Professional sports

Traditional sports have an esports problem

Professional sports leagues like the NFL and the NBA are about to face a major challenge called “the march of time.”

Young Americans, or “millennials,” (the generation that was born from the mid-1980s through the early 2000s) are split in terms of their loyalty to traditional sports and competitive video gaming, according to an LEK Consulting survey. While 18 percent are undecided, 40 percent of millennials prefer esports compared to 42 percent who still favor old-fashioned athletics. A variety of factors can explain this parity (such as the rise of smartphones, the free-to-play business model, or Twitch), but whatever the reasons, LEK points out that established sports leagues officially have a millennial problem.

“Though they represent a large and increasingly integral segment of the U.S. sports fan base, millennials bring to the table a unique challenge,” LEK managing directors Alex Evans and Gil Moran write in the survey. “Unlike their Baby Boomer and Gen X predecessors, millennials follow a much broader range of both traditional and alternative sports as adults, and despite having less time on their hands, have a far greater selection of viewing alternatives.”

LEK is measuring interest in sports and esports, but this doesn’t suddenly mean that competitive gaming is as large as the NFL. Pro gaming events will generate $696 million worldwide this year, according to an estimate from industry-intelligence firm Newzoo. That’s a fraction of the billions that the NFL, the NBA, and the MLB make, but esports revenues could catch up quickly as the Millennial generation overtakes older demographic segments as the biggest spenders over the next two decades.

“In terms of both composition and dollars spent, individuals 35 and older continue to dominate the country’s consumer base,”…