NBA’s $1 Billion Licensing Deal Really About Building the Next Generation of Fans


Take-Two Interactive (TTWO) will pay the NBA (and the NBAPA) up to $1.1 billion – more than 2x the value of the expiring deal – over the next 7 years, for the rights to use team logos and player likeness’ (must-haves for gamers) in its popular 2K game; as of November, NBA 2K19 was the best-selling sports game of 2018 and 3rd best-selling overall. The global licensing rights extension includes NBA2K Mobile and the free-to-play games (in China only) NBA2K Online and NBA2K Online2, games with a combined 40 million users.

Howie Long-Short: Video game licensing rights are calculated based on a percentage of product sales (typically 10%-15%) and NBA2K posted a franchise sales record in ‘18 (10 million), so TTWO’s rising costs are a product of the title’s success more than anything else. Competitor Electronic Arts Inc. (publishes NBA Live) – which sells a fraction of the units – will be stretched to move forward with a rights fees increase on their next deal, but the company won’t pay anywhere close to the same amount as TTWO because they’re not generating equal revenue.

NBA2K was first released in 1999. Few gaming titles remain relevant within pop-culture beyond their initial release, so it’s worth wondering why the 2K franchise has been able to thrive for 20 years? Tony Ponturo, EVP at Turnkey Intelligence (strategic consulting for leagues/teams/facilities), told me “there are several reasons why NBA2K has had staying power. One is the game itself. The content is so good that there’s been repeat and growth business for the NBA2K brand. The second has been the increase in young fans watching the game – the growth of the young male demographic has given a boost to the game; and the NBA’s also experienced tremendous international growth that’s helped to increase the potential audience.”

While 2K has certainly benefited from the NBA’s youth movement, it has been a 2-way street. In fact, one could argue that despite the $1.1 billion figure receiving all the headlines, the NBA’s deal with TTWO is truly about building the next generation of fans. Tony explained, “NBA2K has helped to grow awareness of the sport on a global basis and it’s resulted in more fans, more knowledgeable fans and more passionate fans of the league. Fans of NBA2K – particularly those abroad – may not be going to the games and millennials might not spend 2.5 hours watching a traditional television broadcast, but the video game helps to begin shaping their passion for the league; they can become fans through the video game.”

The NBA has invested in esports with the introduction of the NBA2K League, so it would seem as if TTWO would have had some leverage in negotiations (it’s been said they paid on the high-side of the 10%-15% range referenced), but Tony explained that it was really the NBA with all the leverage. “TTWO understands that without NBA trademarks and an association with the league’s players, that they don’t have a basketball gaming business; they had no leverage. You also can’t deny that the NBA gained leverage during this round of negotiations as there’s no longer a collegiate game for TTWO to compete against (EA’s popular NCAA Basketball game existed back in ’11); the rights are that much more valuable with the pro game now capturing all basketball gaming business.”

It should be noted that while NBA2K Online and NBA2K Online 2 are free to play, the games do offer micro transactions. That’s important as the small digital in-game purchases accounted for +/- 50% of the TTWO’s total net revenue in fiscal Q2 ’19.

Fan Marino: The NBA2K League – a JV between the NBA and TTWO – has announced intentions (no time-frame) of going global because simply put, that’s where the fans are; 53% of the 380 million esports fans around the world reside in Asia or the Pacific and another 18% live in Europe. No timeframe has been established for international expansion, but with the ability for the teams to compete without traveling – few hurdles stand in the way. 21 NBA teams will field clubs that will compete in the NBA2K League’s sophomore season. Brendan Donahue, managing director of the 2K League, has said that the league could ultimately include teams in 45+ cities.

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Knicks Gaming Claims 2K League Title, League to Expand for Sophomore Season

Knicks Gaming

The NBA 2K League completed its inaugural season on Saturday with the 8th seed Knicks Gaming defeating the 6th seed HEAT Check Gaming 2-0 (69-66, 74-71). More than 68,000 concurrent viewers (at peak) tuned in for the finals. The league’s sophomore season will see the addition of 4 new teams (21 total) as the Los Angeles Lakers, Minnesota Timberwolves, Brooklyn Nets and Atlanta Hawks have committed to fielding gaming franchises; just 9 NBA clubs remain without a 2K affiliate. L.A., Minnesota, Brooklyn and Atlanta will pay the same $750,000 expansion fee (covers 3 seasons) that the founding franchises did, though they will bear the costs associated with the creation of their gaming team’s brand; the league covered that expense for the first 17 franchises. While the NBA 2K League’s competition committee has yet to decide the number of players that each existing franchise will get to protect, there will be an expansion draft on September 28th; there will also be another tryout, combine and ultimately a rookie draft to fill out team rosters.

