Irish football clubs could score in booming eSports sector, experts forecast
Local teams might soon be taking on the cream of European eFootball, writes Fearghal O'Connor
Competitive video gaming could provide a welcome boost to the profile - and finances - of the FAI and the League of Ireland, according to experts from both the worlds of football and gaming.
Discussions to get Irish football clubs, many of whom are struggling to raise funds, involved in competitive gaming - or eSports - are at an early stage, it is understood. It is estimated eSports has a global audience of 600 million people, with 470,000 regular Irish viewers and players. An eSports expert, Trevor Keane of Sportego, a tech firm that builds fan engagement and analytics for sports clubs, told this newspaper that there exists "a huge opportunity for the League of Ireland".
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Keane has been instrumental in establishing and advising eSports teams in Ireland and across Europe, and previously established leagues and teams on behalf of football clubs, as well as individual football players, such as Leicester City's Christian Fuchs.
Keane said that involvement in the growing entertainment space could provide a revenue boost and new fans for Irish football clubs.
The global eSports industry will generate over $1bn (€899m) of global revenues, up 27pc year on year, from sponsorships, advertising, ticket sales and other sources, according to a report from Newzoo, which provides market intelligence for the gaming industry.
Dubliner Pearse Connolly, who has helped build an eSports team for the Norwegian football association, urged the FAI to put together a team of gamers that could represent Ireland in the growing number of gaming competitions involving both football and non-football related video games.
Connolly, who is the Norwegian FA's head of digital services and strategy, has led a digital transformation at the football association that has seen Spanish bank Santander come on board as sponsor of its eSports team.
The team now plays competitive matches of the Fifa football game in a dedicated venue overlooking the pitch at Oslo's national football stadium. He predicted that an Irish team would have little problem attracting backers.
"What's never been a problem with this is the commercial interest," said Connolly. "Sponsors are queuing up for this because they know that this is a target group that they have difficulty engaging with, and this is a great channel for them to learn more about this audience, which is very sophisticated. They block all ads, they do a whole set of things that are outside of traditional marketing, so companies need to find some way in. A national team or some sort of organised tournament is a good way to approach this for companies."
The eSports sector is an increasingly lucrative avenue for football associations and clubs to develop ancillary digital revenues. League of Ireland clubs already feature in the EA Sports franchise series and this provides a ready-made platform for them to develop their own offering for video game fans to follow.
In total, there are 18 dedicated eLeagues around the world, including for the MLS, Premier League, Dutch league and Bundesliga.
Sunday Indo Business