Every year, no sporting event attracts more viewers than the Super Bowl. That will be the case again when the Patriots and Falcons square off in Super Bowl 51. But not everything on TV is the same as it has been in the past.
In a recent column, Sports Business Journal media reporter John Ourand predicted the Super Bowl 51 audience will decline 5 percent from the 111.9 million people who watched Denver upset Carolina in Super Bowl 50. If his prediction is accurate, it will be consistent with the trends that NFL broadcaster endured during the regular season and playoffs. NFL ratings tumbled about 14 percent during the first half of the 2016 NFL regular season and reportedly finished down 8 percent from 2015. In addition, seven of the 10 playoff games played to date have drawn fewer viewers than they did in 2015.
On the other hand, more and more viewers have been tuning in to watch eSports competitors battle for prize money in games like League of Legends and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. In late January, more than 1 million viewers tuned in on Twitch to watch the CS:GO ELEAGUE major grand finals in which Astralis defeated Virtus Pro. According to Twitch, the audience broke the Twitch’s previous record of concurrent live viewers on a single channel. In addition, the grand finals were contested in front of a packed house at Atlanta’s Fox Theatre.
With ratings for eSports programming growing, the ESL Gaming Network announced on February 1, 2017 that it had hired television executive and innovator David Hill to launch a premium eSports production service that will be called Esports by Hill. Hill is best known for spearheading the launch of FOX Sports. Hill’s noteworthy digital achievements include developing the game scores and time remaining box (Fox Box), the NFL first down graphic line, and the NHL’s glowing hockey puck.
There may be some connection between the growing audience for eSports programming and the declining NFL audience. On October 16, 2016, Fox Business reported that a survey conducted by market research company Newzoo found that 76% of eSports enthusiasts claim their interest in professional gaming interferes with the time they would have spent watching sports on television.
It may be a while before an eSports event challenges the Super Bowl for the biggest TV audience of the year. But the growing attention that consumers are paying to eSports programming already has announced that eSports are now serious business that merit serious attention.