Blizzard signs merchandise deal with Fanatics

Fans look on during the Overwatch World Cup on Saturday at BlizzCon in Anaheim, California. South Korea won the event for the third straight year with a 4-0 sweep of China in the finals. Robert Paul/Provided by Blizzard Entertainment

Activision Blizzard has signed a multi-year global licensing deal with online sports retailer Fanatics to be the exclusive home for Overwatch League merchandise, the companies announced Monday. Already an official partner of the NBA, NFL, MLB, NHL and NASCAR, Monday's agreement marks Fanatics' first esports venture.

Fanatics will create and maintain a global e-commerce website for fans to purchase jerseys, fan gear, headwear and hard goods from each of the league's 20 franchises. The new vertical is expected to go live in time for opening day on Feb. 14 at Blizzard Arena in Burbank, California.

"It's no secret who the 800-pound gorilla of the sports licensed apparel market is," Daniel Siegel, head of esports licensing for Blizzard Entertainment, told ESPN. "That's Fanatics. From a quality perspective, they check every box for us. Because we like to think of ourselves as blazing new trails in esports with Overwatch League, we certainly want to be partnering with the best in the business to help us get down that trail and keep being what we hope is the best esports league in the world."

Ross Tannenbaum, the 56-year-old head of special projects for Fanatics, remembered a two-year courtship with Blizzard culminating in a visit to the OWL Grand Finals in Brooklyn. Even though he relied on his son to help him understand the action, there was no mistaking the energy from 13,000 screaming fans inside the Barclays Center.

"That kind of passion really gripped me," Tannenbaum said. "Being in that building and watching it, this is an unbelievable thing. ... We're reaching a group of people now that may have not been traditional stick-and-ball sports fans but are so into this sport that it made it very clear to me that as a company, we needed to work really hard to get into this space. This has a tremendous opportunity to be a huge business. We absolutely believe we can contribute into making it a great sport."

Fanatics found their way to the OWL through the investments being made by their partners from traditional sports. If Robert Kraft (Boston Uprising) and Jeff Wilpon (New York Excelsior) were making multi-million dollar investments in esports, Fanatics wanted a look under the hood too. What appealed most to Fanatics, besides access to the coveted 18- to 35-year-old demographic and the totality of the proposed rights package, was Blizzard's focus on regional connections.

"That ties much more into what traditional sports are," Tannenbaum said. "If someone is living down here in South Florida, there's a team down here. My own son likes that team. Why? Because of the proximity to him. I thought that was a great idea."

The new partnership will allow Blizzard to better satisfy the demand for merchandise it saw last year, especially with addition of eight new expansion teams. A comprehensive online store as well as select brick-and-mortar integration will help satisfy their fan's needs.

"The way it's always put to me is, 'When can we get more?'" Siegel said. "Everybody was extremely happy with the jerseys and the shirts and the caps that we produced this year, but there was such an appetite for more, more breadth of the product assortment. And that's exactly what plays to Fanatic's strengths. They're going to give us the most comprehensive and broad product selection in all of esports."

The deal between Blizzard and Fanatics marks the second major esports merchandising deal in recent weeks. On Nov. 14, Riot Games announced that esports apparel company We Are Nations would be the official sponsor and merchandise partner for the North American League of Legends Championship Series.