In a preview post I have discussed what I envision to be the future of sport and media and hinted to a moment where our reality is augmented by the transformations coming from digital technologies. In that post I have used Star Wars’ Holochess as an example of what traditional sports broadcasting will look like in the not so far future. This immersive multidimensional experience of Holochess is the backbone of what the metaverse entails: an alternative world that is experienced through virtual and augmented reality technologies (I will come to this idea of alternative later in this post). But what the metaverse means for the sport industry as a whole, but more in particular to live professional sport.
If we take the sport industry as a whole, and think initially on our consumption of sport as active participants – like when we go to the gym, go out cycling or running – the metaverse might look like a more immersive and more real than real (hyperreality in Jean Baudrillard’s terms) experience that we might already be consuming – in an incipient form – nowadays. Maybe one good example to explain this alternative world is to look at Zwift (see video below), with its 9 different worlds and multiple routes, its Tour of Zwift global event, the different professional competitions such as the Olympic Virtual Series, and its connection to the real world via the Zwift Academy program.
Nevertheless, Zwift might be just an early iteration of the sport metaverse (let’s call it the sport metaverse beta) as it is still based on an alternative reality of mostly alternative worlds. In a similar fashion to what was the early discussions on virtual worlds during the 1990s – a moment where scholars defined the real as different and opposite to the virtual; or where you lived different lives on those different realms – what the metaverse will become is an augmented world. Thus, still using Zwift as an example of our sport consumption as active participants we might envision that in the not so far future we will be able to ride or run on any route – like transplanting the entire Apple or Google maps to this metaverse – that what we wear or ride on will be digital assets sold as non-fungible tokens (NFTs) that will have direct impact on our performance – a lighter digital bike will allow us to climb faster the climbs – ancillary services will be provided by third parties like coaches. In a way, this Zwift metaverse will become akin an App Store – another digital marketplace – comprised by traditional brands such as Trek, Specialized, Shimano, Castelli, Rapha, etc offering and selling their products as NFTs.
But what about our sport consumption of live professional sport?
Similar to the above example, the metaverse of live professional sport will become a novel space for monetising sport media properties. The real experience of consuming live sport normally comes with a premium price that is paid to attend in person that event; and that premium price is commonly tiered based on the closeness to reality – a more immersive and near to the action experience commands a higher price. Currently our mediated consumption of live sport is not only flat in terms of immersiveness as I have discussed previously here, but it is mostly flat in its monetisation strategy – we might pay slightly more to get 4k rather than 1080p (HD), but we all have the same standardised viewpoint. In the sport metaverse the real experience of attending live sport will be recreated and monetised in its full, by selling digital assets as skins to change our appearance, the selling of VIP match day experiences with meet and greet sessions with former professional athletes, and above all allocated and limited seated places with different immersion experiences. In a way, we will see the construction of stadia – another space similar to an App store – in the sport metaverse that will allow anyone around the world to attend the live event.
Possibly the beta version of sport metaverse I am describing above is what the Yes Network is doing with their NBA property (Brooklyn Nets) as you can see below. The next step is to create the actual sport metaverse where consumption takes place – the space where we walk, mingle, and consume this experience (the metaverse Barclays Center).
How far do you think we are of the real sport metaverse experience? For me a good guess its that we will have our first taste of the real sport metaverse during the 2028 Los Angeles Olympic Games.