How sports teams can harness the power of the metaverse
by Lars Rensing, CEO of Protokol
Although the concept of the metaverse has been around for some time, and was growing in popularity in certain circles, before Meta (previously Facebook) announced that it would be launching a metaverse – a type of digital universe – the concept was not on the radar of a wider audience.
However, the widespread coverage of Meta has changed that. Metaverses like Decentraland – where users can purchase virtual estate in the form of NFT digital collectibles – have a large following in the crypto space. The metaverse is not just for crypto, though metaverses hold a lot of potential for a number of industries, and are already being explored by many different companies.
The fashion industry, for instance, has been exploring the metaverse already with great success. Gucci Garden launched on Roblox in May, a branded virtual space including rooms themed around historic campaigns and a place to try on and purchase limited-edition digital clothes from the brand. Similarly, Balenciaga became the first luxury brand to partner with video game Fortnite on a range of outfits (skins) for characters in September. Skins can be especially successful for brands. Estimates state that the skin market is worth $40 billion a year.
These are not the only industries who can harness the Metaverse, though. For sports and eSports, metaverses could actually be used to engage new and existing fans and open up brand new revenue streams in innovative ways.
NFTs – blockchain-based tokens that cannot be replicated or forged – are a key gateway to the metaverse. Having already proved extremely popular in the past 12 months in industries from music to art, NFTs aren’t going anywhere any time soon. Sports and eSports teams can take NFTs further than just standard digital collectibles within the metaverse.
For example, sports teams will be able to create additional revenue streams and opportunities from NFT merchandise within the metaverse through NFT ‘wearables’ – a type of NFT that can be worn by avatars in the metaverse. Not only can this create extra revenue, but it can allow sports teams to expand their fanbases across the metaverse, reaching new individuals.
Teams can do this with NFTs, which can be used to create original and transferable wearables, such as personalised/signed jerseys etc, that can be worn by gamers and Metaverse participants across games. For instance, football fans could buy an NFT of a signed Ronaldo shirt, and then wear the shirt in popular games.
NFTs also give fans provable ownership of the collectibles due to blockchain’s transparent and secure nature. As well as opening up new revenue streams with digital collectibles, NFT wearables allow teams to create long-term, future-proof opportunities for fan loyalty and engagement – by providing fans with rare and exclusive collectibles that they can use digitally.
For sports teams specifically, the video game market is bigger than traditional sports audiences, so teams can use NFTs to expand their audience. Not only this, but NFTs that can be worn in the metaverse have huge potential for sponsors. Teams can create NFTs of their team’s kit, including their sponsors’ logos, which fans can then wear in games or virtual worlds. This provides more exposure for sponsors across the Metaverse, and in turn lets teams create more profitable sponsor relationships and deals.
In the same way artists can stream live shows in the metaverse or in video games (like Ariana Grande’s Fortnite concert), there is potential for teams and athletes to stream live into the metaverse. Fans could watch sports and eSports on screens in digital stadiums built in the metaverse, allowing teams to further engage their global audiences, who may not be able to attend games in person, but may still want to experience the stadium atmosphere in some way, generating a further revenue stream in the form of metaverse stadium tickets.
Rather than simply watching the matches on TV or online, sitting in a virtual stadium within the metaverse could allow fans to feel as though they are at the game in person, as well as sitting within a virtual community of global fans, allowing them to feel more connected to other supporters and the team. This would also future-proof events against potential future pandemics – the Covid-19 decimated sports revenues in 2020 due to a lack of ticket sales from games.
NFTs could act as tokens/tickets/rewards to be able to access these events, and like in real venues, fans could buy a particular seat in a virtual stadium to get a particular view of the screen or pitch. There could also be season tickets for games in the metaverse – facilitated by NFTs – further opening up new revenue, loyalty and fan engagement possibilities.
Teams could also offer the kinds of virtual experiences and rewards that can be delivered in the metaverse in order to increase fan loyalty. For instance, teams could build a virtual version of their stadium in the metaverse – such as how Manchester City will be creating a virtual recreation of the Etihad Stadium with Sony – and sell NFTs as tickets to fans for tours.
Selling tickets as NFTs ensures a secure and seamless ticketing experience – the secure blockchain technology behind NFTs can help to prevent ticket fraud, but also has the added bonus of giving fans an undamageable collectible from the event, which increases loyalty and engagement. This would allow fans from all over the world to visit the stadium, as well as increasing revenue for teams. Not only this, but in a virtual tour, fans could be able to visit parts of the stadiums that they would not normally be able to in person.
The metaverse also increases equal access for fans who may not be able to attend in-person tours for accessibility reasons. Only an NFT ticket would be needed. In the future fans could even meet/train with athletes in the metaverse (with both training physically while connected to the metaverse) as a reward for loyal fans for purchasing team NFTs or fan tokens. This would enable teams to deliver more personal and engaging rewards to a larger number of fans on a global scale, helping them grow their fan bases globally rather than just locally.
We’re likely going to see the metaverse become a key tool for sports teams in the coming years, allowing them to engage their global fanbase in a more personal way. Teams who harness the power of the metaverse can not only strengthen their relationships with existing fans, but can grow their worldwide fanbases and create new streams of revenue, long after the pandemic. With this innovative new technology, teams and fans can help secure their place in the digital world, as well as the physical one.