76ers Owners Harris, Blitzer Add eSports Team to Portfolio

  • First pro sports investors to put eSports alongside NBA, NHL
  • Team Dignitas and Apex Gaming will merge, play several titles

The group that owns basketball’s Philadelphia 76ers, hockey’s New Jersey Devils, and English soccer’s Crystal Palace is adding a professional video gaming franchise to its portfolio.

With the purchase and merger of two successful eSports teams, the group led by investors Josh Harris and David Blitzer becomes the first to own professional video gaming team alongside big-time basketball and hockey franchises and an English Premier League club. They join a bevy of traditional sports owners and companies eager to profit on the growth of eSports, which draws hundreds of thousands of typically young, male fans to online matches and in-person tournaments.

Scott O’Neil, Chief Executive Officer of the 76ers and the Devils, said the organization will apply its experience with sponsorship and digital marketing to the new entity, a merger of Team Dignitas and Apex Gaming. The group also owns the Prudential Center, which could host eSports tournaments. A recent championship event sold out the Staples Center in Los Angeles in minutes.

“The intent is not to Sixer-ize Team Dignitas, it’s to give additional resources, reach and experiences that we think will translate,” O’Neil said in an interview.

Not long ago, O’Neil might have confidently counted on most young men to be basketball or hockey fans. Today, the same demographic -- more than half of eSports fans are between 21-35, the 76ers said -- might never watch a pro sports game. They might not even subscribe to cable. They’re more likely to interact online through fantasy sports or video games.

In 2016, e-sports will generate about $493 million from merchandising, media rights, tickets and more. That’s up 50 percent from 2015, according to Newzoo’s quarterly global market report, and revenue is expected to hit $1.1 billion before 2020.

Apex and Dignitas will play under the Team Dignitas name and logo and compete in a number of titles including League of Legends, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and Overwatch. The long-term plan also calls for the team to eventually participate in FIFA, which is the most popular sports video game.

With the investment, the Harris- and Blitzer-led group joins WME/IMG and Turner Sports, which co-own and televise a league, as well as Shaquille O’Neal and Alex Rodriguez, who invested in NRG eSports alongside Sacramento Kings co-owners Mark Mastrov and Andy Miller. The owners of European soccer clubs FC Schalke 04 in Germany and Valencia in Spain have purchased e-sports teams, too.

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