As a recent SportsPro article explored, the ongoing development of the metaverse raises a host of questions, challenges and opportunities for sports rights holders and brand partners.
Although the metaverse is still in its early stages and will undoubtedly undergo myriad changes, innovations and reconfigurations, with a final iteration decades from now that may look nothing like what is currently envisioned, SportsPro editor at large Eoin Connolly is spot on when he says sports organizations—and by extension their corporate partners—cannot afford to wait to see how things shake out before exploring their options.
As the next incarnation of online life, the metaverse, at its core, promises to finally deliver on the idea of telepresence, the formerly “futuristic” concept defined as the experience of being fully present at a live real-world or virtual location other than your actual physical location.
Naturally, sports, events, competitions, etc. will account for a significant amount of activity in this digital world. At this point, big tech firms, electronic games publishers and other content creators are leading the way in developing experiences especially for the metaverse. First mover advantage will be the reality in this new realm, which should serve as a wake-up call to traditional sports leagues and governing bodies to start exploring their options immediately.
Consider the example of horse racing. As the SportsPro piece relates, an Australian company, Virtually Human Studios, has developed Zed Run, a digital game in which “users can buy, breed, race and sell NFTs of racehorse avatars, trading in Ethereum cryptocurrency with the potential to make quite real profits and losses.” Any actual thoroughbred organization that wants to enter the space will now be trailing rather than trailblazing.
Zed Run has signed sponsorship deals with Anheuser-Busch InBev’s Stella Artois and Atari. Brands of course have their own paths to chart in the metaverse. From a sponsorship perspective, those that will succeed will be those who see this as more than a branding and advertising opportunity and instead take advantage of creating relevant integrations into virtual experiences.
Perhaps the most interesting Zed Run partner is NASCAR. One can only assume the racing body is using the partnership in large part to see how it can create its own metaverse presence.
Connolly points to the UFC—which has partnered with real-time 3D content creator Unity—and the NFL, WWE, FC Barcelona and Liverpool F.C.—which are all working with leading interactive game developer Roblox—as other sports right holders who have at least dipped their toes in the metaverse.
The answer to the question of whether the metaverse is a threat or opportunity—not surprisingly—is both. The actions that sports rights holders and their brand partners start taking now will determine whether they will be able to seize the opportunity or lose out in the fight for attention of fans and consumers.