Creating eSports league “maybe no different” than creating a women’s league: AFL

Stirling Coates Roar Guru

By Stirling Coates, Stirling Coates is a Roar Guru

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    Months after the Adelaide Crows announced they had purchased Sydney-based eSports franchise Legacy, the AFL’s general manager of growth, digital and audiences Darren Birch has claimed the league is investigating the possibility of more of its clubs branching into the world of competitive video gaming.

    In an interview with Sports Business Daily, Birch said his perspective of the video gaming world was changed by a conference he attended in New York before the season began.

    “We’ve had a console game for a long time and we’ve always thought, “Where do we go in this gaming space?”” he said.

    But after seeing a large portion of the conference dedicated to eSports, Birch said he saw “the opportunity to connect with a new and broader audience for our brand.”

    According to Birch, more than two thirds of the recently-created AFLW’s audience had never been to an AFL game before and, with clubs already branching out into other sports like netball, the potential for officially affiliated eSports franchises to bring an entirely new audience to AFL-sanctioned content is enormous.

    While Birch admits it’s unlikely eSports fans would necessarily start watching AFL football as a result of any partnership, he also claimed that wasn’t very important.

    “It has a significant interest to your club’s sponsors and stakeholders that are looking to connect to a millennial audience.

    “The audience is highly engaged and highly passionate. When the match finishes, they eat, they drink, they buy merchandise. It’s really no different.”

    Birch clarified any eSports venture by the AFL would almost certainly not revolve around an AFL video game, with partnerships likely to focus on vastly more popular fantasy strategy games or shooters.

    Birch also claimed the AFL-owned Etihad Stadium, thanks to its closing roof, was being “looked at” as a potential venue to host eSports events.

    Partnerships between ‘real’ sporting clubs and eSports franchises are surprisingly common in the USA and Europe.

    NBA franchises the Miami Heat and Philadelphia 76ers already own eSports teams in the US, while Paris St-Germain, AS Roma and FC Copenhagen have high-profile partnerships with European franchises.

    Australia has seen several successful eSports tournaments take place this year already.

    The Intel Extreme Masters (IEM) in May saw crowds flock to the Qudos Bank Arena at Olympic Park for two days of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive action, while The Star was sold out for three days in July for the group stage of the Overwatch World Cup.

    Several clubs are reportedly interested in joining Adelaide as eSports partners, including cross-town rivals Port Adelaide who are looking to strengthen their venture into the Chinese market.

    The West Coast Eagles and Greater Western Sydney have also reportedly expressed interest in eSports.

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    The Crowd Says (18)

    • Roar Guru

      October 12th 2017 @ 11:14am
      Penster said | October 12th 2017 @ 11:14am | ! Report

      Except women are real people and not virtual …………….. forget it. I fear for the species.

      • Roar Guru

        October 12th 2017 @ 11:24am
        Stirling Coates said | October 12th 2017 @ 11:24am | ! Report

        Not sure what you’re getting at there Penster?

        Birch was saying the Women’s League brought in an entirely unique audience to the AFL – more than two-thirds of the AFLW’s audience had never attended an AFL game before.

        Creating an eSports league could bring an entirely new audience to the AFL’s coffers. Even if they don’t start watching AFL itself, the viewership still keeps the sponsors happy.

        • October 12th 2017 @ 12:52pm
          Mat said | October 12th 2017 @ 12:52pm | ! Report

          “more than two-thirds of the AFLW’s audience had never attended an AFL game before” – that would be highly unlikely. How do you know that? No one paid to get in so how would they have any data on it?

          • Roar Guru

            October 12th 2017 @ 1:02pm
            Stirling Coates said | October 12th 2017 @ 1:02pm | ! Report

            I know that because Darren Birch – the AFL’s GM of growth, digital and audiences – said as such. This is covered in the article.

            • October 12th 2017 @ 1:10pm
              Mat said | October 12th 2017 @ 1:10pm | ! Report

              A very unlikely claim with no data to back it up. He’s just trying to talk up the AFLW.

