Tony Petitti, considered by many a likely candidate for Major League Baseball’s next commissioner, is leaving MLB to oversee esports, consumer products, film and television at gaming giant Activision Blizzard.
It’s a surprise move for Petitti, who’d been in baseball since 2008 and was serving as MLB’s deputy commissioner for business and media. He’ll be President of Sports & Entertainment at the Los Angeles-based game publisher, reporting directly to CEO Bobby Kotick.
Petitti moves from a sport with an aging demographic to a sector of the entertainment world dominated by youth. Gaming and esports reach the exact type of people globally that many in traditional sports are struggling to engage, he said in an interview.
“It’s obviously a different audience,” Petitti said. “The power of the content that Activision has, and the potential for esports to reach an audience that’s difficult for everybody, whether it’s advertisers, media companies or leagues, that’s part of what gets me excited about this opportunity.”
Activision Blizzard makes some of the most popular video games in the world, including Candy Crush, World of Warcraft, Call of Duty and Overwatch. Those last two titles are the foundation for the company’s two biggest esports ventures, franchised leagues that were built to mirror the structure of professional sports organizations like MLB.
Overwatch League has 20 teams in cities around the world; Call of Duty League has 12, and was planning a tour-based model in its inaugural season before the COVID-19 pandemic pushed gameplay online. Franchises in both leagues cost tens of millions, with many owners coming from traditional sports leagues.
Those games also have a lot of valuable intellectual property that can be used in other mediums, like TV or movies. There was a World of Warcraft movie in 2016, and many other film franchises have been spun off of video games.
“As the media world continues to evolve, and new distributors are looking for content, I think the opportunity there is sort of endless,” Petitti said.
A long-time sports media executive, Petitti was CEO of MLB Network from 2008 to 2014, when he joined the commissioner’s office. He was MLB’s COO for three years before assuming his current position as one of MLB’s two deputy commissioners. Prior to baseball he worked at CBS Sports, where he helped negotiate the network’s return to the NFL.
Major League Baseball’s revenue was around $10.7 billion last year; Activision Blizzard’s sales were $6.5 billion. The company’s stock price has risen steadily over the pandemic, and it opened trading Monday with a market cap of $63.7 billion.
“Tony is one of the most highly regarded executives in sports and entertainment,” Kotick said in a statement. He has “the perfect blend of skills to help us realize our aspirations for esports and our related businesses. He is admired by owners, media executives, players and fans.”