As fans shelter at home, Los Angeles Football Club (LAFC) has turned to esports as an alternative channel for fan engagement and brand sponsor promotion.
LAFC has partnered with Allied Esports to produce the LAFC Gaming Charity Challenge Series—a 10-game FIFA 20 series streamed live on Twitch to support Los Angeles-based COVID-19 charities.
“Just because the world has hit the pause button doesn’t mean we’re going to let all of that effort and community we’ve built dissipate,” LAFC EVP and CBO Larry Freedman told The Esports Observer.
The transition from live events to online broadcasts was an “easy transition,” added Alex Sale, LAFC Senior Manager of Business Development & Special Projects.
“We were just getting started in our regular MLS season, so our fans are super hungry for any sort of live competition,” said Sale. “We kicked it off by putting together the LAFC gaming charity FIFA challenge. The idea there was that if we’re going to be doing these things anyway, why not be able to tie into our foundation and try to do some good as well.”
The organization saw a positive response to its first event, which Sale stated had an average concurrent viewership of 10.3K with 264K unique viewers on Twitch, after which the team began planning more online events while attempting to mirror the original MLS schedule as much as possible.
The newest Major League Soccer club, LAFC, is currently in its third season and “took a couple of years” to feel settled enough with its core business before expanding into the eMLS—one of several FIFA competitions run in partnership with professional soccer leagues—Freedman explained.
“We didn’t start with eMLS when the league first started because we really wanted to focus on the stadium and fan experience and make sure we nailed that in our first two seasons,” added Sale.
LAFC made its eMLS debut in January and will remain an important part of the club’s strategy, said Freedman. The 2020 eMLS season schedule began on Jan. 10. Twenty-five players, each representing different MLS clubs, will compete for the title of EA Sports FIFA 20 best player in North America.
“[Esports provides] real value to our stakeholders,” said Freedman. “It engages fans and it’s a great opportunity for corporate partners. We will treat eMLS matches with the same level of importance [as live events] because the opportunity to engage and drive value is, in some cases, greater because of the reach.”
Some of LAFC’s streaming content includes replays or condensed replays of live soccer matches from the 2018-2019 season. Together with local Spanish partner Estrella, LAFC ran its first Spanish language rebroadcast and wove in commercial inventory that brand partners otherwise would have received during a live broadcast.
During live games, LAFC goals are celebrated on the video board at Banc of California Stadium with a branded toast from Francis Ford Coppola Winery. Now that imagery is shared online by the social media team during rebroadcasts.
One “silver lining” to the abrupt change in plans, Freedman notes, is that LAFC is reaching a wider audience online, as opposed to the usual, geo-fenced broadcasts on local television. The team observed tens of thousands of viewers tuning into the Twitch broadcasts from not only the U.S. but Canada, the UK, Germany, and France, among others.
“We’re able to entertain people from all over the world,” said Sale, adding that one of their biggest fans in Australia was able to tune in to a match live for the first time. “Lowering that barrier to entry has been great.”
With the newfound digital audiences that esports provides, LAFC has observed an interest in esports from brands that were previously “non-believers,” said Freedman.
“If you haven’t participated in [esports], it takes a while to really appreciate what it is and just how big it is,” said Freedman, admitting that he didn’t believe the hype at first, either. “I think we’re having that ‘ah-ah’ reveal moment with some of our partners that are used to the more traditional sports marketing approach.
“I think our partners are starting to see what Alex saw in the beginning when he pushed us to get into eMLS. There’s a reason esports and online computer gaming are having a boom right now,” Freedman added. “We feel like this bodes well in the near-term for how we’re going to work with corporate partners to take advantage of this platform. Once they’re in, they’re hooked and [partners will] stick with it on the other side of this.”
This week Toyota, whose existing relationship with LAFC includes serving as the club’s “official import automobile” signed on as the presenting partner of the LAFC Gaming Charity Challenge Series.
In the meantime, fans have been sharing videos of themselves wearing LAFC jerseys on their couches and celebrating with “beer showers” in the backyard—engagement that Sale never imagined would happen before now.
“The response has been better than what we could have hoped,” he said.
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