With the lack of actual soccer matches now entering its eighth week, leagues and clubs are continuing to turn to esports as a way to entertain fans, appease corporate sponsors, and raise funds for various charities.
We previously wrote about the growing popularity and role of esports during the coronavirus pandemic and how USL turned to Rocket League, but the last couple of weeks have seen an explosion within the space with La Liga, the Premier League, and Bleacher Report all hosting unique competitions.
LaLiga, Uninterrupted, and Women’s ICC unite for Feeding America
What do you get when you combine sixteen current and former professional athletes across LaLiga, NWSL, the NBA, and the NFL? You get the Kick Covid FIFA 20 tournament. The tournament, which was a collaboration between LaLiga, Women’s International Champions Cup, and LeBron James’ media company Uninterrupted, saw La Liga players paired with another athlete to compete in two person teams. Relevent Sports operates both the men’s and women’s ICC tournaments in the US and jointly runs LaLiga North America with LaLiga.
Unlike other tournaments, there was more than bragging rights on the line for this one with funds being raised directly for Feeding America.
Over the course of two days, matches were streamed on Twitch, social media, and more than 30 television providers all across the globe, including beIN Sports in the United States. The commentary team in the US included broadcaster Phil Schoen and influencers Jimmy Conrad and Melissa Ortiz.
The tournament was ultimately won by Real Sociedad’s Alexander Isak and USWNT star Allie Long.
She got game 😤🎮 https://t.co/Mv8GVD9i6b
— U.S. Soccer WNT (@USWNT) April 26, 2020
B/R Belt brings soccer and basketball together
Turner / Bleacher Report is probably best known for its coverage within two different sports – soccer and basketball. Having media rights to the NBA and UEFA Champions League helps gain access to stars across the world in both sports and that’s exactly who they brought together to compete in the Battle For The Belt.
Four NBA players, who are also massive soccer fans, competed against four soccer players from the Bundesliga, La Liga, and Premier League over the course of a few days to see who would reign supreme. The matches were streamed on BR Football’s YouTube channel and cross-promoted across their Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook pages, to a total potential audience of more than 18 million fans. Add in the players and teams and you’re looking at a smart way to leverage those media rights for action when there are no real games to be played.
In classic Bleacher Report style, that tournament was promoted with its own unique graphics and the matches themselves didn’t disappoint. What’s better than scoring a golden goal to advance to the final? Scoring a golden goal with yourself AND hitting your own celebration to advance to the final. That’s exactly what Marco Asensio did in the semis against NBA player John Collins.
— B/R Football (@brfootball) May 2, 2020
ePremier League hosts players-only tournament
Finally, the Premier League leveraged their official partnership with EA Sports for the ePremier League Invitational, which featured 20 representatives – one from each club. 18 players and two celebrity fans, due to certain club’s competing commercial partnerships, participated in the knockout tournament over five days last week.
The tournament was extremely well received by fans across the globe, which led to a second iteration kicking off this week featuring new players and celebrities. Not only was the tournament shown across the Premier League’s global and localized social media handles, but it was also broadcast by television partners all over the world including Sky Sports in England and NBC Sports Soccer airing the semifinals and final in the United States.
In total, the tournament saw more than 150 million video views across its social media channels, with the final watched by more than 3 million people on Facebook alone. Ahead of each match, commentators break down the upcoming game and do a short quiz/interview with each player to allow viewers to get to know each player a little bit more.
— Wolves (@Wolves) May 3, 2020
Can esports continue the momentum once the actual games resume?
That’s the multimillion (multibillion?) dollar question. Esports was already a surging industry with television deals, professional teams, and dedicated arenas. Specifically from a soccer perspective, it will be interesting to see if FIFA especially can maintain the momentum and hold similar competitions more regularly even once sport returns to normal. Millions of new people have been exposed to esports over the last couple of months and only time will tell if that will convert into actual new fans.