Howie Long-Short: Since July 13, the league has averaged 10,500 concurrent viewers per broadcast. While that figure represents significant growth from the league’s debut in May, several owners have indicated they were disappointed that viewership/engagement figures led to underwhelming league sponsorship/partnership sales during the debut season.

Shares of 2K publisher Take-Two Interactive Software (TTWO) hit an all-time high ($134.63) following posting of company’s Q1 earnings report in early August. The stock rose +9% on news that “better than expected recurrent consumer spending on Grand Theft Auto Online and NBA 2K18 (perhaps boosted by the league’s presence), as well as robust ongoing demand for Grand Theft Auto V” drove net bookings +11.5% YoY (to $288.3 million) and net income +19 YoY (to $71.7 million). Don’t expect sales to come to a halt anytime soon either, the company is releasing the much-hyped Red Dead Redemption 2 in October. Samantha Greenberg of Margate Capital Management recently called the company’s content pipeline “the largest in company history.” Shares are +22% YTD, opening at $134.01 later this morning.

Fan Marino: Take Two Interactive reported that it sold more than 20 million copies of NBA 2K18, a record for the +/- 20 old gaming franchise (debuted in ’99); the company’s highest-selling sports title of all-time. The 2019 edition of the game (NBA 2K19) will be released on September 11th.

Knicks Gaming finished 14th in the regular season standings. The team only qualified for the postseason because it won The Ticket tournament (winner became auto-qualifier) as the 15th seed.

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NBA2K Viewership up +760% in 8 Weeks, Interview with Dimez (League’s Biggest Star)


The NBA2K League wrapped up week 10 (of 12, they also had 3 tournaments) of its inaugural season this past weekend, with 13 teams still vying for the 6 remaining playoff spots (Blazer5 Gaming & Knicks Gaming have already qualified). As the playoff chase has begun to heat up, so too have the league’s concurrent viewership figures; games that were drawing just 2,900 viewers/per in week 2, saw that figure increase 25,000/per during The Ticket Tournament (July 12-14). Eager to see exactly what had commanded a +760% viewership increase in just 8 weeks, JohnWallStreet attended Friday night’s Mavs Gaming vs. Magic Gaming contest (Magic won 74-58). Just prior to the game, JWS met up with Dimez (Artreyo Boyd), the league’s most marketable star to discuss gamer compensation, how the 2K league should market to the traditional sports fan and his plans post retirement.

JWS: You were the #1 overall pick and have been used as the face of the league, but take home the same salary as the rest of the league’s first round selections. Should you be paid more?  

Dimez: Obviously, I would say yes because it’s me. I understand what you are saying though, because I have more things to do than everyone else. I represent the brand (NBA2KLeague), I represent the league’s brand (NBA), my own brand, the Mavs brand; so, I would love to be paid more.

JWS: You mentioned that the skills that make you a great NBA2K player transfer to other games. The natural follow-up question then becomes, why don’t you play a game that is more lucrative (it’s been reported Ninja makes $500K+/month playing Fortnite)?

Dimez: To be honest, I’m just not as good at it (Fortnite). I’m not going to say I’m as good as Ninja, Ninja is just different; he’s the best at the game of Fortnite, that’s who I watch. I’m just not as good as the pros are at their games. I couldn’t get on Call of Duty and beat Scump or Nadeshot in a 1v1. Then again, I haven’t put the time in either. I dedicate all my time, all my effort to 2K; this is where my passion is at. I’m not as passionate about those games as their pros are.

JWS: The league has shown tremendous growth between weeks 2 and 10, growing viewership +760%. Considering the platform though (Twitch), it’s likely many of those viewers are gamers themselves. How do you go about selling this product to the mainstream sports fan?

Dimez: Whenever I’m describing it, I compare it to the real NBA because that’s really what it is. Whether it’s excitement, big plays, dunks or trash talking, we give you everything the real NBA gives you. I describe the league as a literal mimic of the NBA. You have NBA teams. We’re playing 5v5. We’re all guarding one person. We have fans. We have everything that the actual NBA has.   

JWS: Considering esports is in its infancy, it’s theoretically possible you could earn enough money gaming to one day acquire a team.  Is ownership among your future goals?

Dimez: Yes, of course. Ownership, coaching, just being in the space in general. I’m always asking questions. I’m a player, but I want to know about the things that go on behind the scenes. The business part of it, the sponsorship part of it, partnerships, everything. I want to know everything about the space, so, I’m always asking questions. I definitely see myself owning a team, being a coach, whatever it takes. Like I said, I believe in it (esports); especially the 2K League.

Editor note: It’s been reported that each of the 17 NBA franchises participating in the inaugural season of the NBA2K League paid a $750,000 entry fee to join the league.

Howie Long-Short: The NBA2K League is a collaboration between the NBA and Take Two Interactive (TTWO), the publisher of NBA2K franchise. In May, the company issued strong results for fiscal FY18 reporting growth in “net bookings, earnings and cashflow, along with margin expansion”; and operating results that exceeded projections.

NBA2K18 is TTWO’s highest selling game of all-time with over 9 million copies (+17% YoY) sold. The company reported “average revenue per user, revenue per hour, and unique multiplayer users all increased double-digits” YoY and “recurrent consumer spending on NBA2K grew 34% to a new record.” It’s expected that the increased exposure generated by the 2K League will increase both recurrent spending on the game and game sales in fiscal 2019. The company will release Q1 ’19 financials on August 2nd.

Fan MarinoTTWO recently announced it will be publishing an arcade-style basketball game, (think: NBA Jam) entitled “NBA 2K Playgrounds 2”, this fall. I loved NBA Jam as a kid and the sales figures for the original “NBA Playgrounds” game (created by independent development studio, released in 2017) indicated interest in arcade-style games (publishers had stopped making them to focus on simulation-style games), so I love TTWO’s decision to release NBA Playgrounds; I just question the timing of the release. The fall is a historically tough time to sell games. Gamers spend much of their money on titles released in Aug/Sept. (think: Madden) and the competition from “other AAA video games is more intense during that season than at any other time of the year.”

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102 Gamers Selected During Inaugural NBA 2K League Draft


The NBA 2K League held its inaugural draft on Wednesday, at the Hulu Theatre at Madison Square Garden. 102 gamers were selected by the league’s 17 participating franchises, with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver introducing the 1st overall selection; Artreyo “Dimez” Boyd, selected by Mavs Gaming. First round selections will sign 6-month contracts worth $35,000, with the balance of the league’s players taking home a base salary of $32,000 annually. All players will receive room and board, medical insurance and a retirement plan. The teams, each consisting of 6 players, will compete for their share of $1 million prize pool. Game locations, the number of games to be played and the number of teams that will qualify for the playoffs, are among the details that still need to be worked out.

Howie Long-Short: The NBA 2K League is a collaboration between the NBA and Take Two Interactive (TTWO), the publisher of NBA 2K franchise. The company’s Q3 ’18 earnings report was highlighted by a reported +64% YoY increase in recurrent consumer spending (32% of total net revenue) and an 8% increase (to $258.4 million) in digitally delivered net revenue (54% of total net revenue). It’s expected that the increased exposure generated by the 2K League will increase both recurrent spending on the game and game sales in fiscal 2019. It should be noted that NBA 2K was the 2nd best-selling video game of 2017 in U.S.

Earlier this week, the NBA 2K League named Dell (DVMT) and Intel (INTC) as its first 2 Official Partners. Dell’s Alienware gaming PCs, powered by Intel processors, will be the exclusive machines used in competition. Both companies reported record Q4 ‘17 revenue. DVMT was +9% YoY to $21.9 billion, while INTC was +8% YoY (excluding McAfee) to $17.1 billion. Record holiday season sales for gaming products was among Dell’s quarterly highlights.

Fun Fact: NBA owners have taken the biggest leap into the esports space (projected to approach $1 billion in revenue this year), with 13 ownership teams having invested in or acquired teams. For comparison purposes, just 6 MLB ownership groups and 3 NFL owners maintain an equity interest in a competitive gaming franchise.

Fan Marino: 0 of the 102 gamers that made up the league’s inaugural draft eligible player pool, were female. While a bad look, it certainly wasn’t a conscious one by the league. Tryouts were open and gamers were not asked to disclose their sex until after the combine. Commissioner Silver said that the league has launched an initiative focused on the recruitment and development of female gamers; they’ll also work to gain an understanding of gender disparities in competitive gaming (just 1 female finished among the combine’s Top 250 performers).

