[toc]Manchester United are bidding against esports team Fnatic to sign up a “professional European Overwatch team,” according to a report from eSports News UK.
The unnamed Overwatch team is currently signed to another organisation, but the report says Fnatic has already made an offer and Manchester United has responded with a counter.
The Manchester United brand is a financial powerhouse
In 2012, Forbes estimated that Manchester United was the world’s most valuable sports brand at a value of $2.23 billion. Since then, it has been overtaken by Barcelona and Real Madrid, but Forbes now values it at $3.317 billion — a very healthy increase.
The company’s annual report for 2015 stated:
We have a very popular brand page on Facebook with over 66.1 million connections. In comparison, the New York Yankees have approximately 8.4 million Facebook connections and the Dallas Cowboys have approximately 8.0 million Facebook connections.
Furthermore, we have more Facebook connections than the NBA, NFL and MLB combined and we are the most popular Facebook page registered in the United Kingdom according to www.socialbakers.com.
The team’s parent company is listed on the New York Stock Exchange and currently enjoys a market capitalization of $2.75 billion. NYSE:MANU trades on p/e of 61.73 according to Yahoo Finance, an enormous number for an established company, and an indicator that the market believes it can expect even more rapid growth during the next few years.
The possibility of the company owning or taking a large stake in an esports team that could expose esports competition to Manchester United’s fan base of more than 650 million people is a significant step forward for the esports industry.
Fnatic lacks the financial firepower but offers esports prestige and understanding
Founded by Sam Mathews and Anne Mathews, Fnatic boasts more than two million followers on social media, and its YouTube channel has more than 315,000 subscribers. As a private company, valuation is only approximate, but eSports News UK suggests a figure of £30m ($42.5m).
Clearly Fnatic won’t be able to compete with the football team’s chequebook, but the targeted Overwatch team may prefer the Fnatic environment, which thoroughly understands the needs of esports players. Outside the U.K., Fnatic has offices in Belgrade, Serbia and a professional gaming house in Cologne, Germany.
Manchester United will have to offer excellent facilities to the Overwatch team if it is to compete with the Fnatic offer.
Manchester United is not shy of the betting and gaming world
Bwin.party has been a longtime sponsor of Manchester United, although new owners GVC have decided to stop using sports sponsorships for marketing. As part of its relationship with Manchester United, bwin.party developed a real-money gaming platform (paywall) which offered casino games to the team’s fans through a branded online portal.
The project ended last August after just four months of operation, showing that even the loyalty inspired by a brand as powerful as Manchester United could not guarantee commercial success. Even though the project failed, it showed how Manchester United is prepared to experiment with widening the products it offers its fan base.
Other football teams jumping on the esports bandwagon
Only a few days ago, the Spanish team Valencia announced it was sponsoring an esports team to play Hearthstone and Rocket League.
— Valencia CF 🦇💯 (@valenciacf) June 7, 2016
London football club West Ham United was the first, and so far only, U.K. soccer team to sign up an esports player. At the beginning of May, the team agreed to a deal with esports player Sean “Dragonn” Allen, who will represent the club while playing FIFA16.
Two weeks later, German club, FC Schalke 04, announced it was the owner of its own League of Legends team. Forbes ranks Schalke as the 14th most valuable football club in the world.
Schalke’s Chairman of the Board Moritz Beckers-Schwarz said:
“Esports has drastically increased in terms of professionalism within the last years. We want to speed up this process by making sure our players experience the best training conditions possible and assisting them in their development as professionals. We will fully commit to this and integrate them into the club.”
Whoever wins the bid for the Overwatch team, it looks like the sports sponsorship of esports will be one of the themes of 2016.
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