Professional stick and ball leagues have collectively jumped on the esports bandwagon in recent weeks to entertain fans and possibly cut down on revenue losses from the coronavirus pandemic.
Television partners – themselves in search of more live programming – have not been shy about airing gaming competitions on their networks either.
Spanish-language network Univision offers one of the more recent examples of this trend. The U.S.-based company leveraged its existing broadcast agreement with Mexico’s Liga MX to launch an online soccer competition on April 10. eLiga MX BBVA took about three weeks from ideation to broadcast, Marco Liceaga, Univision senior vice president of marketing and business development, said.
The tournament features a 17 matchday season – 118 total games – played out by professional soccer players representing their respective clubs on FIFA 20. All games will be broadcast on Univision’s TUDN – a dedicated sports channel the network launched in 2012.
“We’ve been wanting to do something with Liga MX in esports for some time, but did not have a clear path,” Liceaga said. “We had a couple of very fun games over the weekend, with players going back-and-forth scoring goals. Still, there are things we are learning and trying to improve.”
Letting Liga MX players concentrate more on matches rather than interaction with play-by-play announcers during telecasts is one major takeaway from the opening weekend, Liceaga said. TV ratings for the esports shows spanning one hour on Univision have not been released as of April 13, according to the network. The eLiga MX esports season is set to conclude in June.
“The product is in good shape,” Liceaga said. “This is something that if it continues to go the way we think it will go, even when things go back to normal, we will look at ways to expand it.”
eLiga MX is not Univision’s first taste of esports. The network aired the EA Sports Madden Bowl in 2017 on linear television. However, this is the first time Univision has complete control of the production of an esports event – which the network has used to take Liga MX fans into players’ homes.
Marketers have also expressed early interest in the esports league, Liceaga said. Univision’s sales team is in conversations with a handful of brands interested in advertising around the competition.
“We’re hopeful one or more will come on board with the product,” Liceaga said, adding that prospective brands are a mix of existing partners and new entrants interested in the initiative.
“They see a perfect tie into the LigaMX property and the brand,” he said.
When Univision is not airing Liga MX esports competitions on FIFA 20, it’s filling other programming blocks with archived content in the form of classic matches from the UEFA Champions League, Mexican, and U.S. national team games, and MLS. The latter announced its own esports initiative with Fox on April 13.
Several match replays have been condensed by Univision to 60 minutes. The network also has added new commentary to make games feel more current. Classic matches over the course of MLS’ 25-year history will air on the network this week.
Univision continues to air its sports studio shows such as “Contacto Deportivo” and “Linea de Cuatro” on TUDN with a focus on current events in the sports world, particularly related to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Even though there are no live games, discussions are happening about the state of leagues or clubs,” Liceaga said. “So we are providing the latest information to the consumer. Games are not taking place, but there is still plenty of information around.”