Texas Rangers’ Neil Leibman talks development, esports
Neil Leibman quietly has been one of the most impactful sports industry executives this year. Part of the Ray Davis-led ownership group that purchased the Texas Rangers in 2010, Leibman in April became the club’s chief operating officer. He is now playing a key leadership role in the large-scale development ongoing in Arlington that includes the Texas Live! entertainment and dining complex, and the forthcoming Live! By Loews hotel and Globe Life Field, the latter of which will be the team’s stadium starting in 2020. He also is one of the most active esports investors anywhere, leading the Infinite Esports & Entertainment company that includes OpTic Gaming, an Overwatch League franchise in Houston, a live events operator, a new esports arena in Arlington that opened recently and other companies.
Why did you make the move from being a part-owner of the Rangers to a larger and more public operational role?
LEIBMAN: In reality, my roles haven’t changed, just my title. It was a housecleaning mechanism so our EVPs weren’t reporting to an owner, they were reporting to an officer. It made for a cleaner corporate structure. It’s brought more continuity to the organization and was really more a basic business 101 fix.
What is the status of Texas Live! and the ballpark? Are you still on target?
LEIBMAN: Texas Live! is open. It’s doing very well. We think it will continue to do better in the future. The hotel will open late July, early August of next year. That’s on schedule. And the stadium will open in April of 2020, and we’re really excited. It’s on schedule, slightly over budget, but on schedule.
We’ve seen projects such as Atlanta’s SunTrust Park and The Battery use a ballpark as the anchor of a much larger mixed-use development. How much was that an influence on your project?
LEIBMAN: We always believed that Arlington was our entertainment district. I think about destinations and I think about Las Vegas, I think about Orlando. And then this, being right smack in the middle of Dallas-Fort Worth, that I think will become a classic destination.
What will be happening with the team’s existing stadium, Globe Life Park, once you move out of there?
LEIBMAN: We will [soon announce] two potential purposes for the stadium. I’m currently under some confidentiality agreements so I can’t get into detail. The basic idea is also to use the facade, utilize the existing stadium facility, and we would ultimately love to put an office tower and a residential tower on either side of the existing stadium.
What has you so excited about esports, beyond the topline growth metrics?
LEIBMAN: I have a 20-year-old son, he’s now at Texas Christian University, and for the last six years he’s been locked in his room playing video games, playing “Call of Duty,” playing “Counter-Strike.” I see the enthusiasm he puts forth in playing the games. I hear his friends. It’s all they talk about. We’ve all heard about “Fortnite” and so forth. So we want to capitalize on this and be the gold standard in esports teams.
A lot of entities in esports have chosen just one part of the value chain. You’re doing multiple parts. Why?
LEIBMAN: I think we had to. And if you ask all the esports team owners, they’d all say they’ve gotten into esports, they’re working on fan engagement, branding and getting followers, but nobody has cracked the code on monetizing fan engagement. So we’re treating this like a professional sports team.
You recently made a series of staff changes at Infinite, including staff cuts and the removal of President Chris Chaney. Why?
LEIBMAN: We just got a little ahead of our skis. We’re growing, but what we had was a separate company for every idea. We had too many layers. So all we did was cut back and bring that back to a break-even or slight loss situation [financially]. We’re now moving forward with a lighter, more nimble group, cutting away all the layers, getting away from the officers for every individual entity. It’s now one brand, one entity.