The Miami Heat was the second NBA team to go all-in with eSports. After the Philadelphia 76ers acquired Team Dignitas and Apex, the Heat invested in Misfits. It just so happened that the first match of the Heroes of the Storm season was Misfits vs. Dignitas, so both NBA teams and both eSports teams extended the rivalry to include a Heat vs. Sixers match-up in the digital world. Fast forward to the NBA season, when the Heat and Sixers played on the hardwood, their eSports counterparts drummed up support for each team with their gaming audiences.
These are the types of synergies that marrying traditional sports with eSports open up for both parties, as well as basketball and eSports fans, according to Michael McCullough, executive vice president and chief marketing officer of the Heat.
“We had been watching the eSports space for a while like everyone else and we noticed some of the other moves teams and owners were taking,” McCullough said. “The opportunity was the fact that the eSports audience is, for the most part, younger and digital and social media savvy. We were interested in finding out if there was any crossover with their audience and ours, and how we could access that youthfulness for the benefit of the Miami Heat. We’ve been pleasantly surprised on both fronts since engaging with Misfits.”
McCullough has seen Misfit fans who are Heat fans and are excited they have an NBA team they can root for, and Heat fans who are eSports fans come to the forefront. “We’ve seen potential business partners who are either involved in the eSports world or want to be involved and are excited we partnered with Misfits and are looking to do things with both of us,” said McCullough. “That’s been the most eye-opening thing in this experience so far. We didn’t expect that.”
Ben Spoont, CEO of Misfits, told [a]listdaily that the Heat are handling the sponsorships, sales and activation and marketing for the team directly. He added that one benefit of having the Heat handle that business is that brands that are non-endemics to eSports are endemic to basketball. The professional service an NBA team can provide is unparalleled.
“One of the incredible things about this partnership is that we’re working with key stakeholders,” Spoont said. “Anything that touches off-the-court basketball operations or logos comes under Michael. We talk two or three times a week. Having that direct interaction with the Heat folks at a high level is incredible.”
McCullough said that when this Misfits partnership first launched, all of the Heat avatars were changed to Misfits.
“We have players wearing Misfits gear, we’re always chatting on Heat properties about Misfits, and we’re trying to make that connection to the broad audience,” McCullough said. “This connection can even be seen in the logo design. If you take a close look at the Misfits redesign, the ‘T’ has a little flame from the Heat logo. A lot of people don’t catch it, but it’s a nice little Easter Egg to make that connection.”
McCullough said the Heat are creating an entire line of Misfits clothing by its in-house creative team for the Heat-specific brand Court Culture, which is the number two brand at all Heat stores. “It’s very localized and we can react to things quickly on the court with player-specific shirts that resonate with fans,” he said. “I just saw a bunch of items in the Misfits line. We’re implementing the same process we use for Court Culture, where it’s all locally designed and created and we have local distribution through the Heat store channel. We’re going full out with this, and I think there will be crossover because the gear looks cool and the logo looks fantastic. We’ll continue to make the connection and put it on our talent and in our Heat environment.”
Spoont said having the Heat on board helps Misfits look at expansion. “We’ve always been very aggressive in expansion, acquiring Team SoloMid’s CS:GO team and Super Smash Bros. player Larry Lurr,” he said. “We’re poised and ready to go wherever we want. We can write our own way. The Heat have provided a tremendous brand lift and cache. It’s the Miami Heat, not just the owners. This is the basketball team deeply integrating and involving themselves in the business of eSports.”
The Heat have 22 million followers on social media and the bulk of that audience doesn’t live in the US. “The global aspect of eSports makes a lot of sense and gives us the opportunity to grow our global brand through Misfits,” McCullough said. “We’re looking to continue to grow our domestic and global brand and take advantage of the followers we have.”