Live sports programming has been negatively impacted by the coronavirus pandemic that left sports fans in different parts of the world feel empty of entertainment. Television networks are scrambling to fill the void in their programming without basketball, soccer, baseball, hockey, and other live sports. To continue receiving the ad revenue, they need to fill the programming void. ESPN, Fox Sports, and other networks have been airing documentaries, sports-themed movies, replays, and esports, which is competitive gaming. Esports is being played by professional gamers and watched by spectators.
Esports on TV
Esports is typically available for viewing online, but televised live esports is nothing new. Over the past couple of years, various cable and broadcast networks have televising esports, including DisneyXD, ESPN2, ESPN Deportes, and ESPNU. The NFL Network, TBS, CW, and even CBS also broadcasting esports on TV. CBS televised Candy Crush Saga in prime time, and it garnered an average of four million viewers in July 2017.
In recent weeks, more esports tournaments have been appearing on TV. ESPN made a branded ESPN Esports Day that includes 12 hours of programming on the 5th of April. The programming televised a variety of virtual games, including Formula 1 Esports Virtual Grand Prix, Madden NFL20, Rocket League, and NBA 2K20. The NBA 2K20 tournament included NBA superstars Keven Durant, Donovan Mitchell, Trae Young, and the eventual champion Devin Booker, who won $100,000 to be donated to coronavirus relief efforts.
Fox Sports has also been televising esports on their networks, featuring former quarterback Michael Vick and other NFL players in a Madden 20 tournament. Derwin James, safety on the Los Angeles Chargers, won the eight-player competition by defeating Vick in the championship match. FS1 received an impressive 903,000 viewers in a televised eNASCAR pro-Invitational iRacing Series. Fox Sports will be broadcasting next the inaugural eMLS Tournament.
Esports has been booming online with the coronavirus pandemic, and people are staying home. Live streaming software service StreamLabs and esports data and analytics Stream Hatchet reveal that Facebook, YouTube, and Twitch all reported significant increases with online viewing in the first quarter of 2020. Amazon’s Twitch hit a record high 3.1 billion hours watched, a 17% increase from the previous quarter. Twitch also reported record high in average concurrent viewing with 1.4 million and a 33% growth in unique channels.
YouTube reported 1.1 billion hours watched in the first quarter of 2020, up 13% when compared to the fourth quarter of 2019. During the quarter, YouTube also reported a record high half million concurrent viewers. Facebook Gaming also had a substantial quarter, hitting 554 million hours. Verizon validated the growth in gaming, revealing that video game usage during peak hours grew by 75% since the quarantine in the US.
More “blue-chip” advertisers are sponsoring esports events because of a desirable viewing demographic and growing popularity of esports. Various product categories targeting young males have been doing sponsorships in esports, including consumer electronics, automotive, telecom, insurance companies, financial services, soft drinks, and quick-service restaurants. eMarketer projects ad revenue for esports to reach $214 million this year, up 20% from $178 million in the previous year.
Casinos, which would have earned hundreds of millions of dollars with live sporting events, are turning at esports to retake some of the lost revenue. Nevada Gaming Control allowed wagering on multiple esports events in April. Esports may be even more popular with this development. Sports gambling has now been legalized in 17 states.
With the current trend of esports and the projected growth in many years to come, more broadcasters are expected to add more esports to their programming lineups to reach a coveted younger audience.