No one ever asked Ari Segal why he wanted to run hockey teams.
Segal, who was recently named the president and chief operating officer of Immortals, spent the past few years working for the San Diego Gulls and the Arizona Coyotes, and no one ever questioned his credentials. He didn't grow up playing hockey, but he didn't grow up playing video games either, and now people keep asking him why he'd give up a management role at an NHL team to take the business reins of an esports franchise. But it's a question he's excited to answer.
"I think sometimes in traditional sports we're a little bit too afraid of 'why' questions," Segal told theScore esports. "People said the same thing about running soccer teams in North America 20 years ago. Why would Phil Anchutz or Lamar Hunt or Bob Kraft want to own a soccer team? Who cares? And 20 years later, one generation, MLS values are exploding and I think those individuals are really satisfied with the investments they've made in MLS and Soccer in North America."
Segal doesn't necessarily watch any particular esports titles, nor does he play a lot of video games, but he's been interested in esports for a while. In 2014, he was working at McKinsey and was asked to look into esports, which was his first brush with the space. Then, while working with the Gulls, he had to find ways to fill their stadium on off days. All that led him to Immortals, where he'll be doing a job he describes as important, but not very sexy.
"My job is to oversee our business operation writ-large," he said. "So everything from sales, be it sponsorship sales, content licensing, ultimately ticket sales, merchandise, to marketing, social media, events, our collegiate program, our creative and brand initiatives, so all of the content we produce in house, the way that we design our marks and position our marks and license our IP, pretty much everything that's not competitive, I oversee."
That also means Segal will be responsible for building up Immortals' business side, something that's fallen behind a little during their rapid growth. Segal says he'll be working on hiring people so the organization can actually have marketing and sales departments to prepare for the future.
That future, Segal says, is very focused on the Overwatch League. While Immortals has spent the last two years building up their brand and signing rosters, they'll have to effectively do it all over again in the OWL. While they already have players under contract, they still need to have a new team name, new branding, an arena, and a marketing plan.
"A year from now, we have 20 home games in Overwatch League, and we need to build a ticket sales staff, market a team, position a new brand," Segal said. "When you're in San Diego, it's easy to market the home team, it's also easy to market 'root against Los Angeles." Those kinds of embedded rivalries don't necessarily exist yet. So how you market this nascent league is going to be interesting to figure out."
That's something Segal has plenty of experience with, and he's ready to share it with other teams in the league. Burt we've come a long way from even a year or two ago, when people with traditional sports management experience started getting into the space. Segal says there's still plenty to learn from traditional sports, but it might be about learning from smaller sports and leagues right now.
"The major league sometimes encounter a problem where it is a little bit distributive, where one team gains and other teams lose, but particularly in a specific market," Segal said. "But in the American league, you're not really competing with the other teams at the box office or other teams in your own market. In San Diego, it's not like someone going to a Gulls game made them less likely to go to a Padres game or a Chargers game, it was a completely different thing. We were competing with the movie theater, with mini golf, or bowling, or a family dinner.
"I think I have a perspective of how you can work with your fellow owners and operators to share best practices and grow a league together. Individually, here at Immortals, I think I can bring and apply some knowledge about how to educate fans when a somewhat understood but not necessarily deeply understood product enters the marketplace, and how you can do things really from the get go and then throughout your first season, to continue to reinforce that you are providing the best service or any entertainment experience in the market place. I think that a strategy that never goes out of style."
Daniel Rosen is a news editor for theScore esports. You can follow him on Twitter.