Imogene Robinson
Imogene Robinson
Marketing Copywriter
Boston

Engineering

Why professional sports are winning Web3

Web3 is a powerful new revenue stream

It represents an all-new era for the internet, characterized by a few foundational new technologies and immersive experiences that include NFTs and the metaverse.

Taken together, they’re set to redefine our interactions and our expectations when it comes to the online world.

Already brands representing fashion, music, art, and more have taken the plunge and embraced Web3 with notable success.

But one industry that’s leading the charge with all things Web3 might be somewhat surprising: professional sports.

Whether it be through NFT collectibles worth as much as $68k or digital versions of historic stadiums powered by Epic Games, professional sports have taken full advantage of what Web3 has to offer with a resounding effect.

That said, what is it that sports are getting right when it comes to NFTs and the metaverse? And what lessons does this impart to other brands?

Embracing what a digital product has to offer

With NFTs in particular, the biggest misconception surrounding them is that you, the user, are paying a small fortune for a JPEG of an image that you could find via a Google search. 

While it is entirely possible for a JPEG to be an NFT, NFTs can also be so much more. 

A prime example of this comes from none other than the NBA’s Top Shot series.

The NBA made the smart decision early on to experiment with the capability of NFTs and deliver a collectible that came with an almost gamified user experience. 

A Top Shot NFT pulls inspiration from collectible trading card games, incorporating an element of reveal by allowing fans to “rip” open a digital pack.

The contents, digital cubes that rotate to reveal the stats and footage from iconic NBA dunks, are all highly watchable. But the moments they feature can be hard to find and collect, with just 0.09% representing the “legendary” moments that have been sold for tens of thousands of dollars.

Through experimentation and gamification, the NBA found major success with NFTs. Within its first five months, Top Shot netted more than $370 million.

They also demonstrated the importance of creating something truly original and taking advantage of the nature of a product that is 100% digital.

baseball stadium

Enriching the relationship with your audience

In the same way that the arrival of social media strengthened the relationship between fans and celebrities, Web3 has the potential to expand and enrich the relationship between customers and brands.

Within the world of sports, special collections of NFTs created by star players can bring their unique trademark closer to a far-reaching fan base. 

In 2021, Tom Brady co-founded Autograph, an NFT platform bringing together “the most iconic brands and legendary names in sports.” Autograph features names like Tiger Woods, Derek Jeter, Wayne Gretsky, Naomi Osaka, Simone Biles, and Usain Bolt. But each of these legendary athletes is able to stand out in their own right, offering their fans unique NFT collections that speak to their trademark characteristics and personality. 

NFTs don’t necessarily have to come directly from individual athletes to enrich the audience experience either, though.

24H Le Mans Virtual

At DEPT®, we helped launch the NFT collection for the 24H Le Mans Virtual, helping the endurance event become one of the first motorsport brands to do so.

Moreover, the collection featured captures of historic moments from the race as they happened. This served to reward fans who followed the race closely and created a whole new way to interact with the event: by owning a piece of its history.

Finally, it’s not just about NFTs. A whole new avenue to improve the relationship between professional sports brands and their fan bases is being built in the metaverse. 

At the start of this year, the Atlanta Braves opened a fully immersive Digital Truist Park with the blessing of the MLB and powered by Epic Games’s Unreal Engine technology.

The idea behind the virtual stadium was to create a 3D multiplayer experience so that baseball fans could visit Truist Park from their homes and interact with a community of equally passionate folks.

The trend of virtual stadiums seems to be growing, too: another one is in the works for Manchester City, who announced at the end of last year a partnership with Sony to develop a digital version of Etihad Stadium.

Whether it be through NFTs or in the metaverse, the professional sports industry is taking advantage of the opportunities Web3 provides to create exciting new ways for audiences to participate and interact with their favorite brands.

Le mans car

Leaving no one out

At the peak of their hype cycle last year, NFTs earned a reputation that was less than inclusive.

With impossible price tags and a host of misconceptions surrounding them, they appeared to be unattainable luxury commodities sold by and for the rich.

Some misgivings surround the metaverse as well. Since Facebook’s rebrand, the metaverse has become only more talked about. But the vast majority of people have yet to experience it, making the metaverse seem exclusive and even suspicious.  

But with the offerings they’ve created, the professional sports industry has managed to overcome these challenges and find solutions that leave no one feeling left out.

For example, while you can find NFTs worth tens of thousands of dollars on marketplaces like Top Shot and Autograph, you’ll also find the majority of goods are much more reasonably priced. A baseline Autograph NFT will start at just under $80 and starter packs from Top Shot run between $9 and $19. 

Drone racing league marketplace

Another good way of making NFTs more approachable is to use them as free promotional material, which DEPT® helped the Drone Racing League do at Algorand’s 2021 Decipher conference. Attendees received fliers with QR codes they could scan and find which of DRL’s first-ever run of NFTs they had received. The result was an exciting, fun, and low-risk experience for both brand and customer.
 
Price points aren’t the only thing to keep in mind when it comes to NFT marketplaces, the transaction itself is also important. Although interest in cryptocurrency remains high, the vast majority of audiences don’t have crypto wallets set up to pay for NFTs. Offering credit card transactions is therefore essential to make sure that a marketplace is inclusive. 

A great way to do that is by setting up your marketplace using Algomart, which is the software DEPT® used to build the NFT marketplaces for DRL and Le Mans.

Finally, the sports industry is managing to keep the metaverse accessible too. The Atlanta Braves’ digital stadium can be streamed directly to users’ internet browsers. No need for an Oculus Rift or other piece of technology. 

By providing a range of price points, offering credit card transactions, and sticking to the bounds of technology that their audience already has, the sports industry has managed to successfully bring widespread appeal to their Web3 endeavors.

A major comeback

Our increasingly digital world was ushered in by the pandemic, during which time the in-person nature of sports events forced many to grind to a halt with postponements and cancellations. Games and championships that did continue were played in stadiums filled with cardboard audiences.

The professional sports industry has since learned a powerful lesson. They’ve not only adapted to the digital world–with revolutionary NFT marketplaces and metaverses, they’re poised to evolve as the technology does too.

Now that’s how to win Web3.

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