Nielsen announces esports analytics platform

Valuation for sponsorships of tournaments and teams, such as Audi's partnership with Astralis, will become more reliable thanks to Nielsen's foray into esports, members of the esports community said. Rob Tringali for ESPN

Nielsen, the global viewership analytics company, announced the launch of a new vertical dedicated to esports analysis and valuation on Thursday.

Nielsen Esports, a new vertical that will track esports analytics to help sponsors and advertisers gauge industry growth and engagement, is the latest venture for a company widely known for its scoring of TV broadcast data.

"There's a high demand for reliable, independent measurement of value in esports," Howard Appelbaum, the president of Nielsen Entertainment, said in a statement. "We're excited to enhance our client offerings and provide the industry with solutions that will help guide and optimize investment decisions in this exciting, growing space."

Nielsen Esports will provide clients with sponsorship valuation, industry research and consulting services. To acquiesce consumer data, Nielsen will pursue what it's calling "fan insights," or in-depth surveys asking everything from how fans interact with esports to what motivates them to continue watching.

Nielsen developed Esport24, a syndicated service, as one of those offerings. Esport24 tracks the brand exposure sponsors get during tournaments based on how Nielsen tracks other on-air sporting events, according to the company. Playoffs in multiple esports across major tournaments tracked by Esport24 in the past year yielded anywhere from $75,000 to $17 million in value to sponsors, a variance Nielsen and its partners said makes collecting reliable information on viewers crucial.

For example, after Audi had sponsored esports organization Astralis, it "received more than a 10-times return on sponsorship exposure during the ELeague Finals and DreamHack Las Vegas earlier this year," according to Nielsen's press release. Nielsen didn't just track Audi's exposure on-air, but off as well, and the company estimated 40 percent of Audi's brand exposure happened on Astralis' social media platforms.

"The global, digital and young nature of esports fan base audience represents advertising's most highly sought after segment, yet consistent and high-quality data has been a challenge to measure and define," said Craig Levine, the CEO of ESL in North America. "We're excited to partner with Nielsen and other industry leaders to guide the framework to measure esports sponsorships, shape the industry, and help further accelerate the esports industry overall."

"Companies that we've seen show the most interest early have been more global in scale," said Nicole Pike, VP of Nielsen Games. This is largely because esports has a global audience with one set of programming being distributed on well known platforms, like YouTube and Twitch. For advertisers, "showing the same content to different people all over the world, that becomes very attractive," Pike said. According to Nielsen's research, a majority of esports fans are male, between the ages of 18-34. For that reason much of the advertising has been male focused. But fans aren't so one-dimensional.

"Because esports consumers are continuing to age over time ... a number of them have families, and kids," Pike said. Because of this, Nielsen advises brands to think more holistically in regard to what can sell to an esports fan.

A major challenge for advertisers thus far has been the pervasiveness of ad-blocking software. According to Nielsen's data, a majority of fans are using ad-blockers when watching esports. Although there might be a misconception that esports fans hate ads, that's not necessarily the case.

Among fans, "there's actually some pretty strong openness to sponsors within esports," Pike said. Esports fans understand that what they're watching is ultimately a business venture, and for the industry to grow, money needs to come in.

"They just want it to be done in a tasteful way," Pike said.

ESL is one of the partners on an advisory board for Nielsen's new initiative, and ESPN also has a seat on the board. Other members include Facebook; FIFA; Major League Gaming and Activision Blizzard; the NBA 2K League; The Next Level, an industry business platform; Sony PlayStation; Turner Broadcasting; Twitch; Twitter; Unilever; and YouTube.