Activision shops new deals for Overwatch
Activision Blizzard is shopping additional media rights and major apparel and licensing deals for the Overwatch League.
Twitch is just five months into a two-year, $90 million exclusive streaming deal that covers the globe except for China, home to its largest fan base outside the U.S. by a wide margin. In China, two of the three streaming partnerships are one-year deals, meaning executives are already back in market.
Brandon Snow, new Activision Blizzard esports chief revenue officer who was recently hired away from the NBA, said being able to return to the massive Chinese market with actual viewership data from the first four months of the season will drive up prices.
“I would say that we see substantial growth in the media rights and distribution of our games,” said Snow, who spent two years in Beijing developing the NBA’s Chinese business. “When we think of the game growing, we’ve got 43 million people playing this, with over half that audience being outside the U.S., and a lot of that coming from China. The ability to distribute our league and games in those markets has a lot of upside beyond where we currently are.”
Snow would not speculate on what those deals would be worth, but two league sources believe new China deals could draw well into the eight figures annually. Prices were never disclosed for the initial round of Chinese rights, but sources said they were not major revenue drivers compared to the Twitch deal.
Activision Blizzard also is targeting Chinese markets in its goal of selling six expansion franchises in the Overwatch League. Today, the Shanghai Dragons, owned by Overwatch distributor NetEase, is the only Chinese-based team in the league. The Dragons are 0-30 in Overwatch League play.
NetEase’s streaming platform also has media rights in China, along with ZhanQi TV and Panda TV. The latter two are the one-year deals. Snow said Activision Blizzard has “a lot of flexibility” about how to structure its distribution in China.
“Any other relationships we may add through the franchise-based approach will help kind of shape that,” Snow said. “But the demand is there, it’s just a matter of putting it together the right way based on our business.”
Snow said the Overwatch League also is pursuing linear TV deals elsewhere for shoulder programming and feature content not covered by the Twitch deal.
Separately, Activision Blizzard also has been searching for help building an apparel and licensing business.
The league issued an RFP for a licensed merchandise partner at some point in the last few months, sources said. The initial respondents blanched at the terms, sources said, but Activision Blizzard reworked the terms and discussions are continuing. Legends and Fanatics are among those involved.
There’s also a hunt underway for an apparel sponsor/licensee, and talks have included traditional athletic apparel brands and others less familiar to the sports industry, Snow said. Activision Blizzard wants a company eager to re-imagine the entire concept of esports competition and lifestyle wear, he said.
“One of the things we’re very excited about is redefining what esports wear actually is,” Snow said. “To me, I don’t understand why the industry defaulted to just soccer jerseys as what the athletes wear. So the leadership position we have with Overwatch League, and what we are as a global footprint, allows the opportunity to maybe reset what that looks like.”
Teams believe there is serious unmet demand for team- and game-branded merchandise, but diversity of products and inventory management have been difficult with Activision Blizzard handling it in-house so far, one source said.
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