- The National Hockey League (NHL) is teaming up with ESL Gaming to host a virtual esports gaming challenge featuring players from all 31 league teams pitted against one another as they play EA Sports NHL 20, according to details shared with Marketing Dive. The program is sponsored by NHL official automotive partner Honda.
- The first NHL Player Gaming Challenge presented by Honda launches on April 30 and will include a series of weekly matchups for broadcast on NBCSN and Sportsnet ONE and livestreamed on NHL's Twitch and social channels. Fans can follow along using the hashtag #HockeyAtHome.
- As part of the effort, NHL and ESL will donate a combined $100,000 to support the CDC Foundation's COVID-19 relief efforts.
The NHL is looking for options to keep fans engaged while games are on pause and a possible restart for the season is contemplated for sometime during the summer. Creating weekly gaming matchups between real players gives the league an opportunity to entertain fans and raise money from advertisers, especially given the wide distribution strategy for the programming across a number of broadcast and streaming channels.
As a sponsor, Honda has an opportunity to get its branding in front of fans at a time when people are stuck at home and consuming more programming. Marketing around live sporting events is an important strategy for a number of brands, with many looking for new playbooks to continue marketing to sports fans while the world is in COVID-19 lockdown.
Esports is one area brands are looking to during the health crisis, potentially accelerating growth for a category that was already on the upswing before the pandemic. According to an eMarketer report from last year, ad revenues around esports were estimated to reach $200 million this year in the U.S. alone.
Since the health crisis hit, a number of brands are giving esports a closer look. BMW expanded its esports partnerships recently, signing on to sponsor five of the world's leading esports teams. Coca-Cola signed a multiyear entitlement partnership with e-NASCAR. Chipotle Mexican Grill sponsored an esports challenger series and Kellogg Snack Brands ran an Overwatch League sweepstakes.
While the pandemic appears to be driving significant changes in sports marketing, leagues and brands are expected to quickly return to previous strategies around in-stadium and broadcast advertising once the health crisis ends and games start up again.