23. June 2022 By Federico Winer
The infinite game: local outsider, global football footprint
Today, a digital strategy is more important than ever - also in the sports sector. Teenagers in particular are fleeing reality. Many of them only feel alive when they are connected to the digital world - comparable to Wade Watts. Wade constructs his personality in this parallel world where he goes to school, meets his friends, has sex and plays sports. Everything takes place digitally. Although Wade is a fictional character created by Ernest Cline for the novel Ready Player One (2011), the dystopia described in the novel is a reality in our world in the year 2045.
Video games currently take up an average of nine hours per week for many users. In countries with a more developed digital culture, such as South Korea, ten per cent of people spend half a working week, or 20 hours, playing online games. Due to the required mobility restrictions and social isolation, the emergence of the Corona virus in late 2019 has accelerated these social trends.
China has imposed a three-hour weekly video game ban for children since August 2021. However, as one of the largest gaming markets in the world, the country also has the strictest rules and the longest game duration. However, it also generates the highest revenues globally, and projections indicate that the People's Republic will generate around $41 billion in revenue from video games in 2022. So we are dealing with a never-ending game.
From comfort to challenge
Since their inception, traditional sports organisations, including football clubs, have become the main source of entertainment - be it in neighbourhoods, cities and, with the advent of the media, on TV screens. In the media age, the colours and crests of these clubs have travelled thousands of kilometres, which is why, for example, there are now more Real Madrid fans in the Middle East than in the actual core area of the club.
Today, the sustainability of clubs largely depends on their size and digital footprint. Clubs face the challenge of fighting for points on the pitch for 90 minutes and for fans' attention for the rest of the day against a rival that never rests: digital games, mobile phones or Netflix.
The need to develop a digital strategy is not only for global football clubs - for example Manchester United, Bayern Munich, Tottenham Hotspur or PSG. The development of a digital strategy is also important for underdogs from smaller leagues.
An example from Argentina: the Argentinean veteran and third division club Sacachispas FC - called Viola - has understood that the online presence has to be unique in order to continue to grow. "Many people follow us and support us because they like us, because we don't have 10,000 fans," said community manager Pablo Turiaci in 2017. Today, he manages a community of over 82,000 people on Twitter and confirms that the communication strategy is coordinated with all areas of the club.
In 2018, Sacachispas FC danced the haka with its players on the pitch and challenged the All Blacks online. Today, Sacachispas is the rock and roll of the 60s for the sport's social media. But the club not only has likes on social media, it is also causing a rethink among sponsors. These have an interest in placing their name or brands where their potential customers can also be found. This is having an effect: the club has Quilmes, Decrypto and alfajores Fantoche as sponsors. At the same time, some teams in the Professional Soccer League have to play with blank jerseys without sponsor names, as is the case with Patronato.
Such an authentic, entertaining message is what the new generations are looking for in the e-sports channels.
From the living room to the world
The Magnavox Odyssey (MO) was the first home video game system in history, launched in the United States in 1972. It sold 330,000 copies and the idea that anyone could play this game and that playing with others was more fun than playing alone spread. The advent of the internet in the 1990s paved the way for the first large-scale competitions (LAN parties), from which the first e-sports communities emerged. The Cyberathlete Professional League (CPL), the Professional Gamers League and Quakecon were among the first video game leagues to emerge in the late 1990s, promoting games such as Quake, Counter-Strike, Warcraft and Doom.
Today, e-sports organisations like 100 Thieves, founded a decade ago, are valued at $200,000. The value of e-sports clubs can be seen in the example of Schalke 04. The club sold its place in the League of Legends European Championship (LEC) in 2021 for 32 million euros. This is more than any other transaction in the Bundesliga and almost twice as much as Manchester City spent on Julián Lvarez. Despite the fact that these deals are open to the public, most clubs are unaware of the complexity of the digital industry.
The initial reaction of football clubs to the digital revolution triggered by the internet and video games was rather reserved. It is likely that even in 2022, less than two percent of football teams worldwide will have full digital monetisation and communication plans in place. Most experts previously did not believe in the value of e-sports as a strategic tool for brand development. Nevertheless, the Corona crisis accelerated the entry of several clubs into e-sports competitions.
Most clubs previously left promotional activities and brand management to external companies or their fans. These tried, with good luck, to make themselves known on Twitch or YouTube. With little success, because they reinforced the conviction that e-sports is something from another world. Something that is played more in Asia.
Traditional fans already play FIFA (EA Sports) and PES (Konami). It's more about reaching the people who don't play football. So getting to know the average and casual football fan as well as their team colours from a gamer's perspective - Counter Strike Global Operations (CS:GO), League of Legends, DOTA2, Fortnite and others.
E-sports offer clubs unlimited development potential and can be very lucrative for teams and associations with the right plan. However, you have to step out of your comfort zone and take risks. As mentioned, Schalke started with e-sports more than a decade ago. If you searched Google for relevant news in the last five years, Schalke's League of Legends results always came before the team's Bundesliga results.
By selling its place in the League of Legends European Championship, Schalke not only raised $32 million but also gave its players and management digital status.
You can find more exciting blog posts from the adesso world in our previously published blog posts.