Sep 11, 2022 - Sports

Sports leagues go virtual

A rendering of the new TGL golf league with the PGA Tour.
A rendering of the new TGL golf league with the PGA Tour. Photo courtesy of TMRW Sports Group

Sports leagues are launching new digital events and competitions to connect audiences with their name and brand — even if it means viewers won't always be watching the sport itself.

Why it matters: Leagues are seeking out a newer and younger audience to gain more ground in our ever-more-online daily lives.

Details: The NFL announced a new video game league, Tuesday Night Gaming, that will feature real-world NFL legends and YouTube gamers competing against each other in different video games every week.

  • The NFL is teaming with Enthusiast Gaming. It will have teams competing head-to-head across popular video game titles in a regular-season format.
  • The full roster of gamers and video games has not been announced.

State of play: Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy are launching the TGL golf league with the PGA Tour, which will have virtual courses and a tech-infused venue. The goal of the league is to present golf to a younger audience that has so much of its attention in the digital space, league officials said.

  • The NBA has the NBA 2K League, where NBA teams have esports teams that compete in video games. The league just wrapped up its fifth season.
  • The NBA also recently teamed up with the company Sorare to create a new fantasy sports league based around NFTs.
  • In addition to creating Tuesday Night Gaming, the NFL is working with EA Sports for the "Madden NFL" video game to host competitions throughout the year. NFL players often reference "Madden" in interviews.

Zoom out: For the NFL, the "TNG" shift is about finding a new audience, Joe Ruggiero, the NFL senior vice president of consumer products, told Axios. An untapped audience for the NFL is on Twitch, YouTube and social media, he said.

  • The goal, Ruggiero says, is not to convince NFL superfans to watch video games. It's to find a new way for gamers to connect with the league — even if that means they're watching NFL players play "Super Mario" instead of watching the Super Bowl.

What they're saying: "Video gaming is incredibly important for how we engage with our fans and especially young fans," Ruggiero said in a phone interview. "We saw an opportunity to create this program to really engage a different element of the gaming audience."

Professional sports leagues are progressively shifting online and trying to reach digital audiences, Enthusiast Gaming president Bill Kara and COO Eric Bernofsky told Axios.

  • "There's a natural bridge between sports and gaming because of that competitive nature," Bernofsky said. "So what you're seeing sports do now is bridge right into that digital universe."

Reality check: Older sports fans won't necessarily tune in to watch NFL players and legends play video games, or to see Tiger Woods on a virtual golf course.

  • Both Bernofsky and Kara tell Axios that's OK since the aim isn't to convince NFL TV viewers to watch NFL "TNG" on Twitch.
  • "There's a whole generation of people that gaming is their dominant form of entertainment," Bernofsky told Axios. "They've grown up and they are completely comfortable in that environment."

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