Established sports clubs and organizations must ‘adapt or die’ in terms of their approach to esports, GlobalData Sport has been told by senior executives from two bodies launching a joint venture that aims to offer an outsourcing solution across the entire esports ecosystem.

Last month, Aser Ventures, the global investment company of Italian sports and media executive Andrea Radrizzani, entered into a partnership with Ninjas in Pyjamas, the popular esports team across several titles, to launch Shinobi Sports, a vehicle aimed at offering “a suite of management, studio and media services to sports clubs looking for opportunities in the esports sphere.”

Shinobi is intended to give sports teams – initially European soccer clubs and then bodies in the motorsport space – a full range of esports solutions, including advice on sponsorship activations, broadcast deals, and adding esports divisions to historic sporting entities.

It plans on providing organizations and clubs that have so far had neither the time nor inclination to make the esports side of their operations a priority with a one-stop-shop to do just that.

In an exclusive interview with GlobalData Sport, both executives stressed the importance of traditional sports leagues, clubs, and governing bodies making sure they have a sound, adaptable esports strategy in place.

Danny Menken, who is heading up Shinobi as its first chief executive and who also holds the position of group chief development officer at the Aser subsidiary Eleven Sports (now a prominent streaming service), said: “Esports is a big market already. It will become a massive market in future, and any organization not diving into that will miss huge opportunities.

How well do you really know your competitors?

Access the most comprehensive Company Profiles on the market, powered by GlobalData. Save hours of research. Gain competitive edge.

Company Profile – free sample

Thank you!

Your download email will arrive shortly

Not ready to buy yet? Download a free sample

We are confident about the unique quality of our Company Profiles. However, we want you to make the most beneficial decision for your business, so we offer a free sample that you can download by submitting the below form

By GlobalData
Visit our Privacy Policy for more information about our services, how we may use, process and share your personal data, including information of your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications. Our services are intended for corporate subscribers and you warrant that the email address submitted is your corporate email address.

“The world is changing rapidly, and clubs will have to change with it.

“We bring in the expertise and knowledge of the traditional sports industry, and they bring the esports know-how and experience, so it’s a golden combination.”

Menken said that from Aser’s point of view, the partnership “was a no-brainer … We’ve definitely got ahead of the curve and I’m sure in the next year we’ll be able to set up substantial partnerships.”

Hitcham Chahine, the other Shinobi co-founder and the chief executive at NIP, added: “We have the know-how in how to create esports teams, how to sell that sector to a wider audience, how to create engaging content around it …

“When traditional sports clubs look at esports they tend to over-complicate things … they don’t realize what is required to enter the space properly.

“Traditional sports have been slow at migrating to digital in every way – how they engage and interact with that entire world. There needs to be a full underlying digital strategy for clubs to be able to properly interact with esports.”

Andrea Radrizzani, founder and chair of Aser Ventures, has, meanwhile. given the joint project his blessing, saying: “Shinobi will play an important role in bridging the gap between traditional sport and esports to create new value for clubs, fans, and partners. It will also add exciting new capabilities to the Aser Ventures group.”

The two organizations first partnered for a specific project in 2018, when NIP and Aser came together to develop the esports strategy of Leeds United, the English top-tier soccer club also owned by Radrizzani.

Chahine said, of that initial partnership: “Those were very early conversations at that time, and things just developed from there …

This was generated through a personal relationship, the collaboration between Leeds and NIP was extremely successful in that first season in every metric of engagement and was proof the concept works.”

In terms of the sports and geographical regions the project will aim to enter first, both Menken and Chahine said that because of the partnership’s roots, European soccer will be the first port of call.

The project intends to use the success of the extremely popular FIFA video game franchise as a way of making the first leap to partnering with teams who might be less responsive to other video game titles with less of a resemblance to real-life sport.

Menken said: “Soccer is somewhere where we see a lot of opportunities … the soccer industry has a lot of money available so that’s a sensible place to focus initially. 

“What we offer is for clubs to outsource their entire esports operations to us, we set it up, we manage it, we help them get new commercial partners on board. It will make a lot of sense for all sides.

“Some clubs will just require optimizing, some clubs will give us full freedom, it will depend.”

Chahine agrees that given the wide range of clubs Shinobi will be targeting in the coming years, “no partnership is identical, it’s not a one-size-fits-all arrangement. We can tailor our solutions.

“When traditional sports clubs look at esports they tend to over-complicate things …  they don’t realize what is required to enter the space properly.

“All organizations looking to do this for the first time need to start at an appropriate level and have to scale up from there, instead of starting too big and having to downscale.”

Geographically, meanwhile, Chahine said the two companies had identified “a European vacuum – the US and Asia are very much advanced compared to European countries, so that’s the area we’ll look to exploit first.”

Indeed, the NIP founder asserted that in some ways, the joint venture would look to take a leaf out of projects such as North America’s NBA, with its NBA 2K video game, with it having been one of the most popular titles over the last 20 years.  

Both sides of the partnership stress the need for traditional sports organizations to take this leap, in order to attract new audiences that otherwise might drift away from that particular entertainment option and simply select others.

As Chahine says: “Fewer of the young fans engage in sports which are physical – they have migrated over to digital activities, as opposed to necessarily playing outside sports themselves. Friends now are socializing more and more in the esports world instead.

“Esports is now a great tool to access this demographic, which is disappearing away from a physical space.

“This is a great way to acquire fans at a younger age, it’s an opportunity to reach demographics that the team isn’t currently reaching … These younger fans essentially live in a different universe.”

Menken agrees: “Traditional sports know they have to do something but they have no clue what to do. The knowledge is not there. They might to something small like hiring one esports-specific middle management person, but the inherent knowledge isn’t there.”

Chahine identified Paris Saint-Germain, the heavyweights from French soccer’s top-tier Ligue 1, as a traditional sports entity that had managed to already “make esports prominent … They have a very hands-on project there with regard to that side of the club.”

The NIP head also touched on the new project’s ability to secure additional sponsors for clubs’ specific esports divisions: “The interesting opportunities now are for brands already involved in traditional sports to now activate in a more digital format to achieve that additional exposure.

“You already have non-endemic brands involved in esports, it’s now more about the teams having additional inventory to sell their existing partners.

“We will have access to sponsorship packages that would not be able to traditional sports teams with no esports set up.”