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Wizards Owner Expects NBA 2K League to “Dwarf the NFL”

The NBA and Take-Two Interactive Software (TTWO) are launching the NBA 2K League in 2018; 17 NBA teams have committed to participating for a period of 3 years. Each franchise will have the opportunity to select 5 gamers at the March ’18 draft (tryouts begin in January), with the 15-week season (followed by 2 week post-season) set to begin in May. TTWO sold 43 million copies of “2K18” within the U.S. and China, so the NBA is convinced the league will be a success; but as it currently stands, there’s work to do. The NBA 2K League remains without a broadcast partner, a central gaming location (for competition) and has yet decide if competition will be held on Xbox or Playstation systems.

Howie Long-Short: The NBA isn’t the only business convinced esports is going to provide a significant return on investment; through 2016, 50 non-endemic brands had invested within esports and that number has more than doubled over the first 9 months of 2017. Non-Endemic? The term describes a second class of sponsorship; brands not traditionally tied to the business being advertised or product being sold (i.e. NBA – sneakers, balls etc.). Need an example of a non-endemic brand that earned endemic status? PepsiCo (PEP); NFL fans didn’t associate the brand with the sport until the company invested in the Super Bowl halftime show.

Fan Marino: Caps & Wizards owner Ted Leonsis believes “very quickly, esports will be the largest participatory sport with the most active participants”; further projecting the league will generate revenues that “dwarfs the NFL”. Leonsis is bullish because esports is a “global phenomenon”, but so is the EPL (players from 113 different nations have played) and that league generates less than half the revenue ($6 billion) of the NFL ($14 billion). I tend to believe what former AFL Commissioner David Baker recently told us; “it takes 60 years to grow a major league” and to while you can “flash”, to sustain success “it’s got to be multi-generational”.

‘It will dwarf the NFL’: The NBA’s going all-in on esports with the NBA 2K League

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MGM, Professional Sports Leagues Backing Esports Development Studio

Former WME-IMG executive Tobias Sherman, backed by seed funding from MGM Resorts International (MGM), has launched Foundry IV; a studio that intends on developing games with “esports prioritized at the earliest DNA.” That philosophy differs from industry norms, which tends to see publishers use competition as a method of marketing their games. Sherman, who previously lead the esports department at WME-IMG and helped to co-found the ELeague, will act as the company’s CEO. Foundry IV is raising a Series A round, with professional sports leagues said to be invested.

Howie Long-Short: Take-Two Interactive (TTWO) reported Q2 revenue figures that beat market estimates ($577 million to $511.3 million) and the company raised full-year adjusted revenue forecasts (from $1.65 billion to $1.93 billion), as sales have been strong for both NBA2K ’18 and Grand Theft Auto 5. TTWO also reported a 31% YOY increase (to $303 million) in digitally delivered net revenue and said that it expects to record net bookings in fiscal ‘19. Shares rose 10.58% following Wednesday’s news.

Fan Marino: Activision Blizzard’s (ATVI) Call of Duty: WWII generated $500M in sales over its first 3 days on the market; while setting a day 1 record for full-game downloads on PS4. The new game sold twice as many copies as last year’s Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare did during the first weekend; which would seem to indicate that gamers are not yet tired of the 15-year old franchise. That’s good news for esports franchise owners. I’ve had difficulty envisioning scenarios in which games could remain popular over an extended period. Perhaps my concerns are overblown.

Former WME|IMG executive Tobias Sherman creates game studio Foundry IV

Editor Note: The summary for this story was co-written by our friends at The Water Coolest. Check out for the latest market news and professional advice.

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EA Sports Reports “Strong Quarter”, Kicks Off Qualifying for FIFA eWorld Cup 2018

Qualifying tournaments for EA Sports’ (EA) FIFA eWorld Cup 2018 are underway and will run through July ’18, narrowing the field down to 128 participants (64 PS4 (SNE), 64 Xbox One (MSFT)) who will compete in the FIFA ’18 Global Series Playoffs. The tournament will include both players signed to professional teams as well as amateur tournament winners. Those who advance will play in in the FIFA eWorld Cup Grand Final, with the winner of each playoff (PS4, Xbox One) receiving a $35,000 prize.

