NBA’s Brabants: Traditional sports must follow esports to capture young viewers

Traditional sports players must take insights gleaned from esports and other innovations if they are to engage with younger audiences, according to Matt Brabants, the NBA’s senior vice-president of global media distribution.

Brabants told delegates at the Sportel conference here in Miami: “The market is becoming more fragmented with cord shaving and cord cutting happening. I think we’re going to take best practices from other platforms and other sports that provide those insights and we’re going to have to apply them to create a more compelling product.”

The development of esports is a prime example of how younger people’s engagement with sport is changing. With traditional sports players keen to reach this audience, it has led to what some have called the ‘Twitchification’ of traditional sport, named after the popular esports streaming platform.

Brabants continued: “Half of the NBA’s fanbase is 35 and under, which makes us susceptible to a lot of these trends you’re seeing – one of our biggest strengths could also be one of our biggest weaknesses.

“We’re trying to figure out how we can use those innovations to reach that audience and I think that’s going to be an industry-wide phenomenon.”

NBA has its own esports property called NBA 2K League that was launched in 2018. Twitch became its first global streaming partner at launch, followed by YouTube.

Brabants said: “We have traditional partners of the NBA asking about our esports property. In terms of the viewership and valuation it’s early days; we’re reaching millions of fans streaming live on Twitch and YouTube.

“You could make a conservative estimate that a lot of those are unique fans that might not tune into the NBA, but through their exposure to 2K, we have a valuable way of marketing to them.”