David Beckham takes a risk by betting his brand on Guild Esports

Some people are more successful and beautiful than others


As indicated by the fact that half the crowd is watching him through a phone, David Beckham is one of the world's most recognizable athletes. Photo by Kunal Shah/Wikimedia Commons

When it comes to branding, never underestimate the importance of a high-wattage celebrity. There are reasons—which, admittedly, start with winning LottoMax—that you reach for the Casamigos or Santo Fino Blanco tequila when you’re in the liquor store. Those reasons have the names George Clooney, Sammy Hagar, and Guy Fieri. And who needs heritage offerings like Maui Wowie and Acapulco Gold when you’ve got Willie’s Reserve and Leafs by Snoop straight from the greenhouses of the Red Headed Stranger and Calvin Broadus Jr.?

Assuming the face in question doesn’t belong to Carrot Top, Eric Trump, or Vince from the Slap Chop infomercials, having a celebrity on-board means instant cred. The best way to get out-of-the-gates awareness for a new endeavour? Hook up with someone who can’t walk down the street without being pestered for a selfie.

High-wattage celebrity

In a best-case scenario, a celebrity believes in a project so passionately that they will put themselves on the frontline as a partner, not a shill. Nothing says, “I’m all in on the brand,” like writing a cheque and then making your more-beautiful-than-the-rest-of-us visage the official face of a brand.

This brings us to David Beckham, who, earlier this year, gave the already thriving business of esports a major awareness boost with mainstream audiences.

Flash back to June and you might remember the man sometimes known as Mr. Posh Spice making a large splash in the sporting world. (And by sporting world, we’re not talking soccer, which for some reason is referred to as football in every other part of the world not familiar with America’s most popular sport.)

In June, Beckham made headlines thanks to a newly minted relationship with a fledgling United Kingdom organization known as Guild Esports.

Beckham a frontline Guild partner

The news was that one of the biggest and most recognizable soccer players of all time had signed on as a frontline partner. The key word there was frontline, because a celebrity investing in esports is hardly stop-the-presses news in 2020. From Drake to Steph Curry to Tony Robbins, there’s been no shortage of rich and famous folks who recognized the growth potential of the industry early on.

Michael Jordan, for example, sank US$26 million into aXiomatic Gaming back in 2018, making him a backer of the vaunted Team Liquid Squad. Scooter Braun owns a sizable chunk of the gaming and lifestyle behemoth 100 Thieves.

Where Beckham’s involvement with Guild Esports was different was that he committed to being the face of the franchise—in the same way that he was once the high-powered drawing card for Manchester United, Real Madrid, and LA Galaxy.

In June, he made this statement: “Throughout my career I’ve been lucky enough to work with players at the top of their game, And I’ve seen first-hand the passion and dedication it takes to play at that level. I know that determination lives in our esports athletes today and at Guild we have a vision to set a new standard, supporting these players into the future.”

To make it clear just how all-in he was, Beckham sank what was said to be a large amount of money into Guild. That provided important leverage for the company’s goal of raising $US31 million in financing.

With a high-profile name like Beckham on board, Guild proceeded to dredge up US$25.8 million from outside investors. Then, at the beginning of this month, it made history by becoming the first-ever esports franchise to enter the London Stock Exchange.

Power of the Beckham brand

Call it a testimony to the power of the Beckham brand. And perhaps just as importantly, consider Guild Esports playing a big role in the advancement of ESports with mainstream audiences.

Ask nine out of 10 post-millennials about which sports they watch, and odds are good that hockey, baseball, and Turkish oil wrestling aren’t on their lists. As the same time, those in their 20s, 30s, and 40s are more than familiar with the name David Beckham but have zero interest in spending 14 hours per day playing Overwatch, League of Legends, and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.

The Beckham brand is strong enough to bring those different generations together. And as a soccer legend, the 45-year-old lends a instant air of legitimacy to a sport and industry that has, in some ways, existed in shadows—even while building a global audience of almost 500 million.

That legitimacy is important, because there are many who’ll argue video gaming is no more of an actual sport than checkers, walking, or feverishly watching Yoga With Adriene on YouTube (as opposed to, you know, actually doing yoga with Adriene). The involvement of one of the world’s most successful athletes and a high-wattage celebrity bolstered the argument that not all sports need protective gear or running shoes.

Beckham, meanwhile, offered up his likeness for Guild Esports. More importantly, he put his money where his mug was. Or at least is seemed that way until last week. That’s when news broke that maybe reality wasn’t exactly as depicted.

High-wattage celebrity Beckham has a Guild influencer deal

On October 13, the Esports Observer dropped a news story that recast Beckham’s Guild venture. The site reported that, back in May, Guild Esports forged an influencer deal with the Beckham-owned Footwork Productions. That company exists for “the exploitation of David Beckham’s name and image rights”.

For becoming the “face of Guild” for five years, Beckham was guaranteed almost US$20 million. As a high-wattage celebrity, Mr. Spice’s responsibilities include yearly photo shoots for Guild as well as video segments, 12 social-media posts, and public appearances. Under the terms of the contract, payment is due at the beginning of the year.

So, yes, Beckham ploughed a good chunk of his own money into Guild. But that cash outlay, evidently and ironically, came from the folks at Guild Esports, funnelled through Footwork Productions.

However he ended up on team Guild, Beckham is taking a risk here. Up until now, his brand has remained a solidly gold-chip one.
On the positive side of things, never underestimate the importance of a high-wattage celebrity. As for the negatives, remember that for every Casamigos tequila, there are a half-dozen Kardashian Kards. And PonoPlayers. Not to mention practically every business—including the business of being president—ever undertaken by Donald J. Trump.

Ironically, Guild Esports might be one of the biggest gambles of his life. No high-wattage celebrity wants to fail when stepping outside their comfort zone. Only time will tell if Beckham is truly into esports because he has a vision to set a new standard. Or if he’s in it for the paycheque. And even if the latter is the case, whether he still has the ability to put a team on his world-famous back and take it to greatness.

Mike Usinger once took the better part of two years to finish Grand Theft Auto. Over the course of his career he has written about everything from eSports to music to movies to travel.

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