• Loading stock data...
Tuesday, February 27, 2024

NBA 2K League Eyes Growth in Second Season

nba-2k-league

Photo Credit: NBA 2K League on Twitter

If you’ve got a passing familiarity with basketball then you can show up at the NBA 2K League’s studio in New York City—or jump into its Twitch livestream—and you’ll get the basics of what’s going on.

In some ways, that might be the biggest asset afforded to the upstart esports league that just kicked-off its second season last weekend. More than one-third of all people in the Americas, Europe, the Middle East and Asia has an interest in basketball, second only to soccer, Nielsen data has shown. That’s a strong wave the NBA’s gaming league knows it can ride.

“I don’t think anyone in esports has the opportunity to engage a casual audience like we do. You walk in [to the studio] and see, like, family members of players or people you wouldn’t consider tradition esports enthusiastswithin two minutes you hear them say ‘Oh, this feels like I’m at a real basketball game,’” said Brendan Donohue, managing director of the NBA 2K League.

He mentioned the NBA’s social reach likely hovers around 1.5 billion fans and followers. “That’s a huge opportunity,” Donohue said.

Each team in the 21-team NBA 2K League is run by an NBA franchise (like the New York Knicks, Philadelphia 76ers or newly added Minnesota Timberwolves) and features gamers who play as avatar versions of themselves—so you won’t see virtual Steph Curry on the virtual court. The live arena features a theatre-in-the-round set-up, fans looking down on the 5-vs-5 that’s also broadcast on massive screens. That same broadcast, featuring announcers and chat hosts, is sent out to thousands of fans online. The gamers physically face one another as they play, which leads to trash talk and yelling matches. It’s a fun watch in-person, which is a point of focus for the joint venture between the NBA and Take-Two Interactive moving into Season 2.

“I want to take our studio/arena experience and elevate it a lot,” Donohue said. “I want to make this a place where people in New York are like, ‘I want to go check that out.’ I think we’ve now got the physical set-up right. And we’re getting closer.”

The league had its kickoff Tip-Off tournament last week, won by 76ers GC for the second straight year. The regular season follows and, over the course of the season, $1.2 million in prize money will be handed out. The gamers are focused on winning that cash. Yet the business strategy for the 2K League is similar to that of a traditional sports leagues. For instance, this year it locked up Champion as the league’s outfitter.

READ MORE: How Players Associations Could Help Improve Esports’ Infrastructure

“It’s sponsorship. It’s media rights. It’s merchandise, which helps a ton that now we have Champion on board,” Donohue said. “[The goal is] just elevating that from Season 1. We’re going to start doing events on the road, also we’ll have ticket sales. You’ve got to remember there’s the league and there’s also the teams. We have 90 sponsors across the league.”

Talking with the players, they treat it much like NBA stars might—they even sound like the NBA pros in interviews. Michael Key—a 27-year-old gamer who goes by Bear Da Beast for Minnesota’s franchise—serves as a brash, vocal leader for his team despite being a rookie. In a recent matchup against Memphis at the 2K League’s Tip-Off Tournament, he was standing and shouting trash talk, even getting a slight reprimand from league officials. But after not getting a spot in the league in Year 1, he seemed set on making his presence known.

“I wasn’t here last year, so I come here this year and everybody says, ‘It’s a stage,’” he said shortly after his debut. “I’m the stage. I don’t get scared of no lights.”

Later, speaking about his goals, he’d add: “I want everything. I want Rookie of the Year, the MVP, the championship, the Sixth Man if I can get it. I want everything.”

[mc4wp_form id=”8260″]

Bear is the sort of player who brings energy to the fun live experience—transferring that to the stream is a major objective for the 2K League moving forward. According to the league, last year’s final garnered 645,000 unique viewers and, overall, the league generated some 152 million video views throughout the season. They’re working on getting those fans (and hopefully more) engaged with the broadcast, most notably through the lively chat coinciding with the game.

“The guy on the analyst’s desk, Phil, his whole job is in the chat, engaging in the chat and bringing the chat into the broadcast, which we didn’t do last year,” Donohue said. “Last year it existed almost on the side of the broadcast. It was cool… people were engaged, but now we’re trying to connect it. That’s a big change for Season 2.”

Donohue described potential areas of growth moving forward, including 40 million fans in Asia who’ve downloaded a free version of 2K. The league hasn’t even been able to approach that audience yet. There’s a whole world of basketball fans (and gamers) out there, and the league plans to take some of its tournaments on the road in an effort to court them. Donohue also said he felt esports growth, in general, helps the NBA 2K League. They feel they have the best sports-game offering and that some of the biggest titles out there, like Overwatch and League of Legends, likely boost their viewership on Twitch.

