Esports Gaming: How the NBA is Growing its Audience Through Esports

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The National Basketball Association is without a doubt one of the most renowned sports leagues in the world.

NBA stars such as Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James have become cultural icons that many people are aware of, from the avid NBA fan and league pass subscriber to those who have yet to watch the entirety of a single basketball game in their life.

Much attention has been given to the NBA this year, with how the league organization has executed the initially doubtful NBA Bubble isolation zone. Heads were indeed turned when the NBA resumed the season and executed the awaited NBA playoffs, which saw the Los Angeles Lakers win the 2020 NBA Championship.

However, just like any other sports league and entertainment medium, the NBA lives through its audience. The entertainment they provide is dependent on the viewers they have, and naturally, they would want to expand their audience as much as possible to generate maximum revenue.

The NBA gets pretty creative in how it markets the league and attracts audiences. One of its latest marketing endeavors is the NBA 2K League, an esports competition.

The NBA

Despite the NBA’s near ubiquity, it’s not immune to struggles, especially in the ratings department. This year, the NBA Finals featuring the Los Angeles Lakers and the Miami Heat averaged a relatively measly 7.5 million viewers over six games. This number is down 51% from the 2019 NBA Finals where the Toronto Raptors toppled the Golden State dynasty.

For some additional perspective, the most viewed game in NBA history is Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals, where Michael Jordan famously won his sixth championship against the Stockton and Malone Utah Jazz. That game had a whopping 35.9 million viewers.

There are a number of theories as to why the NBA’s ratings are dipping, such as due to its politicization, the dominance of LeBron, the coronavirus pandemic, and the trend of ‘easy way out’ superteams, but these topics are arguably for the fans to debate.

One thing is for sure, though. NBA fans love their drama. Compelling storylines like the conclusion of Jordan’s career with the Bulls, the 2016 Cavaliers’ epic comeback against the Warriors, and the 2010 showdown between the Lakers and the Celtics make for some great television, and the ratings reflect that.

NBA 2K League

The NBA has ventured into the growing world of esports by establishing the NBA 2K League in partnership with Take-Two Interactive, the owner of the famous NBA 2K video game franchise. This is definitely a wise move on the part of the NBA, as it has been projected that by 2023, approximately 351 million people around the world would be occasionally viewing esports as a form of leisure.

Entering the world of esports is also an effective way for the NBA to penetrate audiences outside the United States. One study has shown that as of 2019, 57% of the world’s esports viewers come from the Asia Pacific region, in contrast to North America’s 12% and Europe’s 16%.

At the moment, 22 NBA teams have their NBA 2K League counterparts, and the league has been making efforts in building a solid fanbase composed of video game enthusiasts. The NBA 2K League’s 2019 Season garnered a total of 1,411,925 hours watched with 7,859 average viewers.

While the viewership of the NBA 2K League is indeed relatively miniscule, the league has a lot of potential in becoming a household name as more and more people are made aware of its existence. NBA 2K is one of the most popular sports video games in the world, with NBA 2K20 selling over 12 million copies.

What’s great about the NBA 2K League, like other esports, is that anyone who likes playing 2K has a shot at making it to the pro level. You obviously don’t have to be 6ft tall to play in the 2K League. It gives avid gamers the opportunity to watch people just like them who can play NBA 2K at the highest level and get paid for it.

Crossing Over

The emergence of the NBA 2K League presents the potential for basketball content from the NBA all year round. NBA viewers who are itching for a fix of basketball content can just tune in to the 2K League as it, much like other tournaments in the esports industry, grows and proves to be more exciting through each passing year.

On the other hand, the NBA itself is of course bound to benefit from the NBA 2K League’s growth. The 2K League is mainly targeted for Gen Zers, some of whom might not have even had the privilege of watching Air Jordan dominate teams in the NBA. This presents an entry point for potential viewers to get into watching the NBA.

The NBA and the NBA 2K League, despite both being centered on the game of basketball, do not necessarily have the same fanbases. Not everyone who’s into the NBA watches the NBA 2K League, and some NBA 2K League fans might not even know who won the NBA Championship last year.

By introducing the game of basketball and the NBA to gamers and esports enthusiasts, the NBA is bound to reap the benefits through an increase in the number of its followers and eventually its viewership. The thrill of basketball is universal, and anyone who catches wind of the NBA 2K League will definitely be itching for more basketball content. And the NBA is here to provide it.

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