Riot Games has announced a major new partnership with MLB Advanced Media subsidiary BAMTech (and yes, that's MLB as in Major League Baseball) that will "push the boundaries of the esports viewing experience." The studio said in a blog post that, beginning next year, it will work with BAMTech to "grow revenue in our sport through various means, including sponsorship and advertising," and to "create additional possibilities and opportunities for fans to access, and connect with, League of Legends."
BAMTech is a streaming technology provider jointly owned by MLB, Disney, and the NHL, whose clients include the two sports leagues as well as HBO and WWE. "As we’ve said in the past, true economic sustainability is a critical means to ensuring a sport that lasts, and this represents a major step towards that goal," Riot said. "As an innovator in digital sponsorship and media sales, BAMTech will help us unlock long-lasting and meaningful value for our digital sport as it matures."
Specifics of the deal weren't revealed, but according to a Yahoo! Esports report, it will run to the 2023 season and is worth an average of $50 million per year. That's a huge amount of money, but BAMTech expects even more to come out of it. "I hope we’re going to do a lot more than that. That’s the minimum guarantee, and I hope we’re going to exceed that by a large margin. And I expect that we will," BAMTech president of business and media Bob Bowman said.
His optimism arises primarily from the fact that LoL is a "digital first" product, while traditional sports are dependent first and foremost on television, and that audience has been showing alarming dips this year on both sides of the Atlantic.
"The amount of time that [Riot Games] has over the top for live events far eclipses any other sport in the world—not just esport, any other sport in the world,” Bowman said. “So the monetization for that effort and those kind of events is going to be really exciting. But we think the world is ready for esports. The sponsors, the advertisers are ready for it. They’re dying for it. It’s a great audience and they spend a great deal of time with this content.”
That doesn't mean that League events are going to be paywalled, at least not completely, and not right away. "We first and foremost believe in making sure that the content is in places where the fans want to watch it, so that will continue to be the case," Riot's co-head of esports and head of merchandising Jarred Kennedy said. "We believe in making content freely available, and it will continue to be freely available into the future. We have no plans to change that."
However, his fellow co-head of esports Whalen Rozelle added, "That’s not to say that we won’t innovate down the road. Maybe there is something super cool that we create that has to be behind a premium experience so that fans want to buy into it."
Riot doesn't expect that player and team streams will be included in the deal, but Kennedy said the increased revenues "will find its way to players in the form of salaries and to teams in the form of a share of that revenue directly once we get into that next phase of our growth." That's not going to happen for awhile, though: Riot doesn't expect the "economic value" of the deal to start having an impact until 2018, which suggests that's when any substantial changes to the landscape of LCS broadcasting may really kick in.