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Why ESPN Spent $90 million on Esports Rights

Why ESPN Spent $90 million on Esports Rights

Los Angeles, 2013. As confetti blasts into the air, 20,000 people stand and cheer for the team that just won the League of Legends (LoL) Esports World Championship in the Staples Center. Tickets for the event sold out in an hour, and another 32 million people streamed the esports event online – not on television.

In 2018 these numbers tripled. Almost 100 million people watched the LoL World Championships final. With number like that it’s no surprise that TV Networks are more interested in esports. In 2018, Disney bought the broadcasting rights for Overwatch League for $90 million to show it on ABC, ESPN and Disney XD. Before that, they bought broadcasting rights for League of Legends game play. ESPN Director of Business Development Kevin Lopes said, “We’re in esports to expand our audience, to innovate and be an innovative company”.

Focus: Younger Generations

One reason for ESPN’s step into esports is the effort to get younger generations back to the television screen. When one thinks about changes in media consumption, people tend to blame technology for the shift from watching television to streaming-platforms, but they should talk about content as well. The content provided by traditional media does not appeal to younger viewers. 73 percent of esports-viewers are aged 18 to 34 – an audience ESPN wants to target.

Another interest is overall growth of the esports viewership. For 2019, global revenues reached more than $1 billion, according to research by Newzoo. Moreover, in the U.S., consulting firm Activate assumes that esports will have more viewers than every professional sports league excluding the NFL by 2021. ESPN will not let this huge marketing opportunity go away.

The Challenge: A mixed audience.

Comparing to other countries such as South Korea, ESPN’s step comes late. In 2000, Korea had two 24-hour channels just for esports and other gaming content. They have an advantage over their western counterparts since the gaming culture is more integrated into society. They didn’t have to face the challenge that ESPN will tackle: The audience. People watch esports primarly via streaming platforms like Twitch. There, the audience knows the games they decide to watch and their rules. In contrast to that, on television there are people watching who are used to traditional sports. They have little to no knowledge of how esports works. The challenge lies in how TV stations handle this discrepancy with a production that pleases both parties.

The CNY Connection

The new Barnes Center at Syracuse University has dedicated a large space to esports, and in upcoming articles we’ll talk more about the CNY connection to this growing phenomenon.

About The Author


This site celebrates the people places, and culture that make Central New York one of the most vibrant and livable regions in the country. From Auburn to Utica, from Syracuse, to Ithaca, this is LivableCNY.

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