Why the NBA’s investment in eSports will reinvent the league in a big way

I am going to cut right to the chase and offer up some bold predictions.

The NBA’s new strategic partnership with Take Two Interactive to create an eSports league will result in the following:

  1. The NBA will surpass soccer in global audience numbers

  2. The NBA will make more revenue (and higher profits) from partnership deals in the next five years from eSports than all existing partnerships and TV deals put together from the last 10 years

  3. The youth market’s declining interest in sports will begin to turn around

  4. We will start to see the end of TV rights deals as eSports will finally show the NBA and individual teams that streaming services will win rights deals in the future (keep reading for my predictions of who will win this race)

  5. In 10-15 years, the NBA will solely operate as an eSports league

When I first heard the official news that the NBA and Take Two Interactive (makers of the hugely popular “NBA 2k” video game franchise) agreed to join forces to create an eSports league, my first thought was… finally. eSports leagues have been around for a number of years, and it has been surprising that not until 2017 do we finally see a professional sports organization grabbing a piece of the pie. While I am incredibly happy the NBA, the sports league I have followed the most passionately since 1989, stepped up first, instead of the cash cow that is the NFL, eSports will be the real winner in the end. I have been spreading the good word about eSports for quite a long time (at one time even devoting a dedicated blog to it), but now it is proving to be cool enough for the “real” pro sports organizations to take notice. We knew it was only a matter of time before news like this would come out, especially after hearing teams like the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers and the NFL’s Miami Dolphins have already made investments in eSports teams. Hell, the Houston Rockets hired a director-level person to head up their new eSports initiative (where was I when the job posting came out?!?!?).

So now the deal is done, and while the ink is just about dry, here are some of the explanations for my predictions I started this piece with.

eSports has a global audience base, and now the NBA can use it to overtake soccer

Despite the NBA’s successful efforts in markets outside of the United States (specifically Mexico, India, and China), soccer and it's closely related variations still reign supreme in terms of audience size and brand reach. By adding eSports to its roster of products, the NBA is tapping into a market that is truly global. eSports is worldwide, from its teams to its players to its viewers. Teams play each other virtually and the sport has mastered online streaming for its audience. If done correctly, the NBA can capture some of that lightning in its own bottle.

The revenue potential from eSports will change the NBA forever

With that large, global audience comes a lot of eyeballs. Like millions. For a league like the NBA which can see anywhere from 15,000-20,000 fans in an arena on a single night for one match up, can now expect to see millions of online viewers for that same matchup between two eSports teams on the same night. Can you even begin to imagine what the e-matchup between the Warriors and Cavs might look like?

eSports events draw big crowds, both in-venue and online.

eSports events draw big crowds, both in-venue and online.

I am weary about early reports that the NBA is going to try and sell tickets to eSports events. That won't work. Seriously, it won't. If the NBA can prove me wrong, I am more than okay with that, but the focus needs to be sponsorship. eSports audiences are already trained in seeing partnership messaging and they are okay with it. Single jersey patches for real NBA teams? That is pocket change in eSports where teams sport jerseys with multiple partnership patches worth more value due to audience size.

Another huge driver of revenue will be merchandise and hardware. If the NBA thinks they do well in jersey sales now, eSports will triple that expectation. And since eSports are known for partnering with hardware manufacturers, if the NBA sinks their teeth into that, they could sell branded controllers, gaming rigs, and much more.

Now the NBA will be able to tap into way more partnership money, so I hope they ditch the straight up ticket model. With a focus on partnerships, the NBA will surpass all traditional partnership revenue, times two, over the next five years.

Youth will rediscover not only the NBA, but professional sports in general

It is no secret that youth are playing less and less sports, and that translates to less interest in the professional versions of those sports. These youth are completely digital and interactive. They don't want to sit and watch a game, they want to be in the game. Sure, things like VR and AR will help traditional pro sports, but in general, eSports hold their interest more. If marketed right, the NBA can reintroduce its sport to the younger generation.

The way eSports is consumed will change the way traditional pro basketball is consumed

Sure, you can flick on the TV occasionally now and watch a League of Legends tournament, but most eSports is consumed online. This change in model that the NBA will have to adapt to will actually make them rethink traditional TV contracts. I know first-hand they are already thinking about this, but eSports will accelerate it. In fact, I believe the the HUGE TV contract the league just started with TNT/ESPN/etc will be the last of its kind for the NBA.

Future stars of the NBA?

Future stars of the NBA?

My prediction for the last couple of years has been that YouTube will make the NBA an offer it can't refuse in the next go-around. The league already works closely with Google on several different fronts, so this would not be a surprise move. I do think there is a dark horse in that soon-to-be race… Netflix. Even Amazon at some point could bank the money to get the NBA to be all online streaming, especially since they own Twitch.

Either way, the NBA will find with eSports that the audience won't watch the NBA’s on-the-court product if it doesn't work the same way as their eSports viewing habit. And NBA League Pass is not the answer.

