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Esports Deals: Media Partnerships or Sponsorships?

Considering the size and success of esports and gaming, it’s sometimes hard to remember that as far as industries go, it’s relatively new. As the esports and gaming industry climb the ranks of more traditional and established business models, there is still a lot of experimentation and categorization going on. One example is the difference in approach to the types of deals that cross over from one industry to another. Adidas in particular handles their dealings with the esports and gaming sphere in the same terms they do media partnerships as opposed to the kinds of sponsorship deals they would strike with a traditional sports team. Let’s take a look at why that is. 

Esports
Image Courtesy of Footy Headlines

Recently, Adidas made headlines for their partnership with G2 Games. They designed the jerseys for the esport organization’s upcoming 2021 season. With teams playing across a number of different leagues, that’s a lot of eyes on these new uniforms. As such, it should be no surprise that fan demand to purchase jerseys of their own was so huge, it actually crashed the orgs’ website. Win.gg reports that within five hours of the jersey becoming available, the site had around 100,000 visitors. It’s the sort of enthusiasm often seen in the traditional sporting world where fans are willing to shell out top dollar for a jersey matching that of their favorite team. At its root, it’s the same thing. However, according to an article from Digi Day, “this [deal] resembles the brand partnership Adidas usually brokers with celebrities and media owners, not the kit deals it has with sports organizations.”

G2
Courtesy of G2 Esports

While so often it feels like, in the esports and gaming industry’s never-ending quest for the regard it deserves, the gauge by which said regard is measured hinges on how traditional sports are considered. Since esports and gaming were first started as a fan-community-organized niche interest, gaining the sort of media coverage and organization embodied by leagues and even the forming of esports programs at academic institutions have been goals to follow in the footsteps of professional sports. At first glance, the fact that esports is being given deals that differ from old school sports’ might seem like a snub. In fact, it might actually prove to be the opposite. 

Adidas
Courtesy of Adidas

Typically, when Adidas agrees to sponsor a sports team, they provide “the customary Adidas branded gear.” However, as the Digi Day piece notes, when operating from the model of a brand partnership, there’s also “a focus on content produced by G2’s team of internal producers and influencers.” The contract was “brokered by the entertainment and influencer marketing team rather than the sports marketing” and as such, the very nature of the deal focuses less on what’s actually on the bodies of the competitors but rather on the relationship between the fans and the people competing. This because the way esports orgs and teams interact with their fanbase is vastly different from the way their equivalents in traditional sports do. Gaming fans expect more, and a deal like the one Adidas struck with G2 allows them to provide more. As the Digi Day article puts it: “The versatility of the culture around gaming allows for a much wider demographic than other sports and entertainment. That’s reflected in the way deals are being brokered now.”

Adidas Partnership
Image Courtesy of Adidas/uP Esports

In a lot of ways, the esports and gaming industry is still forging its own path. Yes, it’s a path that has partially been paved by pro sports, but there’s also a huge crossover with the media and entertainment industries as well as the similarly fresh social media influencer branch of the marketing tree. Esports and gaming is a versatile and quickly-developing market. When it comes to versatility, it’s not a one-shoe-fits-all sort of situation. If the Adidas G2 deal is an indicator of things to come, future deals and collaborations between sportswear brands and esports orgs are likely to follow the brand partnership game-plan than that of a sports sponsorship, and that’s all for the better. 

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