NBA, Boston Celtics, Utah Jazz Executives Talk NBA 2K Esports League

Aaron Ryan told audience members at last week’s TEAMS Conference in Orlando that despite working at the NBA for the past 20 years, what now gives him “street cred” at his house is being associated with 2K and the NBA 2K league.

“I think what it’s given me access to is a conversation with my 12-year-old and her friends that is new for us,” said the Senior Vice President of Business Operations (NBA 2K esports league) via Periscope.

Ryan was joined alongside by executives with the Utah Jazz, Boston Celtics, Orlando Magic and Monumental Sports and Entertainment (Washington Wizards). He added that the new NBA venture with 2K and Take-Two Interactive Software, Inc. is “access to a different conversation” with new fans, corporate partners and facilities.

Seventeen NBA franchises will participate in next year’s inaugural season, with tryouts and a draft expected to be held next February and March, according to Ryan. The senior basketball executive said the league was “pleasantly surprised” when 17 teams raised their hand to join the league. Originally, the NBA was “thinking eight to 10 teams.” Ryan said the league is expecting to add more teams following year one.

Earlier this summer, I also reported that the inaugural season would be held May to August and Ryan confirmed the league’s scheduling on the panel, saying that the first year would span 17 weeks between the regular season and a tournament structure.

SBC is on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Subscribe to the daily newsletter

When asked how does the NBA and its participating organizations get an esports fan to also become a fan of the NBA franchises themselves, Ryan said that, “These brands will be derivative brands of these NBA franchises to some degree. Whether it’s color scheme or some other attributes, there’s that ability to draw the connection to the family of brands. We believe that by leveraging that existing sort of attraction or avidity, that there’s a greater opportunity to continue to tell that story.”

On the other hand, Ted Dalton — who is the Senior Vice President of Corporate Partnerships and Business Development at the Boston Celtics — explained how “among our most avid fans, if you bleed green and you’re a Celtics fan, you’re going to want to wear the colors and wear the marks of their NBA 2K league team.”

“We believe there’s a great bridge for those fans to cross over as they start to follow sub-brands within their portfolio,” he added.

Below are some other key takeaways from the panel.

The NBA’s Ryan on holding the first season in a centralized location…

Our ability to work as an entire league in that year one and really get our core product together and tell stories together, we think it’s a great advantage. It also lowered the burden and pressure on our teams to build an entirely new infrastructure across 17 markets.

Grant Paranjape, Director of Esports Business and Team Operations with Monumental Sports and Entertainment, on if any Washington Wizards 2K related content would appear on the company’s own over-the-top network…

It’s a natural next step for us that as we have players in market and are producing content around them, that we’d include that on our OTT platform.

The Celtics’ Dalton on some of the more active sponsorship categories for the organization’s 2K team…

I think some of the traditional categories that already spend a lot in sports, auto, beer, telecom, but really the way we’re looking at it and (Aaron Ryan) hit it right. We’re going to have conversations with our existing partners. … We’re not necessarily looking at it from a category standpoint. We’re looking at it from where can we drive actual revenue, who can we work who will help us from an infrastructure standpoint and then who can we work with in maybe a competitive category with an existing team partner but done in a way that’s not going to sell your relationship.

Josh Barney, Director of Esports and Technology at the Utah Jazz, on if NBA owners and teams getting involved in Overwatch League and the League of Legends Championship Series will help or hurt the 2K League…

I actually see this as a good thing. The fact that the NBA had such a heavy presence in both of these announcements kind of shows the youth and the commitment that teams have made to get into this space. They also realize the value that sits there as well. It continues on a day-to-day basis. … There’s always an exploration of new partnerships, new initiatives, the whole concept of innovation, how do we continue to move the ball forward? With the announcement of Overwatch League and the League of Legends franchising system, I actually think that this is a really good thing that the NBA is involved. It’s showing the youth and relevance and how they view these audiences.

The Celtics’ Dalton on what the organization will do differently to pull ahead of everyone else in the 2K League…

I think we’re going to approach it the same way. We’re going to hire the best people, we’re going to try to have the best strategy as it comes to monetizing it. We’re going to try to have the best content strategy. We’re going to leverage internal talent, expertise and resources where we have it. We’re going to go externally to seek out that talent or seek out partnerships where we don’t know. I think one of the things we try to do is be realistic as far as what we know and what we don’t know. I think if we get too far ahead of ourselves and think, ‘OK, we can do everything because we’re the Celtics, that’s just who we are’, then I think we’re fooling ourselves.

This is a different audience. This is a different beast. We want to be very respectful of that. … This audience is completely unforgiving. So, you make a couple wrong steps, you’re going to be digging out for a while.

If you enjoyed this article, please consider joining the Sports Business Chronicle community and becoming a member (you can do so here). With a membership, you’ll receive access to all stories and admission to exclusive SBC networking events and meetups.

About Mark J. Burns

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *