A Pro E-sports Team Is Getting $210 Million to Change Its Name

The dialog began with a direct message on Twitter from one 29-year-old entrepreneur to one other: “Yo, what’s up?” It ended with one of many extra profitable naming rights offers in current sports activities historical past.

On Friday, TSM, a aggressive online game group primarily based in Los Angeles, introduced that it was altering its title to TSM FTX — and getting paid $210 million over 10 years within the course of. FTX, an up-and-coming Hong Kong-based cryptocurrency change, will foot the invoice.

The annual $21 million fee is bigger than many offers companies have struck with conventional sports activities groups in current a long time to have their names hooked up to stadiums and arenas. It is comparable to current transactions like Citibank’s cope with the Mets ($21 million per 12 months), MetLife’s contract with the Giants and Jets (about $19 million per 12 months) and the British financial institution Barclays’ settlement with the Nets ($20 million per 12 months).

Of course, the large distinction right here is that TSM is altering its precise title — the equal of the New England Patriots, who play in Gillette Stadium, rebranding because the New England Patriots Gillettes.

The settlement between the 2 corporations comes as each cryptocurrencies and gaming have taken on new relevance in the course of the coronavirus pandemic, with folks caught at house trying to find on-line leisure and methods to make investments and generate income, typically in unconventional (and dangerous) methods. Interest in video video games has elevated considerably over the previous 12 months — together with in e-sports, the place some skilled gamers make hundreds of thousands of dollars and vie for championships in leagues devoted to video games like Fortnite and League of Legends. More than 57 million folks in North America watched an e-sports occasion in 2020, in accordance to Newzoo, a gaming analytics agency.

The worth of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin have additionally skyrocketed in the previous couple of months; even with a current downturn, one Bitcoin was price greater than $36,000 on Thursday, up from just below $10,000 a 12 months in the past. That has led to super enterprise for cryptocurrency exchanges, which assist shoppers purchase and promote digital currencies by a so-called digital pockets, taking a minimize of every sale.

Sam Bankman-Fried, the chief govt of FTX, which stands for Futures Exchange, mentioned he shortly noticed the parallels between his firm and TSM after a collection of Twitter messages with Andy Dinh, a TSM founder and chief govt.

“Taking a huge industry and then reimagining it in a digital age: that’s sort of what e-sports are to sports, and it’s sort of what crypto is to investing and to finance,” Bankman-Fried mentioned.

TSM, which was initially often known as Team SoloMid earlier than switching to its three-letter abbreviation, fields groups in additional than 10 completely different online game leagues and was valued by Forbes final 12 months at $410 million — making it essentially the most beneficial e-sports firm within the United States.

TSM members in 2014.Credit…Jean Chung for The New York Times

Dinh mentioned he initially reached out to Bankman-Fried intending to spend money on FTX, however the naming deal shortly got here collectively. He mentioned the cash would go towards attracting star gamers with higher salaries and placing collectively groups in additional e-sports leagues. TSM, Dinh mentioned, would additionally open places of work in China, Europe and South America.

“It gives us a strong foothold to really grow our brand globally,” Dinh mentioned. “We want to truly be a global e-sports team. We have to invest in having bases in multiple places.”

For FTX, the deal offers the cryptocurrency change better recognition within the United States, the place it operates a small platform. Earlier this 12 months, FTX signed a cope with the Miami Heat and Miami-Dade County, Fla. for $135 million over 19 years to safe the naming rights to the world the place the Heat play. By working with TSM, Bankman-Fried mentioned he hoped that the crypto change, which launched in 2019, would grow to be acquainted to extra Americans and make them extra comfy with doing enterprise with the change.

FTX is presently elevating cash that might worth it at $20 billion, he mentioned.

The majority of FTX’s gross sales occur outdoors the United States, the place FTX permits folks to purchase and promote what are often known as tokenized shares and crypto derivatives; basically, bets on the longer term worth of currencies like Bitcoin, in addition to wagers on different future political and monetary prospects.

Such bets are comparatively new, largely unregulated and may be dangerous, so they’re usually not provided by U.S. cryptocurrency exchanges or authorized U.S. sports activities books (some casinos outdoors the United States enable playing on elections). FTX’s U.S. operation solely gives conventional cryptocurrency buying and selling.

Some worldwide exchanges may supply tokenized shares with out collateral, compounding the riskiness of coping with offshore exchanges that may make it tough for patrons to discover them or pursue authorized motion in opposition to them if vital. “The effect is to deprive its users of the right to exercise their rights against that exchange if something goes sideways,” mentioned Christine Duhaime, a lawyer who’s a monetary crime professional.

But FTX says it’s no fly-by-night operation: its tokenized shares do have collateral by a registered brokerage agency, and it’s safer than different offshore exchanges, the corporate mentioned.

Bankman-Fried, a graduate of Massachusetts Institute of Technology who was described in a Wall Street Journal profile as a “vegan billionaire” who sleeps on a bean bag in his workplace in Hong Kong, has sought to carry some credibility to the observe of buying and selling such shares with FTX.

He mentioned FTX was merely forward of the curve in providing currencies and bets that folks had been concerned about, and predicted the U.S. would ultimately regulate such actions.

“There are some sketchy exchanges internationally; I think there are also some professional ones,” he mentioned.

Friday’s deal, the 2 chief executives mentioned, was only the start of their corporations’ partnership.

“TSM could potentially have a larger and brighter future than just what this means today,” Dinh mentioned.