We are part of a unique time in the history of sport with rapid change that's making for a very exciting time for the industry, as the increasing influence of the digital realm and technology begin to shape what's to come. We are all aware of how some of these influences are transforming sports marketing, data and digital products, but we are just at the start. The emergence of Web 3.0 and the Metaverse are two trends that are set to have a huge impact on the future landscape of sport and we are still trying to understand their potential. From the use of digital avatars to the decentralisation of data, here we explore how these technology trends are starting to re-define our experience of sport and the new opportunities that are emerging.
Web 3.0 is thought of as the next evolution of the internet, based on the core ideas of decentralisation, openness, and increased usability for users. Whereas the metaverse refers to a set of 'virtual spaces or worlds where you can create experiences with other people, despite not being physically with them. It’s a concept that is under construction and it's still early days, but a central theme is around the continuity of experience and ownership from the physical to the virtual. It represents a more immersive and interactive internet, with a key component being we will no longer be limited in our experiences to one application like we were in Web 1.0 and 2.0, but can move between multiple applications or surfaces in a seamless way.
Although web 3.0 and the Metaverse technology are still in their infancy with their full potential far from realised. However sports organisations are already exploring how they can leverage their assets and communities to increase fan interaction and engagement through these technologies. It was a topic discussed at our recent Careers Symposium with Loughborough University London Sports Business Institute, which highlighted that sports organisations are increasingly researching how to recreate virtual environments and how they can use avatars to create immersive experiences in digital worlds.
"The technology is not seamless enough yet, but it's the direction we are heading. We are working with companies to recreate a virtual environment."
Jean-Baptiste Alliot, Chief Strategy Officer at LaSource & Advisor to UEFA Innovation Hub
The sports world and in particular sports events are needing to becoming more experiential as consumers seek more immersive experiences, where they can engage with events, athletes and fellow fans to enhance their experience. This means the industry increasingly needs to deliver new concepts and formats to provide a continually engaging and exciting fan experience.
Sky Sports are arguably at the forefront of this movement, partnering with The Hundred cricket tournament to create avatars using motion capture and augmented reality. This provided a new broadcasting experience and brings fans and players together in a way we’ve never seen before. The thrill of live sport is based on shared experiences and sport is aiming to embrace these new technologies to bring together the joy of shared consumption in a virtual world and in doing so providing sporting experiences that are potentially not limited by physical presence, which unlocks infinite opportunity.
The use of virtual environments can also be beneficial for performance in sport, whether you're a professional or not. For example, those wishing to pursue a football career may have the opportunity in the future to train from their garden in a virtual world, and then compare their performance to professional players, such as Ronaldo or Messi. The metaverse will provide you with different analytics regarding your performance, such as how many times you touched the ball compared to them, or how many shots were on target. However, as Jean-Baptiste Alliot, Chief Strategy Officer at LaSource & Advisor to UEFA Innovation Hub explains 'the technology to support this is still in development, meaning the use cases for sport in a virtual world are still evolving and yet to fully unfold.'
At the heart of the web 3.0 movement is decentralisation, meaning a major trend of web 3.0 will be around the decentralisation of data ownership and the shifting of power back to content creators, and away from the big platforms, such as Facebook or YouTube. An example for how this may translate into the sports industry is with athlete data. Web 2.0 is increasingly being questioned as many athletes don’t have control of their data and how it's used. For example, when optical tracking is currently used in sport, athlete data is obtained and analysed by tracking technology providers and athletes don’t have access to this. However with web 3.0, the idea is you become the owner of your content, suggesting that the power will shift back towards athletes, allowing them to actively use and leverage their own data to their advantage.
For rights holders and sports organisations the question for the future is how they can "work with companies such as Meta to leverage communities", for sport this is a fundamental concept of web 3.0 and the metaverse. These Meta-communities may involve people represented as avatars, or multiple communities that move fluidly between real and virtual worlds. Live sporting events currently have a limited number of seats, but a transition into using the metaverse and web 3.0 could allow fans to virtually step onto the pitch, attend a virtual bar, or sit with their friends in a virtual world, despite being not being physically present. This is predicted to increase fan engagement and loyalty and create virtual 'communities' of fans all watching sport in a new and exciting format. This is a bold future of sports events,
Furthermore, NFT’s (non-fungible tokens) are predicted to play a key role in how the metaverse will transform the future of sport. NFT’s are unique cryptographic tokens that can’t be replicated and exist using blockchain technology. Combining NFT’s with the metaverse creates the potential for new revenue streams from ticketing, increased fan engagement, and new ways for sponsors or casters to potentially immerse themselves in sports and increase their exposure beyond the TV or live event environment. This may be through the use of avatars using NFT 'wearables', NFT season tickets to virtual stadiums, or NFT’s of sports team’s kit, including their sponsors logo. Sporting organisations therefore need to take advantage of these new opportunities to enrich the fan experience, maximise their potential revenue and optimise their use of the digital world, but these ideas are likely to take shape over the next 5-15 years.
The promise of Web 3.0 and the Metaverse is to bring together the joy of shared consumption that we currently only experience in the actual world, into a virtual world.
“The thrill of experiencing live sport is arguably built on shared experiences, it’s all about who you’re with and the opportunity to enjoy the consumption of sport in a connected fashion in real life.”
Rhys Beer, Content, Strategy & Planning at Meta (Facebook)
However a fundamental question is; will this just increase the already considerable awake hours we spent online, consuming digital content? The view by some is that these new innovations potential to improve our 'digital time' and improve our current digital behaviours "with the promise of increased presence, embodiment and connection" Rhys Beer, Content, Strategy & Planning at Meta (Facebook). Those at the heart of these technology developments understand the consequences of delivering even more digital experiences into our lives. An increased reliance on technology will naturally increase our screen time, highlighting the importance of optimising such experiences to ensure its quality time that enriches our physical lives. Future digital experiences are aiming to create personal connections that enhance our real lives, and in doing so aims to reduce the 'mindless scrolling' that has become part of current digital experiences and not a 'good' use of time.
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