- Gillette, Campbell's and Oakley are among the brands that EA Sports added for the first time to its roster of sponsors for the Madden NFL 21 Championship Series (MCS21) video game tournament, per an announcement. This season's tournament has a record prize pool of $1.4 million, including $150,000 for the first-place finisher who will be crowned on Feb. 5.
- Luxottica-owned sunglasses brand Oakley is the presenting sponsor of the new "Derwin James vs. The World" series on Twitch and YouTube to promote Prizm Gaming, the brand's first glasses for gamers. The tournament pits James, whose knee injury ended his season for the Los Angeles Chargers, each week against celebrities in a game of EA's "Madden NFL 21."
- Procter & Gamble's Gillette brand is sponsoring the Gillette Style Zone in "The Yard," a mode in "Madden NFL 21" that lets gamers customize their avatar with facial hair, hairstyle and other features. Campbell's Chunky Soup will sponsor competitive match-ups in a tournament later this year, per the announcement.
EA reported that it has a record number of sponsors for its MCS21 video game tournament, in a sign of how more brands may be seeking to reach the audience for esports entertainment despite pressures on their marketing budgets during the coronavirus pandemic.
While only 4% of U.S. internet users said they spent more time watching esports during the pandemic, per GlobalWebIndex data cited by eMarketer, EA's MCS21 may see greater viewership and participation with its record prize pool and expanded programming lineup. The game's close affiliation with the NFL may help in a year when football fans are prevented from attending games in-person as stadiums remain closed or limit the number of attendees, which could lead some to look for other ways to connect with fans.
The "Madden NFL" gaming tournament boasts a number of sponsors who are official NFL marketing partners, including Pizza Hut, Snickers, Oakley, Gillette and Campbell's Chunky. EA has also expanded sponsorship roles this year so that brands are more deeply integrated into the tournament through bespoke experiences, the company said in the release.
Cross-promotional efforts like Oakley's sponsorship of "Derwin James vs. The World" series and Gillette's "Every Day is Game Day" campaign for the 2020-21 NFL season likely will help to raise awareness of the tournament. In addition, the original programming includes "King of the Hill," a tournament series that pits two NFL players against each other alongside competitive players of "Madden NFL." The first week of the shows drew thousands of viewers, per EA's announcement.
As an indication that brands are encouraged by their results from sponsoring EA's esports events, Snickers has returned as a sponsor for the third consecutive season. As with the last season of the tournament, the candy brand showcases the biggest plays and most memorable moments of the tournament. It will highlight tournament action in social media posts with the #SnickersTop5Plays hashtag and present the Snickers Moment of the Year award to a player.
Overall, the pandemic has led to diminished expectations for esports sponsorship growth. Researcher Newzoo in July downgraded its outlook for a second time, cutting its esports revenue forecast by 8% from prior projections. The firm said global esports revenue would hit about $974 million this year and $1.19 billion in 2021 as the pandemic prevents event organizers from hosting live esports tournaments. EA's MCS21 tournament is virtual this year, and it remains to be seen how the reformatted series will affect viewership and participation from gamers.
Despite the diminished outlook, brands are finding ways to participate in esports. BMW in April agreed to sponsor five of the world's leading esports teams, a move it described as a "major expansion" into the category. In June, Verizon entered a three-year agreement to be the official 5G and network services provider of the Legends Championship Series, the North American professional gaming division of Riot Games' leading title "League of Legends."