Licensing tied to e-sports leagues, governing bodies, teams, and athletes has been slowly growing for the past three or so years. Most of the action to date has occurred through specialist licensees and distributors such as We Are Nations, Meta Threads, EsportsOnly.com, Manatee.gg, and Esportsclothing.com. There have also been occasional capsule collections, as well as promotional partnerships that incorporate a limited merchandise component.
Recently, however, mainstream sports licensees and retailers, including some big players, have been entering the e-sports arena:
• Foot Locker announced earlier this month that it would sell jerseys, sweatshirts, and t-shirts tied to five e-sports teams—Counter Logic Gaming, Dignitas, OpTic Gaming, Renegades, and Spacestation Gaming—supplied by Champion Athleticwear. After being introduced on the NTWRK shopping app, the shirts are being sold online and in select bricks-and-mortar stores across the company’s Foot Locker, Champs Sports, Eastbay, and Footaction nameplates.
• The ’47 headwear brand, a licensee of the major U.S. pro sports leagues and universities, paired with e-sports retail and merchandise company We Are Nations in April of this year to offer caps tied to the teams and leagues with which the latter works. The first product was a Team Liquid hat in honor of its Legends Championship Series (LCS) Spring Finals win.
• Stance will produce socks for all 21 teams who participate in the NBA 2K League, tied to Take Two Interactive’s NBA-licensed game, as well as for specific competitions. (Stance is already a licensee of the NBA.) As part of the deal, in-game avatars will also wear Stance socks. Fans can purchase the products on Stance’s website.
• Fanatics announced in December 2018 that it would become the official licensing and retail partner of Activision Blizzard’s Overwatch League. As part of the deal, its first in e-sports, Fanatics is producing jerseys, headwear, fan gear, and hard goods for all wholesale and retail channels globally, as well as operating the league’s ecommerce platform and on-site retail shops.
The fact that these deals involve established pro sports licensees and retail partners rather than e-sports specialists, and that they are, for the most part, traditional long-term licensing deals as opposed to sponsorships, promotions, or short-term collaborations, suggests that we may be reaching an inflection point where e-sports licensing is transforming from niche to mainstream.