Brazilian Soccer Club S.E. Palmeiras on its Cautious Approach to Entering Esports

It is well-known that Brazil is home to one of the largest soccer cultures in the world, being by far the main sport in the country with millions of fans in a passionate relationship with their favorite clubs. Such passion is so strong that it breaks the boundaries of soccer, making the clubs real powerhouses when we speak of brand awareness, engagement, and mass communication. But when talking about esports, the timing now may be demanding clubs to enter the scene to keep pace with the growth and transformation of the audience, rather than having esports in need of bringing in those clubs to gain momentum.

This way of thinking has brought many traditional sports clubs to esports, and it was no different in the “Country of Soccer” (“País do Futebol”, as it is said locally in Brazil). But while rivals have solid esports projects such as Flamengo, Corinthians, Santos, Cruzeiro, and many other big Brazilian soccer teams, the Sociedade Esportiva Palmeiras (commonly referred only as Palmeiras), one of the biggest and most victorious clubs in the country, has not made any practical movement towards the space. 

The Esports Observer spoke with Palmeiras’ Executive Marketing Director Roberto Trinas, who explained the club’s thinking on the subject: 

“We do not believe in a sustainable business model without a collective entrance of the clubs in these modalities. First, we need to fix and solve the model for [games of] our essential activity, which is soccer.” 

Trinas explained that there are issues that may be preventing the development of this scene with traditional teams, such as licenses for Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer and EA SPORTS FIFA, which are still individually carried out by clubs without a collective agreement. 

“Then you end up not having a structure of this product to a point that allows us to make big events as championships, involving real soccer players and club associates, making a crossover between the virtual and real worlds. We believe that we need to change this model from individual to collective and that before entering other esports we need to fix these things in soccer. We are working on that,” says Trinas, assuring that Palmeiras is holding conversations with the Brazilian Confederation of Football (CBF, from the acronym in Portuguese) and EA SPORTS addressing that subject.

Trinas believes that this stronger union of the clubs could make more relevant tournaments with more appeal for media partners and that soccer esports is the right path to enter virtual competitions, seeking to develop the scene to a point where it doesn’t get overshadowed by other games such as League of Legends, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, and Rainbow Six Siege as it is today. Trinas also says that other esports are on the radar as well, despite the current priority.

“For the level of professionalism and maturity that the esports business has reached, we understand that we need to be careful to enter. You cannot enter it anyway, you don’t enter those tournaments to lose, you enter to win. Organizations have structured themselves with annual investment, and even if clubs do not invest with their own resources, they have licensing models. But independent of where the money comes from, this brings huge visibility, influencing the club’s institutional image and reputation,” he said.

Credit: Palmeiras

This factor is also crucial for Palmeiras to remain outside esports: the caution with how this business will affect the institution. When asked if the club might be losing precious timing to make the move into the scene, Trinas says that he agrees that this is indeed a concern, “but if we do not enter this market in the most adequate way, we are running a big risk of having to make a quick exit, affecting our image. Flamengo entered esports years ago, lost money, and had to change their business model into a licensing one. So by not having entered the market yet, we have the chance of learning from the mistakes of others.” 

Trinas affirms that there were many contacts and proposals for the club to license the brand for an esports team. All of them were studied but turned down. There were even talks with Simplicity Esports, which licensed the Flamengo Esports brand in 2020. “Even if we license the brand, it would be another active unit to look after,” he says. “We will be dealing with the passion of the club supporters, and it will heavily affect us if the team gets bad results and headlines saying that Palmeiras lost. So it’s not like licensing our brand for souvenirs, it’s something that will directly connect with supporters and require a lot of attention. We have to be responsible.”

Trinas even projects that if the club makes this investment, it would not use the Palmeiras brand, but a new brand created specifically for it, perhaps using the team’s mascots. He sees it as a way to make a clear difference from it to traditional sports where Palmeiras is historically involved, avoiding what he calls a “schizophrenic brand that wants to do everything.” 

In Brazil, the Clube Atlético Mineiro did something similar when creating the e-Galo esports team. Although, Trinas reinforces the wish to have at least the main sports clubs backing up an organized entrance to esports, assuring it would be a safer way to grant sponsors and relevance. “It will also justify our investments on it, as we have other priorities as our professional and base soccer teams,” he says, mentioning the attention to the women’s soccer team and other traditional sports modes Palmeiras fields: “If we take resources and attention from those areas to open up a new front, the club will be losing its focus.”

Credit: Palmeiras

When asked if there will be space in the esports scene for a mass entrance of traditional clubs, Trinas says that it is a factor to be considered, but that especially for outsiders a union may be necessary to maintain sustainability: “We’ve seen esports teams being formed, disbanded, then restructured, so we need something more solid,” but he also highlights that the intention is not to make a “closed block” of soccer clubs: “We would need to mix in, for sure.”

Trinas added that Palmeiras is an institution mainly focused on soccer, and although there isn’t anything solid yet, its first steps into the esports world will focus on soccer esports as the scene develops. “The key message is that we want to enter this market, and we are studying it. But when we enter, it has to be in an adequate way. We have to be responsible, and we will do it in a focused way, not entering many different competitions but choosing the ones that make more sense for us.”

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