Sony, Best Buy's Latest Sports Sponsorship: Pro Video Gaming

Marketers Hope to Create Buzz Around Live Tournament

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YORK, Pa. ( -- A handful of players in the gaming industry are formally joining forces to promote the nascent sport of professional video gaming and push it forward on another platform to reach a wider audience.

A scene from last year's EA Sports Challenge Series.
A scene from last year's EA Sports Challenge Series.
Electronic Arts is lending its name and games to the 2009 EA Sports Challenge Series; Sony is adding the host platform, PlayStation 3, as well as cash prizes, equipment and promotional weight; and Best Buy is becoming a presenting sponsor, with branding, in-store and online promotions, all while Major League Gaming hosts live and online tournaments.

"You would think that these types of events would appeal only to the extreme gamer segment, but thanks to social networking, blogs and user forums, as well as more traditional forms of media, live competitions can be a powerful addition to a marketing professional's repertoire of tactics," said NPD analyst David Riley in an e-mail interview.

David Benson, merchant director-gaming for Best Buy, said the retailer, which has been active with EA Challenge Series for several years, extended the program by adding an EA Sports area inside the gaming section of its store last year. This year, Best Buy will layer on a Reward Zone Gamer's Club to "provide challenge participants with everything they need to successfully compete," he said.

Like any professional sport, the live events help generate viewership -- both online and onsite -- with the aim of creating buzz and drawing even more fans. "It gives people something memorable to talk about, which generates buzz and chatter, which then generates great perception of the Sony brand, which then creates great loyalty to PlayStation as a brand," said Ginger Kraus, senior director-marketing alliances with Sony Computer Entertainment America.

Sony signed a multiyear deal with Major League Gaming earlier this year, and while this is its first tournament sponsorship as part of that, at least five more "feature tournaments" are planned using Sony first-party titles including racing game "Gran Turismo 5" and baseball game "MLB: The Show." Ms. Kraus characterized Sony's participation as a "big initiative" going forward.

Matthew Bromberg, president and CEO of Major League Gaming, cited another good reason sponsors are involved: sales. "The EA Sports Challenge is only on the PlayStation platform, and that's important because it moves share," he said. "Gamers are talking about buying PlayStation 3's to compete in our challenge."

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