The New Frontier: Blockchain, Metaverse & Sports
By Joe Condon | July 23, 2021
Technology; love it or hate it, has become an ever present in our lives; I’ll be the first to say my screen-time report sometimes shocks me, but digital has become an integral part of our lives, especially over the past 18 months with coronavirus where we’ve been stuck on calls on (insert your conferencing tool of choice here).
This, coupled with our Blockchain & NFTs eMasterclass earlier in the week, got me thinking even further about the future of technology, and how digital will continue to affect our lives over the coming years.
There’s two super exciting areas I wanted to talk about; Blockchain, and the Metaverse. This perhaps won’t come as a shock to anyone internally as I have been known to get stuck down the rabbit hole discussing these two areas.
Both technologies have a huge opportunity to disrupt society; both are digital focused, and fundamentally open up new ways of communicating, transacting and overall, living. There’s also some cool applications of these technologies in sports, of course.
To take it back to the basics before digging deeper, here’s some definitions:
A shared, immutable ledger that facilitates the process of recording transactions and tracking assets in a business network.
A parallel digital universe that offers a set of unique experiences to users.
The metaverse is best associated with gaming, and perhaps unsurprisingly, when coronavirus caused wide scale lockdowns across Europe, there was a huge surge in time spent playing games (gamers played 1.5 hours more per week than compared to the same time in 2019).
Couple this with the fact that most cryptocurrency exchanges saw an increase in investment and volume traded in March 2020, as well as the boom in NFTs, this shows a growing acceptance and appetite for digital realities and assets.
So what does this mean for sports, and where are the opportunities and challenges moving forwards?
In my view, these changing consumption, payment and overall social habits are by no means a flash in the pan; these are fundamental changes that will present a real complex for sports organisations over the coming years.
As we know in traditional sports, many fans are from an older demographic, and perhaps are not as tech-savvy (or definitely are not digital natives), and hence have less of an interest, association or propensity to digital initiatives. They do however, hold much of the buying power.
This is the polar opposite for GenZ and millennials, who in greater numbers, are migrating to digital settings, and embracing it in their day to day lives. They of course do not have the same buying power, but are perhaps the single most important demographic to the future of sports organisations.
So what takes priority, and where is the money?
It’s no secret that 99% of all sports organisations’ fanbase are global and will never attend a physical game; and this is where I see there being so much opportunity by utilising blockchain technology and the metaverse.
By building a virtual world, those barriers are no more, making the sports organisation/brand more accessible than ever to their global audience. And that’s just the beginning.
Virtual worlds offer a completely new revenue opportunity for clubs to monetise on their IP & rights (virtual kits/skins, virtual stadiums, broadcast/streaming in-game), as well as build a community that will have an association with your sports organisation/brand, and trusting the activation is done authentically and adds value, will likely generate UGC from the community.
Take a look at some good examples of:
- Kits/Virtual skins: Use of club kits as ‘skins’ to customise virtual world characters in Fortnite
- Stadiums: The super cool example of the O2 moving their venue inside Fortnite
- Broadcast: Travis Scott’s concert that was live streamed and watched by more than 12 million (yes, million) people – how is that for reach? We’re at the stage of watch parties becoming the norm, so is the next step that we see sports games streamed in virtual worlds?
- Brand Building: A great example is Gucci, who have embraced the metaverse, and have seen incredible returns; with one example being that their virtual bags sell for more than in real life; you could conclude GenZ are placing more value on digital assets…
- User Generated Content: Gamers produce millions of hours of content per week; by bringing your brand/organisation to a virtual environment in an authentic manner, it brings the added prospect of players exploring, engaging and producing content on your brand.
Taking the metaverse, and then incorporating blockchain technology and digital payments seems to be the next logical step in building a wholly global digital community. A great example of this is Decentraland, which utilises the Ethereum blockchain to host a decentralised virtual world. But there are so many exciting organisations (some that will be familiar to you and some not so much) operating in this space, as this extremely helpful Newzoo graphic shows.
The metaverse however is not solely just about commercial opportunities. As we continue to evolve toward living in both the real world and the digital one, the metaverse offers two key advantages: accessibility and flexibility.
That lack of geographical or physical obstacles and additional flexibility of being able to incorporate your brand/organisation in ANY way you so wish opens up unparalleled opportunities to get super creative in your attempts to engage a large scale, global audience in ways never done before within sports.
We have all embraced digital into our lives in ways that were unimaginable only 18 months ago; in another 18 months time, who knows where we will be, but with innovations like 5G on the horizon making things much more possible, I strongly believe the metaverse should be at the front of every marketers mind within sports and beyond.
To conclude, the new frontier will be fought and won or lost in the digital world, and if sports is to survive and thrive, they must meet consumers/fans where they are spending the lion share of their time; which unequivocally is in the digital realm.