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Riot Games: Exclusive country-by-country rights sales don’t suit esports

(Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)

Sport’s traditional model of the exclusive territory-by-territory sale of media rights is not one that fits esports, according to a leading executive from Riot Games, the esports event organiser and video game developer.

Alban Dechelotte, Riot Games’ European head of esports sponsorship and business development, said that selling rights from country to country to different broadcasters and streaming platforms would leave fans “not knowing where to go” to watch coverage.

Dechelotte heads up the commercialisation of Riot Games’ League of Legends European Championship (LEC), a series created in 2013 that commands around 80 per cent of its commercial revenues from sponsorships. Approximately 15 per cent stems from media rights (including advertising revenue share agreements with platforms) and 5 per cent from ‘gameday’ revenues (ticketing and central merchandise sales).

He told delegates at the Spobis conference in Düsseldorf: “At the moment there is the difficulty that the TV rights market is regulated by exclusivity. That doesn’t work so well in our world where we are online for free for everybody.”

The vast majority of fans watch the LEC action through streaming on Twitch or YouTube.

Read this: “We will not accept putting our content behind a paywall” | Jamie Lewin, Riot Games

Dechelotte remarked: “We have to think about the most important way to grow. I can only talk about League of Legends but we have many more players than fans. If I have to tell the players that you have to watch a platform you usually don’t look at then that’s not the quickest way to success.

“Strategically we won’t go the way of exclusivity but I’m pretty sure that not every League of Legends fan is ready to watch 12 hours live in a competition.

“Therefore, I don’t understand why we don’t have a one-hour magazine programme on Sunday providing the best action from each game on [linear] television every week.”

To that effect, Dechelotte said that he had held constructive talks with the likes of Polish commercial broadcaster Polsat and Spanish production and agency group Mediapro, which launched an OTT esports platform in 2018.

However, he said that discussions generally with broadcasters continue to focus on exclusivity in their respective country.

Speaking to SportBusiness in November, Dechelotte claimed that the LEC would be increasingly in a position to command media-rights fees after building up the broadcast exposure for the series. Yet, he insisted, a balance would have to be struck to respect the non-exclusive global streaming model.

He noted: “We have been in a growth trajectory where we’re looking for accessibility and exposure. For most of the publishers, esports was a marketing tool to retain the community into the game. It’s only very recently that we transitioned into a world where actually it could be a sport that people are ready to pay for.

“This is a cultural shift that happened in the last three years. We are trying now to find the balance between accessibility and exclusivity. Today we have two non-exclusive global partnerships with Twitch and YouTube and the goal is primarily to get the show in front of as many players as possible.”

Sponsorship rights to the League of Legends European Championship are marketed by the Lagardère Sports agency under a ‘multi-year’ agreement announced in January 2019.

Speaking at Spobis last week, Allan Hvid, the sports editor-in-chief at Danish commercial broadcaster TV2, called for improved guarantees over scheduling and the world feed to be provided by organisers and promoters in order to justify rising rights fee costs in esports.

Hvid remarked: “I definitely think that we are at a point now where the rights are increasing as we would expect if you take into account how the ratings are.

“But one of the things that gives us some headaches is that if the rights keep on going up then we would definitely also need to have a more solid delivery when it comes to the world feed, planning and communication.”

Daniel von Busse, chief operating officer at Sport1, another prominent esports broadcaster in Europe, sounded a note of caution on expectations of hefty rights fees.

He affirmed: “What we all want to do is develop a sustainable market for years so it’s not worth looking at short-term licensing fees. Everyone wants to earn money of course but in Germany we’re in a very early stage in the life cycle do don’t be too focused on the licensing fees. Let’s think about what we are developing. Let’s develop a sustainable market and we’re very happy to be part of that market.”

Read this: Esports and the city: How smaller European cities are transforming their image via video games