A college recreation space converted for gaming use. (Jackie Nguyen / AmpThink)
Bob Jordan’s 1337 Facilities is updating colleges for the new era
Sports venue consultant Bob Jordan has launched 1337 Facilities, a joint venture to develop esports centers on college campuses and municipal recreation centers.
The firm’s other investors include executives with AmpThink, a builder of Wi-Fi systems at arenas and stadiums; Gary Briggs, CEO of Real Time Strategies and a producer of esports events; and esports entrepreneur Jordan Rambis, son of former NBA player Kurt Rambis.
Together, they’re targeting the grassroots level within the esports community by focusing on the vast opportunities at the college level. 1337 Facilities charges a fee for its services. In turn, it provides a turnkey solution, from concept to design, construction and operations. The vision is to retrofit recreational facilities on campus to become esports environments where students can play video games in a competitive format and take classes to earn tech degrees, Jordan said.
As of late August, 1337 Facilities had three deals pending with Power Five schools, but Jordan declined to identify those universities until contracts are signed. All three projects will be self-funded through sponsorship dollars, he said.
The company’s name is derived from the word “elite” as spelled in a lexicon used by gamers.
The joint venture came about after Bob Jordan met Jordan Rambis through mutual contacts and they discussed missing links in the esports movement. Rambis is an investor in multiple esports ventures and serves as executive in residence for video games and esports for the city of Los Angeles.
“We started looking at this and saw that there’s a lot of money chasing very few events,” Jordan said. “The pros are building a pyramid that’s exactly the same as traditional sports. That’s only (120) buildings, but when you go into the college space, there’s hundreds of (Division I) and D2 schools. Where are the players coming from that support all of these leagues? They’re coming out of the college and commercial market. That’s our focus.”
The business model for 1337 Facilities includes selling naming rights and founding partners for the esports centers to fund project costs, Jordan said. Construction costs start in the mid-five figures to convert a smaller space such as a racquetball court to eight figures for an esports facility with full production capacity covering tournament and practice spaces plus a classroom setting for academics, he said.
“Within most campuses, there are unused communal spaces,” said AmpThink founder Bill Anderson. “There will be a lot of retrofit work, taking a room that 20 years ago was active and built around the way people interact and has been slowly over time left fallow. (Some are) existing rooms with tired pool tables, bad lighting and horrible furniture. We can come in and repurpose these spaces. We see a lot of opportunity there.”
AmpThink, an 8-year-old technology firm, has built wireless communication systems at about 70 sports and entertainment venues. Its current projects include new NFL stadiums in Los Angeles and Las Vegas.
Six years ago, Anderson formed a relationship with Jordan when AmpThink started upgrading connectivity at 22 Major League Baseball stadiums. At the time, Jordan was employed by Van Wagner Sports & Entertainment and hired by MLB to oversee those upgrades. Jordan left Van Wagner in 2018 and turned his attention to the esports market. Earlier this year, he launched Venue Road, a separate firm in which Jordan consults with teams and facilities to upgrade their wireless systems to 5G technology.
For Anderson, the attractive aspect about 1337 Facilities is the concept of developing a smaller, scalable model for a largely untapped market in the college space.
“What we’ve seen to date is everything is custom built, which is a challenge,” he said. “You need to hire lots of really smart people for a long period of time. It’s a good business but not something that can get you to a mass market. The neat thing here is the ability to put together some solutions that can be packaged and sold over and over again with some branding wrapped around them that’s highly valuable to a sponsor. It’s repeatable. We’re going to use some fundamental building blocks and focus customization on the atmosphere that gets people excited about playing video games.”
For AmpThink in general, the esports piece gets its foot in the door at the same schools to potentially build new Wi-Fi systems at their sports venues, Anderson said. The company has upgraded connectivity at about a dozen universities, including Arkansas, Oklahoma and Ohio State. 1337 Facilities “is a great way to expand and grow our footprint,” he said.
Jordan’s 40 years of experience includes developing American Airlines Center and MetLife Stadium from the ground up. At 1337 Facilities, he plans to use best practices he’s learned over time in the arena and stadium industry, mixed with his partners’ expertise in the gaming culture, to help plan esports centers from small to large.
The potential academic piece, whether it’s integrating a graphic design or computer programming curriculum into the facility, adds value to those projects, he said.
“When you build an appropriate esports center, you’re bringing in so much compute power,” Jordan said. “It’s not just for games. The idea is let’s see what we can do with the rest of the time it’s not being engaged for esports. We’re trying to stay in facilities that are going to be open seven days a week, 20 hours a day and that have a strong following and high returns.”