Ray Kinsella, an Iowa corn farmer in the 1989 classic Field of Dreams, famously turned a portion of his cornfield into a baseball diamond after hearing a voice in the night telling him âIf you build it, he will come.â In doing so, heâd tethered his future to what others considered a wild dream of hosting Americaâs pastime in his own backyard. But when Shoeless Joe Jackson and other great players emerged from the cornfields to play ball, Kinsellaâs far-fetched prophecy comes true.
Fast forward 30 years and itâs that similar dream-to-reality faith that guides the complex ecosystem of esports.
When it comes to esports, âIf you build it, THEY will come.â
Not a believer? Consider that in 2019, the global games market will total more than $152 billion and by 2022, that number will mushroom to just shy of $200 billion. Total esports revenue worldwide alone will surpass $1 billion this year with most estimates predicting closer to $2 billion in the just the next three years.
Thatâs real money coming from real revenue streams such as sponsorship, media rights, advertising, merchandise and ticketing. And for the sports business world, as leagues and teams continue to chase new fans, TV ratings, attendance figures and everything in between, esports is the elusive pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.
But esports isnât a fantasy-drama where you can go from rags to riches overnight. Sports business executives need to focus strategically on the build â that includes appropriate partners, a realistic timetable and solid financial investment.
NASCARâs build started more than a decade ago when we signed a five-year deal with our partners at iRacing to develop a competitive online racing series. iRacing, a subscription-based racing simulation game, has provided the sportâs top athletes with a development and practice tool unparalleled among any other major sport and its video game. In fact, Hendrick Motorsportsâ William Bryon started as an iRacing gamer before transitioning to a full-body stock car. He has since went on to win the 2017 Xfinity Series championship, earned 2018 rookie of the year honors and surged to a 2019 NASCAR Cup Series Playoff spot. (NOTE to gamers: it doesnât matter how good you are at FIFA or Madden, youâre not going pro in soccer or football).
Streaming across various platforms including Twitch, YouTube and Facebook, the 2019 NASCAR iRacing Series saw digital viewership grow a whopping 195% year-over-year. PEAK Antifreeze, the entitlement partner of the series in 2019, even enjoyed a special live broadcast of the series finale on NBCSNâs NASCAR America. Millions of views, linear broadcast coverage, entitlement partners and broad industry support were our Shoeless Joes and his player compadres. We built it. They came. But it took hard work, years of relentless commitment and a robust marketing strategy focused on building an audience first.
Create Connections Today
This year, more than ever, there has been increased energy and industry collaboration around a collective esports approach based on creating connections and relationships with fans. itâs important to recognize, first and foremost, the massive growth potential and the opportunity it affords the sport to engage a younger and more diverse fanbase
For NASCAR, that recognition led to the formation of the eNASCAR Heat Pro League, the sportâs first-ever esports league on consoles. Launched this past year as part of an industry-wide collaboration between NASCAR, its race teams and 704Games the league featured 14 teams and 28 gamers competing on Xbox One and PlayStation 4.
Coca-Cola, one of NASCARâs largest and most important corporate partners, has been one of the first partners to emerge from the cornfields and support this incredible new racing league designed to make connections with NASCARâs next generation fan.
“Coca-Cola was excited to participate in the 2019 eNHPL Playoffs and Championship,â said Chris Bigda, Director, Brand Consumer Connections, Coca-Cola North America. âThe development of this league, as part of NASCARâs overall growth strategy in esports, helped us create another moment of celebration in the sport.â
Ray realized it would take plenty of hard work to make his prophesy a reality, and as sports business executives challenged with finding new money, we should have similarly managed expectations. Weâre better off making esports a key component of our marketing portfolio capable of generating revenue but with long-range targets instead of short-term expectations. Esports for the sports business industry should be about building audience, making authentic connections AND breaking down barriers to entry. Tomorrow we make money.
Scott Warfield is NASCARâs Managing Director of Gaming and oversees sports betting and esports.