Athletic wear company Champion will make its debut into the esports space in the fall after it signed a multi-year apparel deal with Team Dignitas, the company and team announced on Thursday.
Champion will produce both men's and women's apparel for Team Dignitas, which will launch alongside a rebrand of the 15-year-old esports team in the coming months. The new apparel line will include official team jerseys, casual wear and athletic wear made by Champion, the second largest subsidiary of well-known clothing company Hanesbrands Inc.
"We've talked to a lot of gamers, so we do believe there are a lot of specific product needs in the space," Hanesbrands president of sports apparel John Fryer told ESPN. "Overall, whether it's product or service options for teams or fan wear, one of the things we were able to identify that there seem to be people out there who want someone to come into the space, pay attention to the space and focus on it."
Fryer told ESPN that a number of reasons made Dignitas a fitting partner for Champions' entry into the space. He explained that he believed Champion -- which was established in 1919 and quickly began producing high-end athletic apparel for collegiate teams -- could relate to the backstory of Team Dignitas, which was founded in 2003 and is one of the longest-tenured teams in esports that still exist today.
Fryer said he was also impressed by Team Dignitas's reach among female esports fans due to its successful women's Counter-Strike: Global Offensive team -- and the possibilities that presents as Champion begins to brainstorm what products it will launch with Team Dignitas.
"The opportunity to partner with the apparel company that literally invented one of the most essential retail pieces in any esports player and fan's wardrobe - the hoodie - is truly appropriate," Team Dignitas CEO Michael Prindiville said in a press release. Prindiville joined Dignitas in May after time at NBC Sports and as a practicing lawyer in New York. "Champion's recent reemergence into pop culture mirrors Team Dignitas' incredible renaissance in fan popularity and dominance in competition."
With the deal, Champion becomes one of the first major sports apparel companies to enter the esports space. In January 2017, Team Vitality signed a deal with the Adidas France to produce Vitality-branded clothing. Other large sports apparel companies, like Nike, Jordan Brand, Adidas America, Puma and Reebok, have not yet entered the space.
"We view Champion as a highly-inclusive brand," Fryer said when asked if he's worried about potential backlash from traditional sports clothing consumers as a result of the deal. "What's amazing about gaming and esports is that it's such a broad and inclusive opportunity that's presented to people -- whether its male, female, younger or older. Even sitting down with some of the folks in our business who are gamers and just talking to them about how they view the sport, we've got folks who both parents and kids play the same sport and want to wear the same jersey -- they're into it."
In September 2016, Team Dignitas and Apex Gaming finalized an agreement that saw the ownership group of the Philadelphia 76ers, the New Jersey Devils and the Prudential Center acquire the majority stake in both Team Dignitas and Apex. Those two teams would then merge under the Team Dignitas umbrella.
A year later, that ownership group -- led by private equity investors Joshua Harris and David Blitzer -- allocated its holdings, including Dignitas, under a new corporation named Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment. In addition to their joint holdings, Harris and Blitzer each own 18 percent stakes in Premier League club Crystal Palace, making them equal to that club's chairman Steve Parish.