Metaverse and Football: New Era of Sports?
You’ve almost certainly heard of the Metaverse and how it has the potential to become the next internet. Most experts believe it will provide significant business opportunities, and those who lead this new economy could become the next ‘GAMAM.’
Whatever happens, the Metaverse will almost certainly influence the future of many industries, including sports. The Metaverse will become very real for sports organizations and athletes in the coming months and years, revolutionizing how fans watch, consume, play, and interact with sports and players.
But first, let’s address the big question.
What exactly is the Metaverse?
While the concept has been around for three decades (Neal Stephenson first mentioned it in his 1992 novel Snow Crash), it now has a clear definition: the Metaverse is a network of always-on virtual environments that provide alternate digital realities for people to work, play, and socialize in.
Virtual reality, augmented reality, and video games are examples of Metaverse technologies that combine aspects of the digital and physical worlds.
The Metaverse may herald a more profound shift as much as the internet and other digital technologies have transformed our economies and society. Companies such as Nvidia, Unity, Roblox, and Facebook are all constructing infrastructure that will alter how we interact with one another and experience the world.
What does this imply for sporting organizations?
As consumers and fans become more immersed in virtual spaces, sports organizations must embrace this shift for their brands to thrive in a new world – especially if sports organizations are viewed as media and entertainment companies. The Metaverse is where they can unleash their virtual imaginations alongside players and commercial partners to create new stories and figure out the best way to tell (and then monetize) them.
Leading sports organizations have already embraced this new method of communicating with fans. Manchester City intends to construct the Etihad Stadium in the Metaverse in order to showcase live matches in a new environment with different layouts.
Major League Soccer recently collaborated with GreenPark Sports to develop a Metaverse environment to increase fan engagement. FC Barcelona will launch their first NFT (non-fungible token) soon as part of their plan to build a fantastic digital hub for their fans. More of these virtual environments, such as training centers and museums, could be built by clubs to allow fans to meet and interact with players on a daily basis.
In the end, clubs and leagues can use the Metaverse to create new rights and intellectual property, which they can then monetize. As John Terry recently discovered with Ape Kids Club, players cannot exploit certain competition and corporate brands on their own. Still, they can be associated with them and increase the power of such initiatives.
Finally, as clubs and leagues generate new and/or increased revenues, players will be able to claim their fair share. However, the proper mechanisms must be in place, beginning with collective bargaining agreements, as discussed below.
What does this mean for players?
Athletes will have to adapt to this new revolution as they did to their digital predecessors. Athletes have become brands in their own right in recent years, thanks to the rise of social platforms, working alongside their clubs and employers to manage their image and generate revenue from it.
They have learned how technology affects their image and brand reputation; the majority of players today manage their own image as a proper brand, either directly or with the assistance of professionals for those who can afford it.
These players are among the most powerful social media influencers in our digital age, and this trend isn’t going away anytime soon. The Metaverse may provide them with new opportunities to further exploit their own brand, accelerating current trends to engage in new and fresher ways with their community. Snoop Dog, yes, Snoop Dog, paved the way. The rapper may not be known for his football skills, but he is a celebrity with a following, and his project reveals all of the opportunities available to ‘global influencers.’
When considering how athletes might join a Metaverse, the first step is typically to create their own avatar (a perfect digital image of themselves) and possibly launch their dedicated NFT collection. For example, Snoop Dog launched The Doggies, a collection of 10,000 pixelated and unique avatars for his fans. The avatars, which have 150 attributes and varying degrees of rarity, provide fans with varying levels of experience and rewards. But, even before they enter this world, players should protect their trademarks for use on digital assets, as LeBron James recently did.
The second step will be creating a virtual environment where the avatar can live. In the case of Snoop Dog, all Doggies reside on TheSandbox Metaverse in the ‘Snoopverse.’ With this setup, athletes could begin to provide fans with a brand-new experience comprising exclusive content and one-of-a-kind interactions.
They could recreate their current world and invite fans to participate in it, from a simple in-house experience like a meal to more entertaining activities like gaming or watching movies. Snoop’s Private Parties, Metaverse concerts, Cozomo Art Gallery openings, exclusive NFTs, Doggie Drops, and other events are held in the Snoopverse.
The larger the community of players, the more profitable such innovation becomes. However, this does not imply that it is inaccessible to others: Metaverse end-users include not only fans but also technical staff, trainers, investors, and so on. Fans could buy shares in a player’s image or brand, with the value increasing in line with their popularity. Players could use it to showcase their talent and universe as they seek financial support or the attention of scouts.
Still, it’s early days, and people have yet to learn their full potential, but it’s clear that players will have more freedom to manage their brand in a more authentic, immersive, and engaging manner.
What are the dangers?
Athletes are central to this economy, but they are part of a larger ecosystem that includes clubs, leagues, rights-holders, media companies, sponsors, and commercial partners, all of whom invest heavily in the industry in order to maximize market share and profit.
On the broadcasting side, new categories of rights will emerge, while the Metaverse will create new opportunities for sponsorship and licensing. This will rely on technology’s ability to digitally recreate the physical world and its live events, including the collection of thousands of data points from athletes.
As there is a debate today about the ownership and monetization of players’ data, the ecosystem and its components should work together to capitalize on all the new opportunities.
Collective-bargaining agreements should be part of the solution, but until they become common practice, players must ensure that they are included in discussions and receive a fair share of any new initiatives that exploit their trademarks, such as their brand or data points, even if they are ultimately part of another organization’s commercial deal.
However, as new opportunities to engage with fans emerge, careers and reputations become more vulnerable: this introduces new risks. When a brand, a sponsor, or a club operates a player’s avatar, it becomes vulnerable to events occurring in the virtual environment, which, if poorly prepared or designed for non-endorsed purposes, can seriously harm a player’s brand. The digital twin of a player is the starting point for an opportunity, but it also invites risk.
Management and supervision will be essential, just as they are now for social media. The issue stems from the increased complexity of virtual experiences as they become more immersive, engaging, and personalized.
Last but not least, success in the field is no guarantee of success in the Metaverse, where the value of digital assets is primarily determined by the community as a whole and the value of any new experience. No matter how well-known they are in the physical world, every player should best prepare themselves and their stories for the Metaverse to make the most of the new opportunities and build a true community through good storytelling.
What comes next?
The future looks promising for sports organizations and even more so for athletes. The new digital worlds are still being built, but the leading sports organizations appear to have already embraced them as new generations of fans lose interest in traditional sports experiences.
While questions about avatar properties and IP rights for certain digital objects and brands remain on the players’ side, there is no doubt that the Metaverse will bring them closer to their community while also developing their brand and maximizing profit. They must select an existing Metaverse, such as SandBox, Decentraland, or Roblox, and build their own universe through premium experiences and unique partnerships.
What should athletes do first?
Which Metaverse is best suited to them?
Athletes will need to connect with the right people in order to make the best decisions and take advantage of the new virtual environment. They must also find the right partners in order to be authentic in their community, which is the key to success in the new world.
If Metaverses are to become the next entertainment platforms, the sports industry must structure its presence within them in order to avoid being sidelined by those who build them.
The opportunity is clear: the sports industry, particularly its players, can become true partners in the new economy, assisting platforms in expanding and driving mass adoption. As leading celebrities and athletes embark on this new path, let us ensure that they are in control and that their efforts benefit the entire ecosystem. We hope you like this article. For a complete Metaverse guide click on a link!