- - Sunday, January 21, 2018


Forget the NFL and its conference title games. The NBA? It’s cute, but so yesterday.

Speaking of yesterday — baseball? A Smithsonian exhibit.

No, if you believe the latest hype, the future of professional sports are guys like Jugdish, Sidney and Clayton, sitting around playing video games — while other Jugdishes, Sidneys and Claytons watch them.

Yes, step aside Tom Brady, James Harden and Bryce Harper — the Animal House pledge rejects are about the rule the sports world.

Get ready for eSports, baby — it’s fantastic.

Reportedly, rich and successful businessmen — many of which have never likely operated a joystick — are falling over each other to invest money in the world of eSports — the “e” representing electronic.

The “sports” part? That’s questionable.

If you follow Washington Wizards and Capitals owner Ted Leonsis, you know he is bullish on eSports and is a major investor in what is supposedly the New England Patriots (remember them?) of the industry — Team Liquid.

“It will dwarf the NFL,” Leonsis said at the recent Esports and Wizards NBA2K Global Summit. “It will dwarf the NBA. Because, first and foremost, it’s a global phenomenon.”

Maybe it will. I’ve watched children mesmerized by watching YouTube videos of others playing with the toys they loved. It’s a generation that seems to be literally wired differently.

But I suspect that may not be the driving force for those like Patriots owner Robert Kraft, Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert and other traditional sports franchise owners investing in eSports.

No, they are like the guys who sit on crates outside of strip clubs, trying to wave people in off the street to come inside.

They are trying to capture the lost generation of future fans to come and watch the business they are really in — football, basketball — the businesses that have given glory and championships and meetings with world leaders and all the trimmings that come with owning a major league sports franchise.

That’s the great hunt right now in sports marketing — how to capture the 14-25-year-old generation that is not sitting down to watch NFL football or Major League Baseball — or go to movies or do whatever their parents did for years to put money in the pockets of the rich and powerful.

“It’s one of the issues the movie business struggles with the most: ‘How do we reach people under 30?’” Rob Moore, a former Paramount Pictures vice chairman and president and general manager of an esports team known as the Los Angeles Gladiators, told the Washington Post. “This is a business built on people under 30.”

There you go. That’s what this is all about. You can believe, particularly at NFL headquarters and Major League Baseball headquarters, that there is a fear running through the boardrooms there about the lost generation and how to capture the next group of adult sports consumers.

With the drop in participation in youth sports, the only connection these kids have today with the sports that the parents and grandparents grew up with is their Xbox.

These traditional sports owners may make money in eSports. Maybe they’ll make lots of it. Who doesn’t like making money? Like David Mamet once wrote, “That’s why they call it money.”

But rich and powerful men don’t become sports franchise owners simply to make money. They do it for the ego, the status, the rush of being the leader of an organization that employs some of the greatest and most revered athletes in the world.

They do it for the parades.

Really, is Leonsis going to have a parade down Pennsylvania Avenue if Team Liquid wins whatever championship they compete for? Is Kraft going to take off some of his Super Bowl rings to make room for the rings his eSports team might win?

Is Gilbert going to show up at his next charity event with some pasty-faced kid in tow and tell donors, “Hi, I’d like you to meet the star of my eSports team, Pincus McCoy?”

Maybe someday Pincus McCoy will be the star everyone wants to be around. Maybe, in the evolution of sports celebrity, we will have traveled the road someday from John L. Sullivan to Pincus McCoy.

But I don’t see it. I don’t see the rush for the egotists that entertain world leaders and celebrities in their owners’ boxes. It just won’t be the same kick.

Think of eSports as a gateway drug to try to hook the next generation of sports junkies.

Thom Loverro hosts his weekly podcast “Cigars & Curveballs” Wednesdays available on iTunes, Google Play and the reVolver podcast network.

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