              • Roar Guru

                October 12th 2017 @ 1:14pm
                Paul D said | October 12th 2017 @ 1:14pm | ! Report

                There were online surveys done as part of the AFLW season. AFL House was very keen to sample the demographics of who was attending, even if they weren’t charging them.

                Birch would be quoting from the results of that.

        • Roar Guru

          October 16th 2017 @ 3:30pm
          Penster said | October 16th 2017 @ 3:30pm | ! Report

          Guilty of headline reading and skimming the article a bit there, sorry Stirling. Still not wild about the prospect of gaming, moving away from real life to VR but that’s today and money talks. I did once see a Pokemon in the centre square at the SCG – same thing no?
          Re 2/3 AFLW audience never having attended an AFL match before, that may be the case in NSW where the matches were played in Blacktown, but I just can’t imagine Victorian and SA teams having those sorts of numbers. We enjoyed the womens series and have renewed our GWS womens memberships for next year, my daughters are playing, the big problem is finding grounds for the massive influx of juniors into the clubs.

      • Roar Rookie

        October 12th 2017 @ 2:14pm
        josh said | October 12th 2017 @ 2:14pm | ! Report

        When did they stop teaching comprehension at schools?

    • October 12th 2017 @ 11:26am
      Mattyb said | October 12th 2017 @ 11:26am | ! Report

      Virtual reality is where we are headed….or are we already living in one?

    • Roar Guru

      October 12th 2017 @ 11:37am
      Cat said | October 12th 2017 @ 11:37am | ! Report

      Title should read “may be no different” not maybe

      • Roar Guru

        October 12th 2017 @ 12:03pm
        Stirling Coates said | October 12th 2017 @ 12:03pm | ! Report

        Unfortunately that was a direct quote from an interview transcript, not at liberty to change it

    • Roar Guru

      October 12th 2017 @ 11:49am
      Paul D said | October 12th 2017 @ 11:49am | ! Report

      Interesting take on things. This is more about opening up new revenue streams though outside of AFL, rather than expanding the reach of our sport.

      “Birch clarified any eSports venture by the AFL would almost certainly not revolve around an AFL video game, with partnerships likely to focus on vastly more popular fantasy strategy games or shooters.”

      Smart fellow. Every AFL game on console has been terrible. Makes much more sense that AFL clubs would look to say sponsor an Australian overwatch team or similar. Etihad stadium could be a good location to hold a giant esports tournament as well.

      Just a little bit of diversification. At least they’re thinking outside the square.

      • Roar Guru

        October 12th 2017 @ 12:14pm
        Cat said | October 12th 2017 @ 12:14pm | ! Report

        Anything to ween themselves off the teet of the degenerate gambling houses is a good thing indeed.

      • Roar Guru

        October 12th 2017 @ 3:31pm
        Peppsy said | October 12th 2017 @ 3:31pm | ! Report

        More than just money though, this could also increase global awareness of AFL. From what I’ve seen generally sports fans from around the world who see AFL think it looks cool but have never heard of it before, and that lack of knowledge is really important for the AFL to overcome if it wants to expand outside Australia.

    • October 13th 2017 @ 7:43am
      Greg said | October 13th 2017 @ 7:43am | ! Report

      There is a huge gaming tournament in Melbourne at the end of October which goes for 3 days and it is called Pax. The team the Crows purchased is one of the top 4 teams playing the finals there. The winning team represents Oceania in the World Championships in Atlanta in January. The prize pool is usually around $1 million. They play in stadiums full of people and the events are streamed worldwide. It is a huge audience of young – mid aged people. The world is changing.

    • October 16th 2017 @ 10:19pm
      Philby said | October 16th 2017 @ 10:19pm | ! Report

      ‘maybe’ in the title should actually be ‘may be’…

      • October 16th 2017 @ 10:20pm
        Philby said | October 16th 2017 @ 10:20pm | ! Report

        …just saying.

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