Esports is a “cultural revolution,” equivalent in significance to the advent of the internet or the mobile phone, according to sport industry veteran Garry Cook.
The executive chairman of Gfinity, a former CEO of Manchester City, whose 30+-year career has also included leadership spells at UFC and Nike, told the Sport Industry Breakfast Club this morning that the sector’s growth to-date represents “the tip of the iceberg.”
He said: “My career has always been about finding the consumers.
“The consumer always decides - and in this case the consumer has decided. 2.2bn players is not a trend, it’s a cultural revolution.”
Cook was speaking at the BT Centre ahead of next year’s inaugural ePremier League, which will be operated by Gfinity on behalf of the Premier League and EA Sports, publisher of the FIFA ’19 title on which the tournament will be played.
Cook spoke about the growing convergence between esports and traditional sports – and the opportunities for traditional sports rightsholders to grow their audience through “parallel” properties.
He said: “We’ve made sport too exclusive through elite athletes. The future is more inclusivity. 90% of soccer players are gamers. That’s an insight fans need to see. They can play against the pros in FIFA 19”
Asked for his advice for traditional sports rightsholders, Cook said: “Our client Sean Bratches at Formula One, who knows the global media landscape as well as anyone, says that the real challenge in esports is not being in esports.
“The key is not to start with the mindset of bringing these young people to you. You need to go to them. 84 per cent of players in our Formula One league are under 28. These people are not already F1 fans.
“The issue is how do we engage them with new content and new platforms, that are linked to the main [sport] brand, and which give this community an opportunity to be creative and tell their own story.
“In the end, young people will decide. We need to be careful not to “play dad” to a whole sector. If we try to govern or enforce new structures, we’ll take away their creativity.”
Cook also cautioned brands looking to invest in the space to avoid “badging,” adding that “our [esport] community will see right through it. 70% of them use ad blockers anyway.”
He pointed to Dominos as a partner that is activating successfully in esports, explaining: “They understand why they’re involved. The brief is not: sell more pizzas. It’s about meaningful engagement.”
Moderator James Pearce also quizzed Cook on recent headlines related to his former employers.
On Financial Fair Play, the ex-Man City chief noted the “challenging” situation facing his former club, adding: “I said in 2010 that the sport being run by accountants would prevent investment.
“There isn’t a blue book for the value of a player - believe me, we bought some bad ones. It’s the same with stadium naming rights. You can’t give that responsibility to an accountant.”
Cook also reflected on his experience with UFC, which revolutionised the sports rightsholder model, but has recently suffered brand damage from a string of ugly athlete-related incidents.
He said: “In the end, we sold the business because we saw that, ultimately, athletes would take control of the model. That’s what we have seen with the Connor McGregor incident.”
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