NRG Esports announced earlier this week the first in a series of activations related to its naming rights deal with insurance company The General, its Rocket League team, and The General’s popular spokesperson, NBA Hall of Famer, and NRG investor Shaquille O’Neal.
The first activation will give fans the opportunity to vote on four jersey designs beginning July 6, with the winning design being revealed at the start of Rocket League Championship Series Season 11 (more details here).
To learn more about how this naming rights deal between The General Insurance and NRG’s Rocket League team came to life The Esports Observer spoke to NBA legend, entrepreneur, and the foil to Charles Barkley’s biting repartee on TNT’s post-game NBA show, Inside The NBA Shaquille O’Neal.
NRG and The General deal
In the past, Shaq has brought together the companies and brands he works with to foster cooperation through his annual business get-together called the “Shaq Summit,” but that gathering has been off the table for the last two years thanks to COVID-19. Still, Shaq said that he applied the same philosophy in bringing NRG Esports and The General Insurance together for a naming rights deal for its Rocket League team.
“I haven’t had the Shaq Summit for two years because of COVID-19, but it was pretty much the same process,” Shaq said. “But I thought that there was a natural synergy between the high octane gameplay of Rocket League and the need for quality auto insurance so I put the two together and we’re going to be doing a lot of things together. I’ve been working with The General for six years and with NRG for a while, so it was something I wanted to do.”
Bringing other Shaq-affiliated brands and investments into esports
Shaq said that conversations are ongoing with companies he has investments in like Papa Johns to come into esports as sponsors or partners, but they have to be a good fit. “We’ve had minor discussions and stuff because it’s all about synergy – we don’t want to force anything, but we’ve talked about it so if something comes up and we can make it authentic and real then we will do it.”
Shaq’s thoughts on NRG as an investment, accidental introduction to esports
Shaq was an early investor in NRG Esports in 2017 in a funding round that included such stars as Jennifer Lopez and Alex Rodriguez. When asked if he thought NRG is performing to his expectations, Shaq said that he was satisfied with where it is now and where it will be in the future. “When I make investments I don’t always just look at the monetary value of where it could be or how much money I can make after it has sold or is bought out. This investment was something that I knew was going to be around for a while and something I wanted to be a part of. It’s definitely going to take off.”
Shaq said that the initial investment in NRG was really precipitated by a happy accident involving his son forcing him to take him to an esports event at the Staples Center.
“When I came around (because you park in a little tunnel, and then walk up) I heard the roar of the crowd and thought, ‘Is this a rap concert or something?’ It felt like a game [a sporting event] was going on. There were so many kids screaming and making noise, and there were these two kids sitting on stage battling and [on display] on the Jumbotron. And as I watched I’m thinking, ‘this is actually very interesting.’”
After that event, he started calling his friends in the tech industry, who all told him that esports was the next big thing. But it was an old friend from his NBA days that really connected the dots that lead to him putting his money into NRG.
“Vivek Ranadivé, the owner of the Sacramento Kings, introduced me to a guy named Andy Miller, a very wealthy, very intelligent businessman who said he was forming an esports team, and I said, ‘Look, I don’t know a lot about it, but I want to be your partner.”
How esports is like the NBA
Shaq sees parallels between young people hoping to have a future in the NBA and kids who want to make it big in esports. He also emphasized several times during our interview that young people almost always have their finger on the pulse of emerging trends, such as TikTok.
“It’s sort of like the NBA, let me tell you why; you have these kids making so much money doing this esports thing, and now you have these teams and colleges handing out scholarships so it’s like a big thing. We’ve got these kids sitting at home who want to be the next big esports star and the longevity of esports stars is like [ I think] three to four years, so there’s room for these kids to just come in and be the next guy or girl and make a lot of money and it’s very exciting for them. I really think esports is going to be around for quite a while.
“When it comes to this technology stuff, kids dictate what’s hot and what’s not. When TikTok first came out, everybody was still on Instagram and Twitter, and then all these kids [on TikTok] started making all these videos and they started going viral. TikTok just really started taking over. Now every time I go to a meeting with a company, I ask them, ‘How many TikTok videos have you done?’ because I’m really big on using social media. Kids really dictate what’s going on.”
Finally, Shaq said that his investment philosophy of supporting things that either make people smile or aim to make their lives better has served him well over the years. While he has lost some money on investments that have gone sideways, a majority of them have helped raise his personal worth to an estimated $400 million. “Since I started doing that I have had a pretty good ROI,” he said.