“Esports is growing so fast that we’re nowhere near worried about this being a zero-sum game,” Donohue said. “If anything, when our games are on Twitch sometimes, I think we have people who are watching Overwatch that go on the carousel and see our game and just check us out. I think in many ways we benefit from the success of other leagues.”

Esports is still relatively new and the NBA 2K League is very new. Donohue noted that the biggest shift in the business plan for Year 2 was an investment in data—key information about its fans or how its sponsorships perform—that it could then use with partners moving forward. “We’re investing in things normally the NBA would do in its sleep,” said Donohue, who worked for the NBA for two decades.

READ MORE: Rick Welts Talks NBA Business, Distribution and Mental Health

With such a young product, in a new space that folks are still just trying to figure out, Donohue said the attitude is “keep doing the right things, the revenue will follow.”

“I just think we have so much green space in front of us,” he said.

Linkedin
Whatsapp
Copy Link
Link Copied
Link Copied

What to Read

Charlotte Hornets

Hornets Prepared to Pay Beyond City’s $30M for New Practice Facility

New ownership continues to spend money less than a year after buying the team from Michael Jordan.

The Victor Wembanyama Rookie Card Market Hasn’t Matched His Hype

A cooling market and Fanatics autograph deal leaves big-money collectors waiting.

What Is a Clipper? Behind the Scenes of an NBA Rebrand

The NBA team is leaning into its nautical heritage.

Sham Gods: The Rapidly Growing World of Sports Impersonators on X

Fake Schefters and Wojs, fabricated trade demands, and borrowed profile pictures.
podcast thumbnail mobile
Front Office Sports Today

Just How Bad Are the New MLB Uniforms?

0:00
0:00

Featured Today

Sep 24, 2023; Oakland, California, USA; A general view of the Oakland Athletics dugout after the game against the Detroit Tigers at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.

Murky Future: Everything You Need to Know About the A’s Move to Las Vegas

Breaking down one of the most drawn-out, multifaceted sagas in sports.
February 18, 2024

Sabrina-Steph Wasn’t the ‘Battle of the Sexes’—But It Was Part of the Bigger War

The competition could play a factor in increasing the WNBA’s media value.
NASCAR Cup Series driver Bubba Wallace (23), in a Star Wars rebel alliance X-wing fighter pilot-inspired race suit, motions to the crowd to get louder during the driver introductions for the Cup Series Championship race at Phoenix Raceway in Avondale on Nov. 5, 2023.
February 17, 2024

Celebrity Owners, International Ambitions, and $7B Media Deals: Welcome to the New NASCAR

NASCAR boldly keeps pace with the increasingly competitive sports and entertainment world.
February 16, 2024

Wilson Introduced an Airless Basketball for $2,500. We Had Questions

The black, 3D-printed ball appeared in last year’s Slam Dunk Contest.

Careers

Powered By

Careers in Sports

Looking for a new job? Check out these featured listings and search for openings all over the world.
Finance Manager
FanDuel
New York, NY
Senior Technical Artist - Sports Technology
EA Sports
Orlando, FL
Assistant Manager, Affiliate Operations
Adidas
Portland, OR
Sony-Playstation-Demo-Booth

Sony to Lay Off 900 From PlayStation Team After Missed Sales Target

Cuts come amid a tough stretch for the gaming industry.
Gatorade
February 14, 2024

Was the Gatorade Color Compromised Before Super Bowl LVIII Kickoff?

Multiple gambling companies saw a sharp spike in the color purple prior to Sunday’s kickoff.
EA Sports
February 15, 2024

EA Sports: Summer Release for Long-Dormant College Football Video Game

Ed O’Bannon’s historic lawsuit led to the shuttering of EA Sports’ popular college games.
Sponsored

Live Sports Are Now High-Tech Experiences

Oracle is leading the technology revolution happening in stadiums across the world.
Reba McEntire Super Bowl
February 12, 2024

Reba McEntire Repeated ‘the Brave’ in the National Anthem, Sending Prop Bettors Spiraling

BetMGM paid bettors on both the over and the under.
PENN ESPN
November 13, 2023

PENN Entertainment’s High-Stakes Gamble with ESPN Bet Kicks Off on Tuesday

After his Barstool failure, PENN CEO Jay Snowden has plenty riding on a deal with ESPN.
A general view as Faze Clan takes on EUnited during the Call of Duty League Finals e-sports event at Miami Beach Convention Center.
October 20, 2023

FaZe Clan, Once Valued at $725M, Sold at $16M Valuation to Jerry Jones-Backed GameSquare

The deal, closing in Q4 2023, is being characterized as a merger.
The U.K. regulator is Microsoft's last major hurdle to pass.
August 22, 2023

U.K. Reconsiders Activision Takeover Amid Revised Microsoft Offer

Microsoft’s new proposal grants cloud streaming rights to Ubisoft.