Opinion: The NBA is Taking Over North American Esports

by Kevin Knocke

The NBA has shown it is the smartest sports league around at digital media, and it's proven that again today as the Miami Heat gets into esports team ownership by acquiring esports organization Misfits.

This marks the 5th esports team now that has had some level of investment by an NBA team:

  • NRG Esports is chaired by Sacramento Kings co-owner Andy Miller and has received significant investments from NBA star Shaquille O'Neal (and admittedly MLB stars Alex Rodriguez and Jimmy Rollins as well).
  • Team Liquid was acquired by aXiomatic just recently, the ownership group that oversees the Golden State Warriors and MLB's Los Angeles Dodgers.
  • The Milwuakee Bucks owner recently purchased a new esports team, FlyQuest, born out of acquiring the former Cloud9 Challenger League of Legends team that just qualified for the NA LCS.
  • Dignitas, a long time face in the esports scene, was just bought by the ownership group over the Philadelphia 76'ers and other professional teams, like Crystal Palace of the English Premiere League.

So why is the NBA getting so involved compared to other sports?

Collectively the ownership contingent is more in touch with a younger demographic that resonates with new media and, increasingly, esports. While the Super Bowl dwarfs the NBA Finals in viewership, there is more social activity around the latter because the audience is younger and more plugged in.

This means that the average NBA viewer uses more social media. If someone is younger and use more social media, they're also more likely to be aware of esports and consume content for it.

This is a great, natural fit for NBA brands then. It is expanding, at a relatively low cost (the few million dollars that teams have been throwing around is still less than one-year's salary of one of their top players on the NBA court), into something that could provide a huge return for them given that their audience is already interested in this content to begin with.

Similarly, the industry has started to see younger NFL players get involved as well, such as Ricky Lumpkin, owner of Flipsid3 Tactics, or Rodger Saffold, co-owner of The Rise Nation.

This makes plenty of sense as younger NFL players and fans typically use social media in much the same way. But given that the NBA has a much higher percentage of its fans as young, connected viewers, it's much more smart for them to invest right now.

And oh boy, are NBA teams investing in esports right now.

More esports influencing from Knocke: Esports Fans Take Note Of This Non-Esport Event | Broadcast Rights are the Play for New Esports CDNs | Shut it Down, SeeBotsChat is the Funniest Stream of the Year