The metaverse and sport – what are the opportunities?

If you haven’t already heard of the metaverse, and we’re not talking about Facebook’s rebrand, then you will do in 2022.

The metaverse can be defined as a simulated digital environment that uses augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and blockchain, along with concepts from social media, to create spaces for rich user interaction mimicking the real world. [1]. So, in a crowded sports media landscape where content is always king, what opportunities does the metaverse present? And how can sports organisations capitalise on them?

The metaverse presents the sports media industry with a unique opportunity to not just simply show content but to build communities and revolutionalise fan experiences. The new sports fan expects flexibility, and this is reflected in how they want to consume content. Inundated with a choice of platform, device, and format, means audiences have an ever-increasing appetite for greater access and more in-depth content on their favourite sports and athletes where and when they want it.

By submerging them in a virtual world, they can break down physical and geographical barriers, enabling fans to get closer to other fans, their favourite sports stars and enjoy better more in-depth coverage of games and pre-and post-match action, all amplifying fan engagement and loyalty [2]. However, today’s sports fans are more socially savvy and increasingly more digitally aware, so brands need to be careful, being the first or merely being in the metaverse is not enough. They need to ensure that they build the digital experiences for their communities that reflect their cultural values and identity, inauthentic work could have an adverse effect and put audiences off [3].

A recent example of a sporting event entering the metaverse was the Australian Open, who partnered with Decentraland, Run It Wild and Metakey to launch several initiatives. Firstly, they created 6,776 ‘art balls’ from an algorithmic combination of different colours, patterns and textures. An additional 22 ‘AO Legend’ and 169 ‘Artist Series’ balls featured unique designs made by legacy and NFT artists [4]. Each ball represented a 19cm-by-19cm plot of tennis court surface randomly assigned when each NFT was minted. Every time a winning shot landed in that plot during any match at the 2022 Australian Open, the relevant NFT would be updated in real-time with match and ball tracking data [4]. There were also ‘fungible’ rewards too, so if any of the 11-championship points landed on a particular plot, the corresponding NFT owner was given the tennis ball used in a display case and a certificate of authenticity [4]. Art ball owners would also gain limited edition wearables, merchandise and other benefits in the future [4].

They also launched a metaverse experience on Decentraland’s platform. Users were able to look around a digital re-creation of the Australian Open’s grounds in Melbourne and speak to players and other fans [4]. By immersing the tournament in the metaverse they hoped to increase the reach of the tournament and tennis to a wider, more diverse audience.

Initial results from the first week of the tournament seemed successful, showing that the metaverse experiment attracted roughly 4,000 to 5,000 unique visitors per day [5]. The figures also reported a peak active visitor attendance of around 28,286 at the Grand Slam Oval Screens showing the Practice Village [5].

"Build the digital experiences for their communities that reflect their cultural values and identity, inauthentic work could have an adverse effect and put audiences off."

The metaverse doesn’t just present opportunities to increase reach, but also revenue. Revenue for many might be a little way off, but it is clearly important for organisations to do their research and experiment in the space, so they can establish what works best for them and their communities.

Then what is the ultimate goal, reach or revenue?

The answer is both. By ensuring you have both reach and revenue you can guarantee the longevity of a sport or event.

So, how do they monetise the metaverse? For sports properties and teams, there are many options, particularly focusing on fan experiences and engagement, including virtual meet and greats with your favourite stars, VIP packages with exclusive behind the scenes interactive content, or gamification. All these opportunities present sports organisations with a potentially significant new source of revenue. But do these experiences really beat real action and in-person fan experiences?

By accompanying real-life action with a digital presence and secondary content such as podcasts, highlights on social media, fantasy leagues and behind the scenes exclusives, teams can keep fans engaged, with the sport they love, well after the final whistle, driving deeper connections and engagement and increasing the reach of their sports.

However, although creating different forms of content and pushing it out on a wide variety of platforms may seem like the easiest answer to increase fan engagement and reach, it is important for sports organisations to remember relevance. To stand out in the crowded sports media landscape, sports organisations need to create messages and experiences that reflect their true values and remain relevant to their fans and audiences. By communicating their value and authentic purpose, organisations can connect meaningfully with their audiences, and this is likely to be even more important if brands want to successfully activate in the metaverse, where communities are key [6].

Story10 enables brands and federations to identify and capitalise on opportunities that help bring them closer to their audiences, by driving engagement and ensuring reach and relevance through our global distribution network.