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MLB-Disney’s BAMTech Inks ‘League of Legends’ $300 Million eSports Streaming Pact

BAMTech, Major League Baseball’s streaming-video unit backed by Disney, has entered into a multiyear deal with Riot Games to deliver “League of LegendseSports content around the world.

Under the deal, announced Friday, Riot Games — acquired by Chinese internet giant Tencent last year — will work with BAMTech to “grow revenue in our sport through various means, including sponsorship and advertising,” the video-game publisher said. Starting in 2017, BAMTech and Riot Games plan to launch new eSports properties for “League of Legends,” a hugely popular multiplayer battle-arena title with more than 100 million players globally.

BAMTech will pay Riot Games at least $300 million through 2023 for exclusive rights to distribute and develop “League of Legends” eSports tournaments, as well as sell ads and sponsorships, according to a source, confirming a report in the Wall Street Journal.

The “League of Legends” deal comes after Disney agreed to pay $1 billion for a 33% stake in BAMTech. With the investment, ESPN is planning to launch a new “multi-sport” direct-to-consumer subscription service. Content in the forthcoming ESPN-branded OTT service, originally slated to debut by the end of 2016, will include college sports, including football and basketball, as well as tennis, rugby and cricket.

ESports has become a major pastime, especially popular among younger audiences. According to Riot Games, its 15-day “League of Legends” 2016 championship tour in North America this fall attracted 43 million unique viewers who watched a total of 370 million hours of live video. BAMTech, under the “LOL” agreement, will handle future distribution of live eSports broadcasts, including distribution on platforms like Twitch and YouTube.

For BAMTech, the Riot Games pact is the third exclusive, long-term streaming-rights acquisition in just over a year.

The National Hockey League last summer signed a six-year deal with MLB Advanced Media under which MBLAM assumed the management of NHL’s TV broadcasting and internet-streaming operations; under that agreement, NHL owns a minority stake in BAMTech. In addition, the PGA Tour and MLBAM announced a multiyear partnership to develop, produce, and distribute PGA Tour Live, a digital OTT subscription service featuring coverage of more than 30 events per season.

New York-based BAMTech, which now has been separated from the broader MLB Advanced Media business headed by Bob Bowman, powers MLB.tv, the league’s out-of-market subscription service. It also serves clients including Time Warner’s HBO Now, WWE Network, Sony’s PlayStation Vue internet TV service and Glenn Beck’s TheBlaze.

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