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Volume 21 No. 6

Finance

Hoping to claim a piece of growing corporate marketing budgets for competitive video gaming, experiential agency Engine Shop has acquired The Gamer Agency, a New York-based gaming and esports specialty shop.

The 25-person company will be fully integrated by the middle of the first quarter, Engine Shop CEO Brian Gordon said, and The Gamer Agency’s brand will not continue.

Gordon said The Gamer Agency appealed to him because it’s a close match with Engine Shop’s existing business in engagement and experiential marketing.

“What they do every day is really what we do, except they’re focused on clients who are in and around esports,” Gordon said. “That’s different because I think most agencies playing in the space right now are far more focused on the sales, the rights deals, the bigger, sort of home run things like that.”

The Gamer Agency was created in 2016 by GameCo, a Las Vegas company that builds and markets skill-based video game gambling machines. In a statement, GameCo CEO Blaine Graboyes said he’s proud of the agency’s growth and said it will thrive under new ownership. “Engine Shop’s expertise in engagement and experiential marketing will enhance its offering to the market,” he said.

The Gamer Agency’s most prominent project to date is the Mixer NYC Studio at Microsoft’s retail store in Manhattan, which it designed and continues to operate. The studio will have produced and distributed about 100 gaming events across several titles by the end of 2017. It’s also worked with Blizzard Entertainment, Intel, Unilever, Warner Bros. Disney, Pepsi and other brands.

Talks with GameCo began in the early spring. Gordon was introduced to Graboyes via managers at Courtside Ventures, which counts among its primary investors Bruin Sports Capital, which acquired Engine Shop in 2015. Graboyes was looking for a buyer for the marketing agency so he could return to his core business, Gordon said.

From the beginning, Gordon said, Engine Shop wanted to acquire an established gaming practice that could meet high-end clients’ needs immediately rather than build one organically.

“With a space that’s as dynamic and new as esports is right now, we didn’t feel we could enter the space in the way we wanted to enter the space by bringing on one or two people, or by looking around the room, asking, ‘Who’s passionate about esports? OK, you’re our esports person,’” he said.

For more coverage of the business of esports, visit our partners, esportsobserver.com.

JPMorgan led a consortium of banks lending $300 million to the new ownership group of the Miami Marlins, finance sources said.

A group led by Bruce Sherman and Derek Jeter closed on the $1.2 billion transaction in October after struggling over many months to raise funds. There is roughly an additional $200 million of debt (in preferred equity and $100 million from the MLB leaguewide loan pool); Sherman put in $400 million, and the remainder came in small chunks from investors such as Jeter.

The club is trying to raise $250 million more in equity, signaling the financial challenges that the team faces. The club is a perennial money loser and has struggled with attendance and TV ratings. In response, the club is seeking to offload last season’s National League MVP, Giancarlo Stanton, and the $295 million remaining on his contract.

Bankers who have seen the lending documents say the turnaround story is straightforward: Slash payroll, increase attendance and sign a better TV deal in the coming years. How the club hopes to boost attendance by slashing payroll is a question several finance sources asked.

There was plenty of appetite for the JPMorgan loan among other lenders, in part because of the general desire for sports debt in finance markets, and also due to the strength of MLB.

JPMorgan and the Marlins declined to comment.

Because MLB restrictions link the right to borrow to cash flow, the Marlins would have needed a waiver from the league for the $300 million loans, sources said (as the club has no positive cash flow). The waiver is based on projected future cash flows, sources said.