-6”.
On the likely emergence of 5G enabled sponsored data with premium content: “I think with 5G you’re going to see a lot of sponsored data with premium content coming into 5G enabled mobile devices whereas you have a data plan and you would have it capped, but with the sponsored data the data price would then be covered by the content issuer. So I think you’ll see a lot of those plans coming out as well. The other thing that you can do is you’ll also be able to, with 5G and WiFi-6 in the stadium itself, from an LBS perspective or a location perspective, push data in real time to the end user. You’re going to see those types of premium services as well and you’re going to do those services in conjunction with the carrier and of course money”.
On why VR is a killer app in the world of social distancing with COVID-19 today: “VR is absolutely going to be, in a socially distant world, a killer app. One thing I didn’t mention I’m on the board of a VR company MindVR for Alzheimer’s and dementia patients. The problem with VR today is that VR is not a real time experience. You must cache the video, store the video and then replay the video and the audio. Otherwise if you do it in real time, your connectivity must be ubiquitous and at high speed without interruption. Otherwise you get the delay, the fade, the jitter and there are actually physical problems associated with VR”.
On 6G and the killer use cases: “The good news is that there are a lot of thoughts being going into 6G right now. It’s all academic. Several universities, the University of Oulu also is working on it. They’re in Finland. So if you’re going to ask who’s going to do 6G first, I’m going to tell you it’s going to be either Sweden or Finland and the reason that I say Sweden or Finland is because in Finland Nokia has it headquarters there, and Sweden has Ericsson. So I think they are leading the research. But with the 6G deployments I think you are looking at a lot more contextual awareness. You’re looking at a lot more human machine interface. The target date for 6G is 2030. It’s 10 years away. 1G emerged in 1985, 2G was in 1993, 3G was in 2005, 4G was in 2011 and then so here we are, we’re in 2020 and we’re doing 5G. So it’s pretty much every 10 years”.
Last week we had the honor to interviewPhilippe Kahn, the CEO of Fullpower Technologies, a world’s leading sleep technology company. Philippe is also well known for creating the first camera phone and has been a pioneer in the area of wearable technology intellectual property.
📝Show Notes: We discussed Philippe’s background, how he started Fullpower Technologies, then we talked about his product, his plans for the next 2 years, and the trends he sees in the smart tech sleeping world.
Video: Philippe Kahn
Please note that this is the beginning of a video interview series with top sports and tech executives to discuss the latest and greatest technologies used in the world of pro sports.
This week we had the honor to interview Brendan Donohue, Managing Director of the NBA 2K League.
📝Show Notes: Throughout our conversation, we talked about the NBA’s decision to enter eSports, the response from their fans so far, and what they have learned since the launch. We also talked about the challenges they have faced, the recipe for success for a sports organization to enter the esports market..and the NBA’s goals in the eSports space in the coming years.
🚀Best Quotes: Here’s some of the key discussion points and best quotes from our conversation with Brendan:
On the NBA’s decision to enter eSports:“While we’ve been around, this is our second season, so this process probably started about four years ago. We’ve been looking at eSports really more broadly and it’s been just this business that keeps exploding in growth and growth and higher and higher. We saw this burgeoning community that was developing and so we thought as a media company that the NBA is, there was an opportunity there that existed that we wanted to take a look at. Then the second thing I would say is our NBA owners were very bullish on eSports. In fact, they were starting to invest in eSports even outside of the 2K League. They were really pushing us to consider something in Esports. Then the last piece was, we just have a really successful NBA game that we have access to and so 2K is the best selling sports game and sports title in North America, and the second biggest globally. We had this great game. We also had partnered with 2K and so it all brought it together to be a really easy decision for us to start the 2K League”.
