In recent weeks I’ve gone chasing down the esports & gaming rabbit hole, and it’s opened my mind to opportunities I hadn’t really considered in terms of Fan Engagement.
Like many people out there, I was sceptical about the value of spending too much time on this, given that it’s become the preoccupation of lots of top-level clubs seeking to monetise via a presence in games, or by establishing esports (e.g.: FIFA) teams.
There are undoubtedly opportunities for clubs to make money directly or indirectly with marketing partnerships like that announced by Wolverhampton Wanderers and Fortnite operators, Epic Games, that sees the Premier League club’s outfit now appear in the game.
These are important for clubs in the Premier League and other high-profile leagues. The level of exposure as they chase worldwide eyeballs is an important factor in the marketing strategy for clubs.
But it’s probably left a lot of people further down the pyramid wondering what’s in it for them. How on earth do you get some form of benefit from a craze that matters even more during the Covid pandemic, but which as a club you can’t really involve yourself with at the top-end?
There’s quite a lot of fear from many quarters about the medium and how it might threaten ‘real sports’. Some even suggest it’s a threat to the purity of the game, but that just doesn’t stand up. As Esports consultant Trev Keane said in the Fan Engagement Pod Ep 31, cinemas aren’t a threat, so why should esports or gaming be one?
The trick is to see new media like this as a device to engage and communicate with a group of people, like you do with Twitter, YouTube, local news sites, podcasts, your own website. They will range from people who go to matches, might go to matches, or might never go.
But they are all people, especially if they’re locally based, that you should want to establish a relationship with for the same reason as with anyone else: you might get them on the conveyor belt to fandom one day (even you don’t, that’s true for a lot of strategies to engage new fans).
The first step is to grasp the difference between esports and gaming, as although there is overlap, esports is a sport, whilst gaming is entertainment. Want to know more about why that difference matters? Try this Medium post from Scott Elchison at IPG Media Lab.
Secondly, understand who your esports and gaming communities are locally. What clubs exist, can you find out what number of your fanbase (particularly younger followers) are into it? This matters whether or not the groups are formal or informal (whether they meet or not), though clearly at this time, that won’t be an option.
I’ve already spoken with one club that has an esports & gaming strategy ready to go (but had to put it on ice for now), based on event tie-ups and providing space for gamers pre-match. This is the real nub of it. Gaming in particular – but also esports as well – is an event opportunity. Clubs have huge spaces that need using, and gaming can be often as much a social activity as anything else, QED!
So look to provide gaming facilities before home matches (when they happen again!), or even consider hosting esports tournaments (go to the British Esports Association). Look for opportunities to collaborate with esports or gaming communities as you do when you deliver projects through your community trust or supporter relations depart team.
You could even start sponsoring or building relationships now, and get into that valuable online real estate.
Whatever it is, grasp the opportunity to do some thinking now, and be creative. Esports and gaming are here to stay. Use them, don’t fear them.
There’s a useful post on a similar theme on the Irish Football Blog, which partially inspired this post