By 2030, the NBA will only be an eSports brand

I know, this is a bold prediction, but I believe it. I mean, look at the numbers. eSports has the potential to generate way more revenue with way less overhead and operating expense. That means higher profit margins. The player contracts will be WAY LESS expensive, not to mention risk to owners not having to worry about guaranteed contracts mixed with nagging knee injuries.

And that is just owner and team considerations. From a fan perspective, digital players will surpass real ones. They will get a better, more personalized experience. In a lot of cases, it will be easier to rout for a virtual player and the gamer than some of the real players that will still be around.

There are still a lot of unknowns

There are still a lot of things we don't yet since the announcement came out. We know the plan is for each team to have an eSports team, that there will be a draft of some sort, players in the game will not resemble real NBA players, the "eSeason" will follow a similar flow of a regular NBA season, and that play should start sometime in 2018.  It has been acknowledged by the NBA that probably not all teams will be setup to have an eSports team of their own right away, so 15 starter teams might be more realistic.

So as you can see, still a lot of questions marks, but exciting nevertheless. And most likely a game changer for the NBA for years to come.

Microsoft Planner provides Trello-like functionality, project status dashboarding, and task management to your project planning process

In the last few weeks, Microsoft has been rolling out its newest Office application called "Planner". Planner will now be available to all Office 365 customers who have subscription plans under: Enterprise E1-E5, Business Essentials, Premium, and Education.  For those subscribers, you will automatically see the Planner tile in your Office 365 app launcher (Office 365 admins don't need to take any action at all to activate Planner for users).

Planner is simply a tool to create basic project plans, collaborate with project team members, create/organize/assign tasks to project collaborators, update statuses, share files, and view top-level visual dashboards of all your active projects.

Project Managers should not interpret Planner as a replacement for Microsoft Project, however.  Project is still going to be your go-to tool for building and monitoring complex projects with resources, timelines, etc.  In fact, Planner should be viewed more as a task manager and task assignment manager for projects, and Planner is a more user-friendly tool for the common project contributor. I would much rather have a project contributor log into Planner than mess with a project plan in MS Project!

If you are familiar with Trello, Microsoft Planner actually has a similar look and functionality. You can set your tasks up in columns (representing a Kanban board if you wish), and then move the tasks from column to column as your project progresses.  You can then view your boards through visually-appealing dashboards.

Because Microsoft Planner is integrated in with Office 365, it is directly tied into your Sharepoint instance, and has built-in OneNote features.

I created a quick-and-dirty project in Planner to show you some screen shots of what the tool looks like.  I have included those below.

If you are a Trello user, Microsoft Planner might be worth you taking a look at, especially if you are embedded in a corporate environment with Office 365 at your disposal.

The "Planner Hub" view shows you all your current plans.

Trello users will recognize this view within Planner, which offers you a "boards" look with the ability to drag-and-drop tasks between columns.

Planner offers a visual view of where your plans currently stand.

The Microsoft and Google Messaging Mess

The messaging wars are in full swing, and not just on the mobile device front. Full screen apps, services, and plugins that offer collaborative communication features are fighting a battle that is leaving the rest of us scratching our heads. You know the feeling you get when you have too many options of what to have for dinner, so many that you actually can’t make a decision? Well, messaging apps and services just became the biggest buffet restaurant you have ever seen. 

In terms of Microsoft and Google, they are two of the most notorious of the bunch who seem to have way to many options, offering plenty of confusion of where services overlap or differentiate, even among their own offerings. 

Let’s look at Microsoft as an example.  So Skype and Skype for Business seem simple enough offering solid instant messaging and video features (side note: If you have not used Skype in a while, give it another look because it has improved drastically in the last 9-12 months). But then on the enterprise side you throw Microsoft Teams into the mix, which offers a similar setup and functionality as a product like Slack. Skype and Teams are separate applications, so if they are both installed and activated, both will deliver the same notification from a sender. And while the sender of the message might be using Skype, I will still get the message in Teams, but not with any of the other parts of the conversation being synced, so all my messages look disjointed. Now add in Yammer, which is just another messaging app dressed up as a social networking tool. Now yet another messaging service I can use. I am not even going to mention SharePoint, other than it is yet another option with similar communication capabilities. 

Google’s experience is no better, but theirs is on the consumer side as opposed to the enterprise side like Microsoft. On the Google side you have the stock Messenger app which is an SMS/Instant Message client, but then Google introduced Allo, which appears to be a direct competitor with Apple’s iMessage and Facebook’s Messenger app. But Allo does not offer the full experience unless both sender and receiver are using it. And instead of building in video capabilities, Google also launched Duo this past summer, which is solely for video. And on top of all of that, Hangouts is still hanging out there. In my opinion, Hangouts might have been the best Google messaging client to-date, until Google stopped supporting it. 

I simply scratched the surface of this topic, but I already feel overwhelmed with options both in and out of work. The market will ultimately determine what wins in the end, but for now, it is all you can eat in the messaging world.