Howie Long-Short: EA Sports announced fiscal Q2 revenues rose 7.4% YOY on an adjusted basis (to $1.18 billion), reducing the company’s net loss to $22 million (from $38 million in ’16). CEO Andrew Wilson called it a “strong quarter”, writing that “the company benefited from the customer’s response to EA Sports games (Madden NFL, FIFA), and its mobile games”. CFO Blake Jorgensen said that the company had experienced notable growth in its high-margin digital business (+21.7% to $689 million) during the quarter. As of the close on Wednesday, the stock is up more than 45% on the year.

Fan Marino: More of an NBA 2K (TTWO) gamer than a FIFA one? 2K Sports has announced that the latest release of NBA 2K18 features verified users. That means gamers will know if they’re playing against NBA players, celebrities or members of the 2K development team. Fans are going to flip when they realize they’re playing as LeBron, against LeBron.

FIFA and EA announce the first eWorld Cup

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Take Two Interactive (TTWO) has introduced Neighborhood, a new virtual game mode never seen in a sports video game, for NBA 2K18. Neighborhood enables game players to take command of their virtual character (MyPlayer) and bring it in to the “real world”, experiencing everything from haircuts to gym workouts. The Neighborhoods system will work seamlessly with MyCareer, MyPark, and Pro-Am modes; giving the game player the ability to improve their MyPlayer. NBA2K 18 is scheduled to be released on September 19th for Windows PC, Xbox 360, Xbox 1, PS3, PS4 and Nintendo Switch.

Howie Long-Short: TTWO increased earnings 36% for Q1 ’18, despite not releasing a single new game. Perhaps even more impressively, recurrent consumer spending was up 71% YOY. Recurrent Consumer spending, a term used to describe in-game sales made after the initial purchase, made up half the company’s digital net sales for the quarter.

Fan Marino: We now live in a world where people send their MyPlayer to the gym, but don’t workout themselves. What a time to be alive!

NBA 2K18 Introduces A Brand New Experience Called ‘Neighborhood’


The NBA and Take-Two Interactive (TTWO) will be launching an “NBA2K” esports league in the spring of 2018. Teams representing NBA organizations will be comprised of 5 digital athletes, each competing for contracts and endorsement deals in addition to the league championship. The idea is for the league to mirror the NBA as closely as possible, with players treating the season as a full-time job. 17 teams will compete in the inaugural season, though important details including; how to draft players, the set-up for broadcasting/streaming and the implementation of a salary cap are still to be worked out.

Howie Long-Short: Amazon (AMZN) owned Twitch publishes rankings reflecting esports games with the most viewers, hours watched etc. While “League of Legends” (HKG: 0700) drew 43 million viewers to their final, “NBA2K” drew less than 4,000 over the last week. The game also sits behind both “FIFA” (EA) and “Madden” (EA) in the viewership rankings. This partnership has a long way to go before it becomes a profitable venture.

Fan Marino: A big issue that is often overlooked when discussing a sports game as a viable esport, is that sports games are designed as a simulation. Since the games are meant to reflect real life as closely as possible, some players/teams are better than others. That causes a competitive balance problem. If you fix the stats to create parity, the game no longer provides a realistic simulation of the sport.

The NBA 2K League: What We Know So Far, And Can It Succeed As An Esport?


Electronic Arts (EA) has released the newest edition of their Madden franchise (Madden ’18) and the football simulation game is receiving tremendous reviews. The most recent iteration of the game includes a story mode known as “long shot”, which puts the player in the shoes of a rookie as he embarks on a journey to become an NFL star. EA hopes that focusing on the more personal side of football (sacrifices, stress, celebrity) will increase immersion for players of the game. Other notable changes from Madden ‘17 include an improved graphics engine, updated stats and rosters and new broadcast commentary.

Latest ‘Madden’ video game rolls out some of its biggest changes ever

Howie Long-Short: Take-Two Interactive (TTWO) has the dominant NBA game (2K), so how come they no longer make an NFL version? EA smartly signed an exclusive licensing deal with the NFL and the NFLPA back in 2004. Without player and team names, 2K simply can’t compete.

Fan Marino: It’s remarkable the game has maintained its cultural relevance for over 25 years, but you must remember that 1994-2016 was a period of astronomical growth for the NFL. I believe the popularity of the game is a direct byproduct of the league’s success. Should league interest continue to wane, so too will interest in the Madden franchise.