While traditional sports owners have jumped into the eSports business in the past, it’s never been through the actual sports organization. The owners of the Philadelphia 76ers are the first to enter the eSports business by acquiring a pair of teams—Team Dignitas and Team Apex—and rolling them into the NBA organization’s structure. The Sixers intend to manage the day-to-day operations of Team Dignitas, sharing best practices in sponsorship, sales, branding, digital marketing, merchandising, publicity and more; as well as devote resources to player recruitment, development and wellness.
Philadelphia 76ers CEO Scott O’Neil [pictured above] told [a]listdaily that this acquisition gives the new Team Dignitas, which includes both the original team and Team Apex under one name, a competitive advantage by being able to enact the resources of the entire organization. “Myopically, we have more people in our sponsorship service sales and activation group than Dignitas and Team Apex have on their entire staff,” O’Neil said. “This is an opportunity to get all of the weight and resources and the actual workload and contacts of a major league professional sports franchise behind Team Dignitas, so we can catapult them into the upper echelon of the eSports space.”
The 76ers co-managing partner, David Blitzer and managing general partner, Josh Harris also own the New Jersey Devils NHL team, the Prudential Center in Newark and Premiere League soccer team Crystal Palace.
“Our sponsorship teams from our NBA and NHL franchises will drive sponsorship deals in the eSports space,” O’Neil said. “We’ll also have more resources for Team Dignitas to go out and attract more teams and new players.” Team Dignitas was originally formed in September 2003 with the merging of two Battlefield 1942 teams. The new Team Dignitas will field players across League of Legends, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Overwatch, Heroes of the Storm and Smite.
Game industry veteran, Greg Richardson will serve as chairman of the new Team Dignitas. Michael O’Dell will lead team operations as president, alongside vice president and general manager Michael Slan. Richardson told [a]listdaily that eSports is a fast-moving and dynamic market.
“This announcement of the Sixers getting involved is big news,” Richardson said. “It allows us to take a front row seat with existing leagues, game publishers, teams, players and fans. Starting tomorrow, a large part of what we’re doing is exploring what opportunities there are for Team Dignitas and the entire eSports ecosystem.” He also stated that while over a quarter billion people watch eSports, the ecosystem is not monetizing very well. He believes the Sixers can help Team Dignitas and the entire eSports industry.
“This is a business that, in order to win, you need to go out and generate revenue, invest in players and create an environment where players want to play,” O’Neil said.
O’Neil said one of the focal points of the organization will roll over from traditional sports, which have had quite a jump in the number of years invested in the training of professional athletes. On September 23, the Sixers opened the Philadelphia 76ers Training Complex, the largest and most technologically advanced training facility in professional sports. At 125,000-square-feet, the two-story training complex is home to two NBA regulation-size basketball courts, ten baskets, a 2,800-square-foot locker room, hydrotherapy room with a 40-foot lap pool and hydraulic training lift, organic player restaurant, and amenities designed for player health, wellness, communication and comfort.
“The way to become and remain dominant in any sport is to attract the best players in the world,” O’Neil said. “We’ll bring our sports background in health, hydration, nutrition and sleep to our eSports players.”
Richardson said Team Dignitas has gaming houses for its League of Legends teams in Southern California, but a lot of players across other games are spread out and play online. “Now we have the facilities to bring teams together for boot camps and training camps, which is a big win for the players we have today and a great way to try to attract world class free agents,” Richardson said. “We can help players be more successful, happier, and more healthy human beings.”
O’Neil said the NBA is the most dominant global league in the history of sports. Sixers games are available in 212 countries around the world and the NBA has League Pass, a digital passport to games around the league. “With eSports, our universe of potential fans and our business opportunities is now the entire world,” O’Neil said. “The Team Dignitas brand can be built in China, Singapore, the UK and North America. It’s upon us to dream big and build the infrastructure in a strong enough way to answer the opportunity.”
Richardson said Team Dignitas will continue to work directly with the fan base to collect feedback on what the community wants, as it always has. They’ll now have the added resources of a traditional sports organization to help with everything from merchandising to sports health. “ESports has an incredibly powerful and deep fan base,” O’Neil said. “LCS Worlds last year drew more people than the BCS national championship game. Yet, there’s some level of need to be validated from this group, which is what we can bring to the table. We understand the power and impact of this audience. We see this as an opportunity and there’s room for eSports to grow.”
The Sixers acquired the eSports franchises in partnership with NextEquity Partners, a growth equity and venture capital investment firm. The relationship between the Sixers, Team Dignitas and Team Apex was fostered by Tobias Sherman of WME-IMG, who represents Team Dignitas on new partner acquisitions.