There are certain points in time where even the most jaded veterans in the multi-billion dollar sports industry will admit that a new property has joined the mainstream. The UFC probably came with their first major sponsor deal, like Budweiser, the X Games and the Dew Tour came with television deals, some have said that most recently properties like World Surfing League and Drone Racing have used technology and millennial engagement to join the mainstream party.
Then there is eSports. Buzz fills the air every time something about the phenomenon is mentioned; mentions of full arenas, millions watching on twitch, pro sports teams buying franchises; even gambling has entered the mix. So has eSports crossed over? Many skeptics are still waiting to see how and what can be monetized for the long term, but the signs continue to pop up as new needs come to light. Some colleges are offering scholarships (even though there is no formal platform for intercollegiate play), consulting and marketing groups like Chicago-based reVolition have launched dedicated consultancies trying to help guide the uninitiated—heck there was even a lawyer who has dedicated a practice to eSports business issues. But where are the jobs and the revenue?
Maybe we are seeing all these pieces lead there, and today there was another step toward that area of mainstream acceptance; because now it looks like there are actual jobs becoming available. The proof of that came when Prodigy Sports, a search firm that works with professional teams (several of whom now have eSports properties), leagues and properties, announced they are dedicating time and staff to help identify and fill leadership roles for eSports acquisitions, much like they would for senior team jobs in marketing or sales.
“We have such a wide number of clients in professional sports who have called and asked about a path to growth in eSports as they start to get into this relatively new business, so we are pleased to be one of the first firms to devote time, effort and manpower to matching opportunities and personnel in the space,” said Prodigy Sports founder and CEO Scott Carmichael in a release. “While eSports may be a new and fast-growing business to many, its challenges are not new, and we are looking forward to be able to marry the needs of those entering the field with a deep, diverse and unique database that we are always building.”
Lawyers and search firms do not hang shingles in areas where there is not money to be made, so the proof of eSports success is becoming more and more reality than fantasy. How long that will take is still a mystery, but the mystery is steadily becoming closer to being solved, and many of those who watch the sports business industry for opportunities and see these moves seem to agree.
“Over time, eSports as an industry will face virtually all the same management, organizational, legal, finance, marketing and sales challenges as other areas of sports and entertainment,” said Tom Richardson, a longtime sports marketing expert who is currently teaching digital and social media at Columbia University. “Some examples of what will be coming; management: good leadership, solid operational management and HR, great oversight/governance, legal: labor issues, rights issues, IP protection, partnerships, etc., marketing & sales: brand building, audience development, customer service, revenue generation, etc. So, functional experts in these areas have an opportunity to “get in early” and help this burgeoning industry develop smartly and responsibly.”
While there is still a wide part of the sports business that is looking askance at the numbers, the numbers and now the man hours going against eSports business ventures globally, certainly don’t lie. Will we be seeing nightly events with millions tuning in on the device of their choice like we do with MLB or the NBA? That will be a generational issue. However we do see dollars and brands going into the space in measured doses, along with many looking for an early adopting opportunity. If the games lead to business many will follow, and the upside for those businesses in first, seem to be getting brighter, just like the job opportunities.