Inside Track

Four Ways the Metaverse May Impact Sports Tech

Metaverse is expected to be one of the big trends in 2022 that impact the sports and tech landscape, with an increasing amount of attention on products and innovation within this space, with everything from virtual reality (VR) to augmented reality (AR) to artificial intelligence (AI).

What exactly is the metaverse? In short, the metaverse is a virtual space in which users can interact with computer-generated environments. It’s more than virtual reality. It’s more than a virtual world. It is the doorway. And, if you remember playing Second Life or The Sims in the early 2000s, those were very early examples of the beginnings of these trends.

Initially, virtual worlds were primarily created for entertainment on a computer screen. But, imagine if you could build your own virtual world and then actually physically visit it? And then add in the ability to interact and collaborate with colleagues, watch content, and buy stuff.

That’s where the metaverse trend is going. Now, the metaverse seeks to bring our physical selves into that virtual world. While there will likely be implications in the gaming and entertainment areas, there will also be impacts on business and sports, from monetization to viewing. It’s a three-dimensional world always toggled in the on position.

Here are four ways the metaverse can change sports tech in the coming years.

1. Reimagining How We Watch Sports 

The roots of the metaverse were founded in virtual reality and the emerging headsets that have created portals to new worlds—in cinema, video games, and experiences.

Today, many of the most critical elements of the metaverse have been brought to the forefront of consumer consciousness, including virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), mixed reality (MR), and artificial intelligence (AI). A few years ago, many of these technologies were developing and little-known outside of tech startups and experts tinkering in the background. Today, some forward-thinking startups and businesses are looking to build in an evolving and dynamic environment with VR.

Metaverse could play a role specifically in sports viewing. VR headsets help users see the world in new ways, and for fans, that means traveling to your favorite game in a matter of seconds. The viewing experience could be immersive, allowing 360-degree views of the stadium and up-close perspectives of the playing field. Instead of being seated in the nosebleed section, you could glance at players in real-time from vantage points that previously were more expensive.

The ability to zoom in, slow play, or watch replays is a massive advantage for the at-home fan who can choose to consume sports in the metaverse. Being at the game is one thing, but for fans who are far away from the home field or have other commitments, a metaverse could be a portal to access the team in ways they never dreamed possible. 

2. Content Creation by Athlete & Fan 

Social media and our always-on digital devices have created a world where fans, athletes, and sports organizations can create content and interact with each other.

While social media platforms become our digital calling card, in the metaverse, custom avatars are one potential way for fans and athletes can differentiate themselves with creative imagery and designs that showcase support for teams. Teams (and even players) are exploring future ways to monetize these experiences.

Today, social channels are becoming second screens where fans can interact before, during, and after a sporting event. Social media has given agency to fans and content creators to create more places where conversations and live meet-ups can watch the game together or hash out what happened post-game. 

3. Sell Digital Products 

Avatars and other custom content is one path teams (and even players) are looking to monetize.

The Metaverse has ushered in a new era where people buy digital products—sports cards, autographs, and even play highlights. The hype generated from limited releases of sports’ biggest stars is highly-sought digital items traded on secondary markets. And here we are, wishing it’d be possible to go back in time and remove those baseball cards from our bicycle spokes. Sigh.

Roblox is a platform generating a lot of noise in the metaverse. The platform, founded in 2004, allows creators to build virtual environments called “experiences” that people can visit anywhere in the world. Gaming is a massive component, in addition to how people create and invite others to visit their experiences.

In 2020, a staggering half of Americans under the age of 16 played Roblox and the user base, including young kids, appears to continue to grow.

4. Unique Marketing Activations That Blend Real World With Virtual One 

Just as brands and companies have to learn to adjust to new channels for marketing such as in social media, they’ll have to adjust to the emergence of their placements in the metaverse.

The potential for cross-over marketing in this world is one that many upstarts and players are keenly watching.

Here are two marketing activations that have garnered a lot of attention in the last few months: 

  • Nike partnered with Roblox to create a virtual world called “Nikeland,” where athletes can visit fields and arenas to participate in games like tag and dodgeball. Nike is working to incorporate real-time moments from sporting events during the upcoming World Cup and Super Bowl. Players with mobile devices can use their built-in accelerometers for real-world movements that synchronize in Nikeland.
  • Stella Artois partnered with Zed Run, an NFT platform where users breed, race, and trade digital racing horses to coincide with the Kentucky Derby.

The important takeaway here is that younger audiences are engaging with brands and building up purchasing power. They’re also much more likely to eschew traditional advertising and prefer interactions and community much more. Understanding this helps sports brands in order to create the experience that will help build lifelong relationships.

What’s Next? 

Some are touting the metaverse to be the next big thing for digital, and we’re already seeing how it is starting to impact the world of sports tech.

The healthcare world is also already integrating solutions built around AR, VR, and AI to create ways to treat patients in new and safer ways. The pandemic has accelerated many new modalities, and frontline healthcare workers and medical students are learning through VR training.

For sports, the newest technology is what helps push athletes and teams to adapt and find the best route to a championship. The metaverse may provide an intriguing platform for teams to connect with the next generation of athletes and fans, engage with brands, and convert that engagement into real-world dollars.

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