On what they have learned so far since launching the 2K League, and on anything that they would have done differently: “I think the biggest thing we learned early on was just how truly engaging our players are. Our players are very unique individuals. They all came from very different backgrounds. Some might have been an Uber driver. Some might have been in the military. We had a police officer that joined the League. We had all these really amazing backgrounds and stories and just stories we had to tell. (..) We learned that really in season two that that story needed to be unpacked more. So we’ve developed a docu-series that we now are releasing every week, just really telling those behind-the-scenes stories of the players behind the League and really their life stories (..) We had amazingly strong feedback about it. I’d say in terms of what we learned, we learned we had to one, continue to unpack the stories of our players and then also number two is, prioritize storytelling content because while people love the game, they equally love hearing what is unique about our players and about everything else about the League”.
On the biggest challenges they have faced: “One was initially that we had to make sure we created awareness about the League. You assume an NBA product and a 2K product would naturally have great awareness, but in fact, we had to one, make the eSports community and everyone aware of what we were doing and really making people aware of what the 2K League was. Then also, educating them on what we were doing because what we were embarking on was very different than what other traditional sports leagues had done up until that point. We went all in on Esports. It’s five on five. It’s not LeBron playing Steph. It’s actually our 126 players playing their own unique avatar. We had to really educate everyone on what we were doing. Out of the gates, that was probably our biggest challenge. Then I would say now, the biggest thing we’re trying to overcome is if you come to our studio, people realize it is electric. I mean, the excitement, on the stage, the unique set up we have, that circle set up where players are facing each other is unique to eSports. It creates this level of engagement amongst the players and it’s trash talk and it’s excitement. It’s amazing when you’re in the studio. We have to continue to figure out a way to have that translate into the broadcast. That’s really one big thing we’re focused on for this year”.
On the need to listen to the eSports community and your staff in order to offer the best eSports experience: “It is about listening to the community and it’s the fans, it’s your broadcast, it’s listening to your players. Oftentimes, the changes we’re making from week to week, they might come from our staff just in the studio sitting with players and talking to them and finding out what they think we should be doing differently”.
On the need to combine the best of traditional sports with the best of eSports: “Generally speaking, traditional sports are really good at the business. Whether that’s putting on a production or it’s creating great partnership or marketing the product. That’s really in their wheelhouse. (..) We initially took the approach of, how can we take the best of eSports and the best of traditional sports? That has been our mindset all along. There are a lot of amazing things that I think traditional sports brings to Esports. If you followed our League, you’ll know we have a very, you might call it a traditional draft that the players love and their families love and it creates that moment. The perfect moment we had this year was Chiquita being drafted and that moment when the audience erupted”.
On Chiquita Evans, and how it goes well with the NBA’s priority to improve diversity:“It was a priority for us as a League. It’s one of our core values, which is making diversity and inclusion a priority. That moment when Chiquita was drafted was amazing as I mentioned earlier. The reception she has gotten from her team, from fans, has been outstanding. It’s been really an exciting moment for the League. I would say Chiquita is a great player. She’s an even better person and ambassador. She is the perfect first person, first woman to be a part of this League. She’s been a great role model. I have no doubt that there are women competitively playing right now or young girls who are watching our League that are completely being inspired by her and they will be our next generation of women in the 2K League”.
On their goal for the next 2 years:“I would say probably our biggest priority is making sure we continue to find the best players on the planet. We think there is a big opportunity for this League to be a global league and so that means global fans and we want to make sure that we’re giving them access to the League and that we’re covered around the world. We also want to make sure that we have players from all over the world. We already have that to a certain degree as we have nine players this year that are international players. Then the last thing I would be to have franchises all over the world. We think there is an opportunity for us to have a team in London or a team in Shanghai playing Knicks Gaming or playing Celtics Crossover Gaming. We expect this to be a totally global league”.
This week we had the honor to interview Marc Rowley, CEO of Live CGI, which recently built the NBA 2K League’s virtual studio. Marc also worked for ESPN for 18+ years where he built cutting edge technologies (AR, VR..).
📝Show Notes: Throughout our conversation, we touched on his background, how he got the idea of Live CGI, and his experience at ESPN. We also talked about the virtual studio he built for the NBA 2K league, and how his technology can help teams and leagues offset the losses in ticket sales from COVID-19 crisis.
Click on the video below to watch the full Upside TV interview (Powered by Live CGI) with Marc Rowley (Live CGI) and Julien Blin (The Upside host):