As the NBA's television ratings continue to rise, and as the league continues its global expansion, it still continues to play second or third fiddle in the United States, primarily trailing the NFL as America's favorite sport. While the current king of the sports world is football, it's grip is loosening as fans are growing tired of the unrest among players, owners, and commissioner, and even brandishing the NFL with pejorative nicknames such as, the "No Fun League." Even with ratings on the decline, and fans of the NFL in a state of lethargy, there still doesn't seem to be a way to pry their gaze from the gridiron once the season rolls around, and thanks to ESPN's apparent year-round coverage of the league, it's hard to escape the football zeitgeist.
Image courtesy of @NBA2KLeague
For a league that's been the perennial underdog since the Michael Jordan era, the NBA is growing in audience with ratings up 32% since the 2016-2017 season. However, common complaints from non-fans is the recent repeating finals match-up, the lack of parity, and that people don't really want to watch LeBron versus every one else. Granted, fans of the league can play point-counterpoint all we want, it won't stop the ingratiated fan of another sport from switching sides. So, what's the best avenue for the NBA to travel to get new fans? It's through routes like the NBA 2K League, which is destined to get new, and fresh, eyes on the current product.
Thanks to video games like DOTA 2, League of Legends, and Rocket League, the E-Sports world is booming, and currently doling out cash prizes the likes of which would make your head explode. With the NBA priding itself on being a forward-thinking organization, they are the first of the major four American sports leagues to begin their own official eSports league in partnership with NBA 2K's publisher, Take-Two Interactive. The NBA 2K franchise is one of Take-Two's biggest money-makers, and not only is it one of the best selling games annually, it's one of the best selling franchises of all-time, and each year's installment generally hangs around the top 10 of NPD sales every month. NBA's commissioner, Adam Silver, realizes that there is an opportunity here to expand the NBA's market to beyond its typical means and enter the fray as a major player in the e-sports world, with already 17 NBA franchises signed on to have their own team in the 2K League.
Now, if you're wondering, "Won't someone just pick the Warriors and probably roll over everyone?" then you're wrong. The 17 teams will consist of five drafted players each, with each player using their own MyPlayer avatar and with no computer A.I. meaning each team will live and die by the talent of their players, just like you would expect in the NBA. Players will be able to qualify beginning January 1st by winning 50 games in the game's Pro-Am mode, so you can expect some of the best players to be eligible to be selected when the draft comes around in the spring.
Image courtesy of techspot.com
While some details of the league, like where the games will be played, are still be hammered out, it's a safe bet to assume that the games themselves will be streamed via Twitch. The NBA has recently partnered with Twitch to stream the NBA G-League games, so lumping the 2K League in there seems to be a no-brainer.
The NBA isn't likely to woo fans of other sports that haven't been paying attention to their current product, however, vicariously through NBA 2K, they have an opportunity to not only get new eyes looking their direction, but for anyone that is unfamiliar with basketball as a whole, could see the 2K franchise as a the foundation for understanding the game, too. There are a lot of bridges to be built with this crossover, but if it is successful, don't be surprised to see the NBA grow in a completely new way, but also to see the other franchises try to adapt the idea to help their product, too.
When the season starts in May, you can bet I'll be watching closely, and will continue to keep you up to date here, at www.48minutesnetwork.com