One area they are doubling down on is nostalgia – opening the coffers and repeating the team’s best moments. For example, unconditional Syracuse fans (freehand) were able to relive the epic 2003 NCAA Championship race with Carmelo Anthony when CBS Sports reviewed the game earlier in April.
ESPN also released The last dance, a documentary devoted to the last season of the Chicago Bulls 1997-1998 and, more importantly, Michael Jordan. The miniseries features images of a team that had a Bulls pass throughout the final season of their dynasty, offering hungry sports fans an immersive 90s NBA experience with questionable ties.
As ESPN allows these walks in memory via nostalgia, the network also prepares and conditions viewers for the future. This convergence of digital and television programming manifests itself in various ways, including ideas like the NBA Horse Tournament. But perhaps the most revolutionary programming was the 16 players NBA 2K Players tournament.
ESPN recently hosted a series of live NBA 2K clashes with NBA players like Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, Montrezl Harrell, Deandre Ayton and Patrick Beverley. This is the first major network exploration in esports – a genre that should have more 557 million viewers worldwide by 2021. And with most of the population at home due to COVID-19, hours watched increased by about 17% for esports platforms like Twitch compared to the previous quarter.
It is important to note that this A-list tournament is simply an adaptation of the existing NBA 2K League, which caught fire on the back of emerging stars like MamaImDatMan, Drake Griffin, and ZDS, to name a few. According to the league itself, NBA 2K20 content has generated more than 276 million views on YouTube and more than 8 million hours watched on Twitch on hundreds of channels.
The NBA 2K Official League already has a loyal and dedicated audience. But when notices of quarantine and house arrest began to roll out earlier this year, they were exposed to the wider masses. It experienced exponential growth on all platforms in 2020, including adding nearly 750,000 YouTube subscribers in February alone, according to CreatorIQ influencer marketing platform.
The NBA2K League also brings a younger audience to the table, with more than 75% of the audience under the age of 24, according to CreatorIQ. And the esports community in general could very well be seen as the next generation of sports fans – which could help ESPN not only weather this storm, but also position itself for the future. In addition, the gaming community has a unique set of interests in fashion, technology, music and art, opening up programming and advertising possibilities to a whole new school of brands when it comes to integrations of with network television.
“The NBA2K tournament on ESPN has proven that there is an appetite and acceptance of esports content on the TV screen, but it has really only scratched the surface of the possibilities,” said Ed Tomasi, general manager of esports to the Subnation culture and lifestyle platform. . “Integrations like this will usher in not only the next wave of sports, but the next wave of cutting-edge brands wishing to connect with these cross-platform sports fans and consumers.”
Without any indication of the return of live sports – and if they even have fans present when that happens – e-sport creates the closest thing to audiences and brands looking to scratch a competitive itch with video content. As the quarantine continues, we will see how ESPN and other creators of sports content seem to adopt electronic sports and this new dynamic in a more interesting way.