Sixers bet on eSports

The NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers are making history. No, they’re not making a historic title run. In fact, until they get past LeBron and his Cavs, that dream’s little more than a wisp of the wind. But that doesn’t mean the team can’t do something exciting and groundbreaking off the court.

Recently, the Sixers announced they are buying two eSports teams. This makes Philadelphia the first pro team in the United States to dive into the pool of video game competitions called eSports.

eSports is a form of the popular massive multiplayer video gaming format that includes real-time strategy games, first-person shooters, arena battles, and other tournament-style competitions. Winners take home prize money and, sometimes, salaries from various promotions. The industry is growing, and there’s certainly money to be made. It could be a perfect marriage for a strong basketball program in a league searching for ways to make its sport more profitable for ownership.

It’s no secret the NBA is the league of the haves, and the have-nots. Top tier programs like the Lakers and the Knicks make big money year in and year out, win or lose, while other programs in smaller markets struggle. But, to keep the completion alive for the bigger cities, a profit sharing program is in place. Still, without the marquee matchups of previous decades, the league is suffering a loss of fans. That, coupled with pro hockey’s growing popularity, has the NBA and the NHL fighting for the Number 3 spot in national pro sports promotions.

While the team didn’t reference this reality, Sixers CEO Scott O’Neill did tell CNN, “We’re always looking for new and exciting opportunities, and eSports is an incredible, growing space…”

It might sound odd for an ownership group dedicated to a single entity to talk up another industry, but there’s tons of crossover potential between eSports and the NBA. The fan base itself is a heavily overlapping Venn diagram. The new generation of basketball fans that grew up with Kobe and Lebron also grew up playing games online. The divide between sports fans and gamers is growing thinner. What used to be two disparate groups is becoming one larger cohort with only the outliers who do one or the other.

So, while the Sixers are the first pro ball team to buy into eSports, they will probably not be the last. The current plan, according to CNN, is for the Sixers to merge two eSports teams, Dignitas and Apex, into a single organization, then turn that super team loose on the top five eSports opportunities – League of Legends, Counter-Strike, Overwatch, Heroes of the Storm, and Smite.

The Sixers will manage operations for the eSports team and build up the sponsorship and promotion streams, as well as the social media presence. In doing so, the team will bring decades of proven promotional savvy into a relatively new industry trying to figure out the best way to turn a profit. Their success (or failure) could provide a template for other pro sports organizations to follow suit, pumping a lot of new money and interest into eSports.

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Ronn Torossian is the Founder, President and CEO of New York-based 5W Public Relations. He has overseen the company's rapid growth and expansion to the Inc. 500 list, as well as provided counsel to hundreds of companies, including members of the Fortune 500, Inc. 500 and Forbes 400. His work spans global interests, corporate entities, high-profile individuals, regional business entities, government agencies and academic institutions - both on routine public relations matters and extremely sensitive issues. One of the foremost public relations experts in the U.S., Torossian is known for his aggressive, results-focused orientation, as well as his close working relationships with members of the media, influencers, decision makers, politicians and celebrities. At 5W Public Relations, Torossian's client experience has included programs for Coca-Cola, Microsoft, Anheuser-Busch, Barnes & Noble, Cantor Fitzgerald, IHOP, McDonald's, Evian, EDS, VeriSign, XM Radio, Seagram's, The Loews Regency, Bad Boy Worldwide Entertainment, Marriott Hotels, Vail Resorts, Pamela Anderson, Snoop Dogg, the Government of Israel, and others. Referred to by The New York Post as a "publicity guru," by Fox News as a "high-powered PR CEO," by Tyra Banks as a "crisis management guru," and by CNN as "a leading PR expert," Torossian is regularly featured in and quoted by the media, including by CNN, Fox News Channel, MSNBC, NBC, The New York Times, and others. CBS National News said "Ronn Torossian knows spin," and a New York Times feature story on Torossian referred to him as "The consummate hard-driving, scrappy NY publicist." Earlier in his career, Torossian was a Vice President/Group Director for one of The InterPublic Group's (IPG) largest PR agencies, where he was responsible for significant client growth and successful client programs, including work for Clinique, Fox News Channel, DHL, Hard Rock Café and others. A resident of Manhattan’s Upper West Side, Torossian was named to the Advertising Age "40 Under 40" list, PR Week's "40 Under 40" List, is a regular lecturer at universities and conferences, a member of Young Presidents Organization (YPO) and a board member of numerous non-profit organizations.

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