NBA team Miami HEAT have invested in esports organisation Misfits, the two parties announced this week. After being in talks for many months, the two have entered into a strategic partnership that sees Miami Heat aid Misfits in three key areas of expertise: merchandising, marketing, and sponsorship sales. The announcement has been particularly exciting for Overwatch fans as speculation centres around the Overwatch League Miami city slot.
Ben Spoont, owner of Misfits, and Michael McCullough, executive vice president and CMO of Miami Heat, have participated in multiple interviews about the partnership. In an interview on Sirius XM with Kevin Knocke, the two discussed the reasons behind investing and then dove deeper with Travis Gafford on Yahoo esports.
They noted that the partnership also involved a minor rebranding for Misfits, as the colour scheme was changed to match Heat’s red and black style, and the typography of their logo was altered to make it more legible. They also added a small Heat flame to the “T” of Misfits to tie together the two organisations. It was also revealed that Heat thought there was real value in the existing brand of Misfits despite its relative youth - they particularly liked the rabbit character and felt it was “iconic”.
One of the major focuses for Miami Heat is to improve the look and feel of Misfits moving forward. They have already kitted the team out with new jerseys and plan to use their in-house outfitting team to maximum effect to push Misfits ahead of other organisations in their merchandising and marketing.
In the interview with Travis Gafford, Michael McCullough stated repeatedly that Heat were very careful not to give the impression that a ‘big bad NBA team’ had come in and taken over a fan-favourite esports organisation. Ben Spoont confirmed to theScore esports that the Miami Heat stake does not represent a controlling interest in Misfits.
Misfits have a League of Legends team in the LCS, a top-five team in Heroes of the Storm, several players in Hearthstone and Smash, and of course their double championship-winning Overwatch team. The organisation has also, within the last few hours, acquired the ex-TSM CS:GO roster featuring Sean Gares.
Speaking about how the two organisation would be integrated, Michael McCullough stated, “We're gonna treat Misfits as if they're part of our organisation, and we are seamlessly integrating them into everything that we do." Ben Spoont expanded on how that would help his organisation, saying, “One of the other elements to having a successful esports org are very complicated and very nuanced aspects in the business, like merchandise, marketing, digital, sponsorship, ad sales, activation. These are all pieces of the business that are going to be fundamental to our growth, and so as we look build out our infrastructure, partnering with someone like the Miami Heat, who has immense knowledge and expertise in each of those areas, it really was a fantastic partnership."
Miami Heat are a huge organisation, as might be expected from a successful NBA team. At the beginning of 2016 Forbes valued Miami Heat at $1.3 billion, ranking them as the tenth-highest NBA franchise on their list.
They expanded on their reasons for moving into the esports space, saying:
We recognize that what esports brings to NBA teams is the opportunity to get involved at the ground floor of something that's really emerging with an audience that's primarily younger, millennial folks who are just coming into either the job market or into the opportunity where they can become participating fans of the stick and ball sports.
One of the things that intrigued us the most about Misfits was that, although they're a very young organisation, they already had a very strong focus on competing at the highest levels and a laser focus on winning, and winning championships. That's how we look at our organisation.
The single biggest question on the minds of Overwatch fans is whether this means Misfits are planning to buy, or have already bought, the Miami city slot in the upcoming Overwatch league. After several interviews with representatives from both organisations, there have been no questions - and certainly no answers - about this topic. This is apparently classic for Miami Heat: in an interview discussing the lack of leaks about the partnership, they said, “We kept things quiet because we wanted to make sure we understood as much as we could. We got really enthused about it,” Michael continued, “and the HEAT way is that nobody talks until we have something to say.”
So it seems that no news is not bad news for Overwatch fans. Miami Heat play at and have access to the AmericanAirlines Arena in Downtown Miami, an incredibly useful resource for Misfits if Overwatch moves towards regional home and away games as Blizzard are aiming towards in the next few years. “This partnership will be the catalyst and foundation to our continued expansion of the Misfits organization into a global esports brand and company,” Ben Spoont said: “The Heat—innovators and leaders in traditional sports—will help Misfits to unlock meaningful value across all facets of our business.”
Would Misfits really buy a slot in OWL that wasn’t Miami, with Heat behind them as investors? At the moment, as with everything OWL, all we have is speculation.