Former Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson famously proved that you could, in fact, win at sport with kids. He took his young side to Premier League glory in the 1995/96 season, proving to many that it was not all about experience but banking partly on the future.
Sport often finds itself in a similar position, keen to invest in the “knowns” and deal with the future when it is closer. Whilst the industry as a whole may lay claim to finding ways to reach the future fan, few are acting on it in a meaningful or long-term manner.
As traditional sports face the challenge of attracting and retaining younger audiences, sports rights holders need to search for new ways to connect with this demographic. With cord-cutting and the rise of digital content, traditional media channels are no longer the only way to reach younger viewers.
This shift has created opportunities for new types of entertainment, such as esports, to capture the attention of younger audiences who may not be as engaged with traditional sports. As a result, esports has emerged as an important platform for sports rights holders to reach a new generation of fans, who are avid consumers of online gaming and digital content.
By embracing esports, sports rights holders can tap into this growing market and explore new models for engaging younger audiences, both online and offline. Whilst there might be some post-pandemic pessimism, many believe the investment will be worth it in the long-term. Which is where eSerie A TIM currently finds itself.
The eSerie A TIM is a complex and exciting esports tournament, with a format similar to a traditional football league season. It starts with online qualifiers, followed by a draft, regular season, playoffs and a final eight. The tournament features 14 teams divided into two groups running from November to April.
“In my opinion, there will always be a hybrid system because it is the best way to give everyone the opportunity to participate," says Stefano Deantoni, Marketing Director of Infront Italy. "Many players come from the general public and are 'drafted' to enter professional clubs, so the online part is essential to give anyone the opportunity to participate. Even if we did a lot of local events, we would never touch all the people we can reach online."
Despite the importance of the online component, the trend is moving towards bringing live esports events to the fans. The eSerie A TIM has been able to involve the clubs more, especially those with their own stadium.
"We need to unite the people who play with the people who watch, because it is live that passion comes out and that the strongest emotions for competitive video games are born," adds Deantoni.
During the first few years, the eSerie A TIM witnessed significant growth in terms of audiences. The tournament organisers put in place many activities to stimulate audience participation, including the organisation of a roadshow in different parts of the country and an eSerie A roadshow which saw the tournament launch event at the Dacia Arena in Udine, at Milan Games Week, in Rome at the TIM headquarters, and at the Allianz Stadium in Turin.
Thanks to this, the tournament organisers were able to bring the competition closer to fans who were used to watching the competition on Twitch. The organisers also wanted to know the stories of those who came to play, to better fight the old-fashioned stereotype of a gamer.
Over the years, the interest of young people has become much fragmented, and the habit of watching a full match on television or in the stadium is being lost in favour of content easier to use, such as games of Fortnite or some esports tournament.
"Lega Serie A immediately proved to be very interested and very attentive to this dynamic, and I must say that they immediately believed in it a lot, so much to push the competition with conviction immediately considering it on a par with the others they organize," says Thomas Borghi, Infront Italy project leader for eSerie A TIM project.
"We have organised all of this in our new home, the eSerie A TIM Arena, where all the teams and guests can cheer live and make their hearts felt,” added Borghi.
“One of the most delicate aspects of this project was understanding how to enter an ecosystem such as gaming which in itself is a very specific niche, with its own references and its own grammar,” says Andrea Mariani. “Landing in this context with an institution like Lega Serie A could be risky and the perception of the arrival of a giant like Lega could be seen as an invasion. This is why we have always tried to work for but above all with the existing community, respecting the rules, the language and, in general, the sense of belonging of the community.”
The eSerie A TIM championship is not just about playing the game, but also about reaching out to the audience on their own terms. The draft system has been a strategic move to involve the community and give space to the fan base, potential future players, and reinforce the movement's great value.
"We want to talk to people who dream of getting to this competition," says Deantoni. "For me, getting to do events in different regions was a big step."
Thanks to this approach, Lega Serie A established a co-operative relationship with the clubs, players and all people involved. They have been welcomed in the community in a positive way, and everyone has experienced the arrival of Lega Serie A in the world of gaming as an opportunity. This relationship has allowed them to collaborate with all stakeholders, some of whom arrived as players and are now part of the roster of official Serie A TIM talents.
The eSerie A TIM championship has been an enormous success so far.
The 2021/22 event saw over two million views, an increase of 13% from the previous year. The championship generated over 100 million social impressions, up 60% from the previous season, with 10 million unique users, a 150% increase. Additionally, there have been 2.2 million engagements and 1,000 articles about the event.
The eSerie A TIM championship has been a platform for reaching out to new audiences and engaging with them on their own terms. With its hybrid approach to live and online events, the championship has created a new world of possibilities, uniting people who play with those who watch, and offering a new way to experience the passion of competitive video games.