The Philadelphia 76ers of the NBA have acquired Team Dignitas and Apex, becoming the first North American pro sports franchise to own and operate its own esports team. The 76ers said the two outfits will be merged under the Team Dignitas name, and will field teams in League of Legends, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Overwatch, Heroes of the Storm, and Smite.
The 76ers and its ownership group, which holds other pro sports teams including the New Jersey Devils of the NHL and the English Premier League team Crystal Palace FC, will “directly manage” the day-to-day operations of the newly-unified Team Dignitas, “sharing best practices in sponsorship, sales, branding, digital marketing, merchandising, publicity and more,” the team said. Michael O'Dell, formerly the managing director of the pre-merged Dignitas, will assume the role of president of the new team, while former Apex owner Michael Slan will step in as vice-president and general manager. Greg Richardson of Rumble Entertainment will serve as chairman.
“The attractiveness of this deal is as much about the people as it is the opportunity,” Philadelphia 76ers CEO Scott O’Neil said. “Bringing together gaming industry luminaries including Greg Richardson, Michael O’Dell and David and Michael Slan puts us on track to build the most respected and dominant franchise in the esports space, spur fan engagement, and reimagine corporate sponsorship to create a vibrant, global e-arena where the greatest players in the world aspire to compete.”
The 76ers aren't the first pro sports organization to get involved in esports: German soccer team Schalke picked up LoL team Elements earlier this year, and Premier League clubs West Ham and Manchester City have their own pro FIFA players. But in terms of scope, and also of visibility in the North American makret, this easily outstrips them all, and it puts Team Dignitas—and the 76ers—in a uniquely powerful and privileged position. I expect other teams will follow their lead.