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Football & eSports — An Uneasy Alliance?

Top level Football is currently in the midst of a change it is not comfortable with, or ready for. It is Alice tumbling down the rabbit hole as it moves from football club to sports business. Fueled by the white rabbit of TV money, clubs are struggling to find their modus operandi.

It used to be simple. Much simpler. You had a stadium with X number of people and your job was easy: fill that stadium. You had to sell merchandise, loads of merchandise.

Now, you have to think and do more, you have to fill the digital space too. Oh how they yearn for that easier life.

The rise of digital, the imminent fall of analogue TV viewing and the evolution of the football fan means the football bubble is veering towards a very sharp pin.

The growth of digital is simple. Top levels clubs have large social databases that are just that, large. The clubs think they own the data, they don’t. Most don’t have strategies to capture that data. Yet they sell it; or access to it.

Television is the same. Numbers are dropping as viewers opt to digest their football in illegal streams and shorter clips. Yet contracts longer, longer than existing TV deals are being handed out to players.

Then you have esports. Don’t call it “e-sports” by the way, the community behind it don’t like that. They are Millennials. The new demographic that sports clubs want. The Snapchat generation.

Clubs know the ‘young folk,’ some 20 years younger than their average season ticket holder digest news differently, value life differently and some even play competitive gaming.

The answer? Simple really, sign an esports player. They shall represent the club in competitions and shall help us create content that reaches new fans, fill the stadiums with younger fans and sell more jerseys.

Que pats on the back. Well done forward thinker. You’ve solved a problem.

But wait. Do we just focus on one game, a popular football game we can resonate with or do you look at other games? Will our sponsors be comfortable being aligned to shoot ’em ups?

Football and esports appear a match made in heaven. Clubs have audiences and the businesses behind them want to generate more funds and reach new fan bases.

EA’s FIFA title is perhaps one of the most mainstream games in the esports world; however, it is not the biggest title in esports. CS:GO and Dota have much larger audiences, yet their format and concept are foreign to the average footballer.

So how do Football clubs embrace esports? The answer appears to point to segregation. It needs to be allowed have its own identity. Yes, it can be part of the business, but it is not an extension of the football team. Remove the conventional approach; think bigger, think better.

It also points to finding like-minded parties. This is not something one simply does on their own. It also needs a strategy.

eSports is really not a fan engagement tool, one that is rolled out pre-game or at half-time. It can be, but for me it is more, much more. It is a new way to generate revenue — broadcasting, both traditional and streamed, sponsorship, again old school looking to be hip and the new wave of sponsors that exist and events can lead the businesses behind the club to new heights and new fans.

Working with the Celtic eSports League I have managed to get a glimpse into the world of the esports players and the thought processes of clubs.

For the player, there is a sense of pride. Representing a club they have supported all their life or have an affiliation to, is a huge honour, one they embrace. These players play the popular football titles so can resonate with the ethos of the club. They already follow results, they often attend or watch games and they already own jerseys.

For the club’s this is a safe entry point. They are nervous of the brave new world. How will a foray into a new industry being viewed? How will old school fans react? Working with the Celtic eSports League have helped alleviate some of those worries.

By bringing together like minded clubs you create a community of innovative thinkers that feel comfortable knowing there are others like them.

The next stage is to help these clubs move into other titles. However, while football titles work with football, there is more to esports than EA or PES.

The more popular titles and the gamers playing them, may not get the same sense of pride as donning a jersey. For them, it is about being the best and the clubs, if they go down that road, need to provide an environment that allows them to succeed.

Clubs also have to know that an esports player or professional gamer, or even those with an interest in it, are not likely to suddenly want tickets to game or the latest jersey because you have a professional team.

They will however want to be part of a new success story and that opens new ticket opportunities for Football Business Inc. For clubs, they need to embrace this new world and work with it. Simply put they need to ‘be brave or go home.’

Trev Keane is the Co-Founder of Celtic eSports League. Learn more about his mission to unite European football clubs and competitive gamers at https://www.celticesportsleague.com/.

To explore more on the rapid rise of the latest sporting phenomenon, join us for the eSports & Gaming track at Hashtag Sports 2018.

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