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Message: Cars, Drinks, and Clothes: Non-Endemic Sponsor Recap for Q1 2019
The fourth quarter was the quietest of 2018 for non-endemic sponsorship deals, but that year-end trend wouldn’t continue: Q1 2019 brought a surge of new esports partnerships from companies outside of the gaming space.
The Esports Observer reported on 76 such deals between January and March—a 145% increase from the 31 deals reported on in Q4 2018, and also a 95% year-over-year increase over the 39 deals covered in Q1 2018. Not only did the sheer number of new non-endemic sponsorships rise, but the first quarter of the year also featured deals with prominent brands like Coca-Cola, AT&T, Honda, State Farm, and Nissan.
Here’s a look at the quarter’s biggest non-endemic deals and notable sponsorship trends.
Auto Brands Speed In
Carmakers raced into the industry last quarter with major team signings and league sponsorships. RFRSH Entertainment kicked off the team side of things in early January with a three-year deal with Audi to sponsor its Origen League of Legends team and support future esports and digital entertainment projects. Audi previously sponsored RFRSH Entertainment’s Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) team, Astralis , in 2018.
Later in January, Team Liquid netted Honda as a sponsor, in a deal brokered by live-streaming platform Twitch. The deal includes logo placement on Team Liquid’s jerseys, along with collaboration on a content series and access to team-branded Honda Civics.
BMW was next up in early March, with the car brand partnering with Cloud9 for its first-ever team sponsorship deal. Cloud9 shared the news with an image of players and support staff next to a BMW car—with one of the players wearing cosplay. CEO Jack Etienne said in a video on Twitter that the team had shot commercials with BMW.
Later that month, Nissan snagged a pair of organizations, announcing sponsorship deals with both FaZe Clan and OpTic Gaming . Both teams will put Nissan branding on their jerseys and have access to Nissan vehicles for content creation purposes. Nissan’s Armada, Altima, Kicks, and Leaf vehicles will be featured in the campaign.
Kia Motors also sponsored the League of Legends European Championship (LEC) for the 2019 season, and is the presenting sponsor of the “Player of the Game” segment in broadcasts. Kia will also produce an original content series with LEC team, Fnatic .
Drink Deals Surge
Drink brands continued to pour into the esports space in Q1 2019 after doing so at the end of 2018. Coca-Cola’s deal was perhaps the most prominent of the entire quarter across the board, as the company became the official non-alcoholic beverage of Activision Blizzard’s Overwatch League (OWL) and all other Overwatch properties.
The deal is the first to span the entirety of the OWL ecosystem, featuring exclusivity with all 20 teams, Overwatch Contenders, the Overwatch World Cup, the BlizzCon expo, and the open division and collegiate events. A source said the deal spans three years. Activision Blizzard will also try to facilitate pouring deals at external venues, particularly once teams establish their own home venues for some games this season and all games in 2020.
Red Bull remained active in Q1 with a handful of new deals, including sponsorships of teams BIG and ENCE, as well as the LEC and the March’s first BLAST Pro Series tournament of the year in São Paulo, Brazil. Elsewhere, the Golden Guardians added Madrinas Coffee as a sponsor, Virtus.pro signed Tornado Energy to sponsor its Fortnite team, and German beer brand Warsteiner sponsored Freaks 4U Gaming’s 99Liga CS:GO league.
There were several notable food brand sponsorships in Q1, as well. The Madden NFL 19 Championship Series added Snickers, 100 Thieves landed Totino’s as a Call of Duty sponsor, and Kellogg’s signed a three-year extension to its deal with Major League Soccer (MLS) to also become a sponsor of its eMLS efforts. In terms of restaurants, Team Liquid netted sub sandwich brand Jersey Mike’s, Domino’s expanded its partnership with Spanish organizer LVP, and KFC hosted a Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 tournament.
Plenty of Clothes
Champion continued its push into esports in Q1, most notably with a multiyear deal to become the official outfitter of the NBA 2K League. The brand will provide apparel and uniforms to all 21 teams currently in the league, with at least one more team joining for 2020. Champion also added sponsorship deals with OpTic Gaming and Renegades during the quarter.
Puma made its first step into esports last quarter by partnering with Cloud9 to provide jerseys and apparel for its League of Legends Championship Series (LCS) team. The deal only currently applies to the 2019 Spring Split, but could extend further.
Additionally, New Era signed with the Essendon Bombers to provide jerseys for the League of Legends Oceanic Pro League this year, and also sponsored the Madden NFL 19 Championship Series. Portuguese organization Grow uP eSports added Adidas as a jersey sponsor in a two-year agreement.
On the league side of things, Nike has signed a four-year deal with TJ Sports—a joint venture between Tencent and Riot Games —for China’s League of Legends Pro League (LPL), which will see all players, coaches, referees, and managers wearing Nike apparel on game days. Apparel will also be sold to the public later this year, and Nike will develop physical training programs for LPL players. Additionally, sportswear and footwear retailer Foot Locker partnered with the LEC to provide apparel for referees.
New and Notable
Credit: State Farm/Blizzard
Those are three of the largest and most notable sponsorship categories of the month, but that’s just scratching the surface of what Q1 2019 had in store. Here are some of the other major deals announced during the quarter.
- Telecom AT&T signed a deal with the NBA that includes activation in the NBA 2K League, plus the company sponsored Cloud9 and partnered with ESL for the ESL Mobile Open.
- T-Mobile was also busy this quarter, renewing its deal with the Houston Outlaws and adding another OWL team, the New York Excelsior .
- State Farm is now the official insurance provider of the Overwatch League, and also sponsored Fortnite player and streamer Benjamin “DrLupo” Lupo.
- ELEAGUE signed Unilever’s AXE men’s grooming products brand to sponsor its ELEAGUE x Rocket League Game Zone at the Final Four Fan Fest earlier this month, and has since announced extended sponsorship plans.
- Betting platform Betway added BIG to its list of sponsored teams, and also sponsored the entire 2019 BLAST Pro Series and renewed its CS:GO events deal with ESL.
- Insurance company Progressive sponsored the Madden NFL 19 Championship Series, with branded “Play Like a Pro” segments appearing during broadcasts.
- Online tech retailer Newegg signed on as a presenting partner for Counter Logic Gaming’s Fortnite team, and also signed a branding deal with Allied Esports for the HyperX Esports Arena Las Vegas.
- Fitness health care brand Hyperice partnered with the Overwatch League’s San Francisco Shock to provide recovery devices and “mobility protocols” to help players maintain wellness.
With nearly double the amount of non-endemic deals as Q1 2018, the first quarter of 2019 got off to a bang. We’re seeing brands in all sorts of industries—including those highlighted above and others like health products, telecoms, and insurance—sponsoring teams, leagues, events, and streamers in an effort to reach the esports audience.
Q1 was a notable time frame due to the start of the Overwatch League season, as well as the LCS and LEC and the run-up to the NBA 2K League season—so there were plenty of partnerships being announced in advance of those leagues beginning play. We’ll have to wait and see whether Q2 2019 can live up to the Q1 barrage, although there have already been some notable deals announced in the first weeks of April.
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