NASCAR just a set an esports television record for most viewers for an esports event with 903,000 last week. The virtual race beat a previously held record of 770,000 television viewers for a Mortal Kombat event held back in 2016.
I adamantly believe that the COVID-19 situation will forever change the landscape of sports viewership and could possibly thrust esports into a much bigger position in terms of television viewing audiences worldwide.
Major sports leagues like the NBA, MLB, and NHL are fully shut down right now and just straight up hemorrhaging cash. The biggest revenue driver for all major sports leagues is the deals they have with broadcast networks and the lack of televised games is killing the sports leagues and simultaneously hurting the networks because they now lack adequate live content and are scrambling to replace the void with new programming.
The one league that is actually offsetting the lack of live physical events fairly well is NASCAR. The craziest part about the whole situation is that those 903,000 viewers watching the virtual event actually rivals the viewing numbers of a real live race. For comparison, the Xfinity race at Auto Club Speedway earlier this month brought in 993,000 viewers on FS1. That’s only about a 10% drop-off from the live event to the virtual race which is pretty staggering.
This phenomenon is only possible with NASCAR of course. Watching a simulated race is much closer to the actual mechanics of the real sport of stock car racing as opposed to watching NBA players control versions of themselves in NBA 2K20.
If NASCAR were really smart, they would somehow figure out how to get regular people to be able to qualify into these events since it’s pretty much a video game and you don’t actually have to hit 200 mph on a real track. This might be a precursor to how future major sports will look.
The next “big” sport probably hasn’t been invented yet, and will likely exist in virtual reality or augmented reality in some capacity. The major draw will be that everyday people of all ages can compete in these events, but a few standouts will show professional level talent.
If you can get enough people participating in a game or sport, then a large majority of those people will likely also participate in live viewership of professional level events of said game or sport. Something to think about.