Brendan Donohue – NBA 2K League – Globally appealing

Brendan Donohue, NBA 2K League
Brendan Donohue, NBA 2K League

Fresh from speaking at Leaders Week in London we caught up with the Managing Director of the NBA 2K League, Brendan Donohue

We found out more about the forthcoming inaugural season, their plans for commercial partnerships, the bid to find the best 85 players on the globe and more. 

Esports Insider: You mentioned that there’ll be a regular season but with tournaments intermittently to grow rivalries. Can you tell us more about this and the schedule? 

Brendan Donohue: So as far as the schedule is concerned, we want to make it the best of esports as well as the best of the NBA, so there will be a mix of regular season games and tournaments. In terms of more details on that, we’re right in the middle of discussions on media rights and we haven’t finalised our schedule!

ESI: 2K players versus NBA players…how much focus will you put around creating content with this focus? 

Brendan: I would say that it’s great that our NBA players all authentically love the 2K game and that’s awesome that they’re so genuinely interested in the game, they play it in their own personal time.

“Our first priority is building up the players that are going to be in the NBA 2K League and we want to make them the stars”

Having said that, our first priority is building up the players that are going to be in the NBA 2K League and we want to make them the stars, in their own right so we’re really helping them to be successful in their play but also publicly.

ESI: You stated 72% of NBA 2K players play another esports title. Do you expect the 17 teams involved to cotton on and expand their esports presence? Moreover, are you looking at the potential of competitions in other titles, and which titles in particular do you find exciting right now?

Brendan: We do see that our players play other games. More broadly, they are fans of gaming in general. Having said that, in terms of our league looking at other titles we have more than enough to do launching the NBA 2K League and that is where 100% of our focus is.

ESI: Tell us more about the in-game activations for brands. There’s clearly a major opportunity with this game especially for say apparel brands when it comes to The Neighbourhood.

Brendan: Sure, so there are two different things we’re talking about, the retail version is NBA 2K18 whereas our league will be a totally separate version of the game.

“The first thing we want to achieve is putting on a great game and making sure we get the best 85 players in the world”

It’ll be the same game you’re used to seeing but as far as sponsorship activation goes, there are incredible opportunities. Things you would see, digital opportunities such as courtside signage or sponsorship on the stanchion or on the court.

All those kind of things you’re accustomed to seeing in an NBA game. But we believe the larger opportunities really are helping sponsors activate in an authentic way to add value to the community, to the fan experience and the player experience. That’s where we see truly successful partnership activations in esports.

ESI: Do you expect gambling to become a significant part of the viewer and engagement experience? Would you consider an official betting partner?

Brendan: We’re aware of the activity that goes on with gambling in esports. Having said that, we’re still working on how we’re going to approach it and we haven’t finalised our plans around that area.

ESI: What are your targets & expectations for season one? What do you want to have achieved when it comes to a close?

Brendan: I think the first thing we want to achieve is putting on a great game and making sure we get the best 85 players in the world.

“Our players will be given contracts and will have very competitive salaries, plus benefits, and they’ll be provided with housing by one of the 17 teams”

We want to create the right environment for them to compete at the highest level and that’s our first goal. Beyond that, I want to make sure we are building an audience and in particular, a global audience. So that’s probably our primary focus.

ESI: Will drafted players be contracted and salaried? Can you tell us more about how you’ll be looking after the players, and the teams, and what the model will be? 

Brendan: Yes, our players will be given contracts and will have very competitive salaries plus benefits, and they’ll be provided with housing by one of the 17 teams.

“As far as sponsorship activation goes, there are incredible opportunities”

We actually believe it’s one of the major advantages for the players in the NBA 2K League; the types of facilities and the types of resources our NBA teams have. You see it first hand with the Sixers [Philadelphia 76ers] who have Team Dignitas. They are actually using the Sixers practice facility and their medical staff to help with Team Dignitas so whether it’s helping players get educated on nutrition or sleep or the importance of those things as well as help from sports psychologists. These things are all relatively common in the NBA. We think there is a potential advantage for NBA 2K League players getting access to those resources.

ESI: You mention brands that want to test the esports waters may see you as a safer transition, do you feel a burden of responsibility for esports’ wider commercial future because of this?

Brendan: We feel like we have a responsibility to make sure our partners have good experiences.

Whether it’s our current partners or new partners we’re finding through the NBA 2K League, we have a responsibility to make sure their activation and their experience with us is a positive one. And as I mentioned earlier, we also want to help them navigate the esports universe more broadly and so making sure they approach this in a very thoughtful and authentic way so that the audience is excited about their involvement in the game.

They are adding value whether it’s through fan experience or adding value to the player experience. That’s really where we’ve seen the most successful sponsorship activations across esports.